Prologue-Truth In Fishing Stories
My father has several little black books with an entry for every steelhead he has caught since the late 1950’s. These little knickknacks of a passed, more personal era of advertising have the names of auto parts stores or the local stockyard embossed in worn gold letters across their faux leather covers. With each passing year, they get a little more worn, as do the fishing stories that go along with each entry.
With each passing year, there are more and more of the little flecks of the gold lettering littering the bottom of the shoe box that holds the essence of each of his fish. With each passing year the ink fades and the pages yellow just like his memories. Just like the memories in all of our heads.
So why does he do it? For himself, he told me when I asked him years ago. I know why he actually does it. He scribbles away after each fish he lands not because he wants to prove his honesty to anyone. It is because he wants the memories to stay somewhere they can never disappear into the ether, not the facts. He has told me a million times that the best stories start with facts and then end with the memories our minds conjure up.
“My fish was this big!”
I think, probably far too presumptively, that we all have a running timeline in our heads marked with a dot for every fish we have ever caught, maybe for every cast that we have made. This cerebral manifestation of time tends to have the most memorable highs and lows of our angling lives are usually our biggest, most colorful fishing experiences. But as our lives go on and the timeline gets longer, the colors of the stories begin to fade. The hazy gray line that ties them together starts to dull as the vibrant colors that mark our most special or worst times on the water blur. This is when the best stories about fly fishing are born.
I think between politicians and fishermen, the adage; “If you say something enough, then it must be true;” has been far overused and misunderstood. People, anglers in general, are inherently good and politicians not so much. The digression on this point could go on for another several thousand words, particularly because of the many politicos that fancy themselves fly fishermen. Which brings me to my point about the difference between a fish story and a lie.
Lies hurt people and fishing stories tend to do the opposite. I have never heard of a life being ruined by an angler adding a few inches to a fish’s length for each year the story is told. If creatively adding some adjectives to a story about the size of a Rainbow trout or how a secret fly adds joy to the storyteller’s and the listener’s lives then I am all for it. Because when it comes down to brass tacks, the search for joy in the tedium of daily living is why we up and spend far too much on that new rod or reel.
Chasing The Truth
Fly fishermen chase the truth like detectives hunting for some dastardly villain in an old black and white movie. We relentless analyze other anglers’ statements to glean information about where, when and what. And if by chance, we deem it far-fetched or impossible we call B.S. on it. Whether it is about a day of endless 20-inch Brown trout on dry flies or an angler catching his Grand Slam on the flats in an hour, fly fishermen are instantly skeptical. The question is why? The answer is simple, human nature.
I have written about friends, guides, and clients who can’t suppress the urge to add a few inches to every fish that ends up in the net. I have written about this with a different view than this essay because of the motives, not the memory. The same fishermen who
stretch the truth of their exploits on the stream or lake are the same ones who would sooner believe in Bigfoot than find truth in another’s fishing tale. Pious faith in humanity was obviously bred out of most anglers well before the appearance of the pyramids in Egypt or Walton sloshed through a chalk stream on a typically dour British day.
Is this why it has become so difficult for us to trust what our life-long friend is saying or not saying? Is it that we all embellish our deeds on the lake, stream or ocean to the point that we believe everyone else is guilty of the same thing? Yes, we do! But don’t feel guilty about talking about the “best day ever” that seems to happen to you every time you hit the water or how big “the one that got away” was. We all do it. We all do it with a childlike lilt to our voices and a sparkle in our eye. This is how adults hold onto whimsy in a world of cold, harsh realities. This is why we stand in the water, dreaming of our next fish story with every cast that we that we make.