Observations on a Soggy Cigar
By Reed F. Curry
A few years ago, while sorting through a box of old fly fishing magazines - scanning the cover photos before placing each in its pile to keep or toss - I began to detect an interesting pattern. Curious, I set aside ten covers from the late seventies, and ten covers from the late nineties, all chosen at random.
Not surprisingly, each of the covers from the 90's journals depicted one of the "beautiful people" draped from trendy chapeau to gravel guard in the latest (spotless) logo-beribboned apparel, tenderly holding an enormous fish (usually a salmonid) and smiling engagingly for the camera. The blotches of oil left behind by a leaky floatant bottle, the smattering of blood or fish-scales from the quick and merciful death of a bleeder, the burn marks from a cigarette falling from open lips as the angler hooks into a "big one" --- none of these were in evidence on the cover photos. But always the fish and always the posed smile.
In contrast, the earlier covers included a distant shot of a lone angler leaving the water of a western river, a young couple holding hands-- and fly rods-- as they waded, laughing, out of a high mountain lake, a pair of parkas (little else visible) fishing from a driftboat in a snowstorm, two still-lifes of tackle, a lone fisherman framed in autumn leaves, and, finally, a placid John Voelker, crouched on a log in thick pine woods, his rod leaning against a tree, quietly smoking a cigar in the rain. Interestingly, only one of the early covers showed a fish in hand, and this was being displayed to a curious wading Schnauzer.
I'm not certain what, if anything, this tells us about the sport itself. To the cynical, it may suggest that the magazines get a kickback from fishing tackle makers for highlighting their gear on the cover... or from the American Dental Association. Either of these may be true, but, it is more likely that the magazine is responding to changes in prevailing attitudes toward the sport of flyfishing. Perhaps flyfishing is now success related --- the largest fish, or the greatest number of fish --- rather than the mere opportunity to be fishing. The word "Fishing", if we believe the magazine covers, is synonymous with "Catching", and catching is a numbers game.
The act of fishing (not necessarily catching) has traditionally had a backdrop of "wildness" that was an intrinsic component of the day astream -- if not a beautiful natural setting, at least a sense of remoteness, a distance from other fishermen. If you must encounter another angler there was a formula that permitted each to maintain their world apart. Just a few years ago, good streamside manners bade a wet-fly angler working downstream to leave the river on sighting a fisherman working upstream, to walk high on the banks around him, and re-enter the flow at least one pool below. Of course, conversation between anglers might take place, but the very acceptance of the buffer zone that each afforded the other strengthened the sense of isolation.
A second equally important element of fishing is leisure. Fishing offers the opportunity to step outside the timestream of faxes and emails, of conference calls and thrice-rescheduled meetings, to a place beyond time. The third item in the mix -- observation of the natural world -- depends in part on the two previous. Just as TIME is defined by SPACE and MOTION, Timeless observation is defined by the space around you, the macro/microcosm, and blissful immobility. The fisherman who has a warbler land on his rod-tip is doing something right.
The picture at left says it all. The magazine used the caption:"There are those perfect moments in fishing that require neither stream nor fish. John Voelker was photographed by Robert Kelley at such a time."