Merwin: Flippancy in Fly Fishing

Is flyfishing getting too dumbed down? Some of my friends who are longtime anglers think so, and I’m starting to agree.

A great deal of what passes for flyfishing media these days seems more related to a happy-go-lucky angling lifestyle than to genuine technical progress. It’s become a lot easier to gaze at one’s navel while pondering the philosophical implications of sport than to pick the right fly pattern.

Back in the 1970s, we had men such as …

… Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Ernie Schwiebert refining stream tactics and angling entomology and fly patterns to a huge degree. Among anglers, the pace of learning was dramatic. It was at times technically difficult and often challenging. As it should be.

Too often these days, a woolly bugger, a parachute adams, or a beadhead nymph under a strike indicator are seen as universal answers to a needed skill set on the river. Much of the time, they work. Sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t, too many anglers are left gasping like a fish out of water.

The young fly fisher–and there are many of these–who has learned to nymph fish only with a strike indicator is one example. There are dozens of nymph-fishing tactics that evolved over decades in the pre-indicator era, honed and explained by men like Frank Sawyer and Jim Leisenring, and which younger anglers don’t bother to research and learn. Expediency rules the day.

It sometimes seems as if real research and resulting insight–whether into angling entomology, trout behavior, or any other technical flyfishing topic–has fallen by the wayside. As Schwiebert once quietly complained to me, “a time in media when flippancy is substituted for genuine knowledge.”