Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Lore of Fine Gear
The lore of fine gear
Many of us that fish with flies love nothing more than to touch, discuss, and dream about the fine tackle of our sport. Meet another angler on a stream, and the talk will assuredly turn to gear sooner or later. We ask each other: “What rod is that?” “Which fly are you using?” or state our appreciation of the other’s fine fly reel. In winter when the snow and cold threaten to overwhelm us, conversations around a warm fire in a study discuss the finer points of gear and pawl checks, and the big one that got away. Cognac, a fine cigar, a Leonard rod…
What is it about the equipment of fly-fishing that so appeals to us? Is it something to do with being men? Is it similar to a bunch of guys admiring power tools?
The equipment itself has very few concrete properties: metal, wood, thread, etc. We assign or ascribe the romantic characteristics ourselves. Aesthetics. So, there are inherent properties vs. ascribed properties and human imagination. These work together with our sense of history and adventure to form what we feel when we look at fine tackle. I call this lore. Lore can be defined for our purposes here as the process of ascribing abstract properties and romantic notions, nostalgia and learned history to concrete items.
How would different people or creatures react to viewing a beautifully tied fly? A non-fly fisherman might see a metal hook with feathers and fur attached, and have some slight sense of intended use, but that is all. A space alien might ponder the utility of the object to the human race as an anthropologist would. A cat might wonder if it is worth its time to chase the thing. A fish might see something that triggers a feeding response.
Therefore, the uncarved block views the gear of fly fishing in an innocent and ignorant way. They may recognize some inherent aesthetic beauty, but cannot without extensive experience relate abstract qualities to the equipment. They would be incapable of placing the objects in proper perspective within their lives. Romance could not then be assigned or imagined. Lore would not be felt.
Human beings have a natural sense to appreciate beauty of form. Most people, even having little exposure to art or architecture, would appreciate a sculpture by Michelangelo, a painting by Vermeer, or the classic lines of an ionic column. This might be true of a full dress salmon fly or a Quill Gordon, but most would say “It sure is pretty, but what is it?” Knowing the intended use and the tradition behind it allows us to ascribe romantic properties.
Then comes the act of anthropomorphism, or assigning human-like traits, qualities, or even sex to our equipment. Reels sing, loops sizzle, rods dance, and we refer to our rod as ‘she’ or ‘he.’
We are not alone in our desire to find lore in our equipment. Upland game hunters have fine double guns, bait-casters a myriad of exotic plugs, and fencers their fine foil, epee’ and saber.
Would we have it no other way? What if an object was just that… an object? With no assigned aesthetic qualities, characteristics, romance, or lore? What a boring and sterile world we would live in. A sort of dream-deprived state. All romance dead. An Orwellian world of pseudo sensory deprived autism.
Romance, legend, lore, and tradition all enter our conceptualization of our sporting experiences, both real and imagined. The equipment becomes part of the story. Our story. His story. History.
Ask yourself this: why does it infuriate you when someone refers to your fine early 20th century bamboo trout rod as “That fishing pole?”