Sunday, January 3, 2010

What’s the best…?

They are everywhere these days. They dominate internet forums with page after page of opinion, advise, and blather.

They are the dreaded “What is the best…?” thread.

Questions without proper framing or background such as “What is the best 5 wt. Rod?”, or “What is the best casting video?” are so subjective as to often leave the door open to such a wide and varied set of answers that the questioner ends up more confused than before they asked the question. Add to that the fact that anybody can post an answer regardless of skill level, scope of knowledge in the area of questioning, or any precedent at all, and no wonder so much bad advise gets disseminated.

Here is an enlightening fact; there is no “best” rod, reel, line, book, video, wader, hip pack, suppository, etc.

It is all subjective.

What is best in one situation or circumstance is not the best in another. Then add in our skill levels, preferences, maturity, physical fitness, and style, and it really becomes a morass. Add in the river conditions, the weather, summer vs. winter, wind, etc.

What is best for me in a given situation may not be the best for my Neanderthal friend Og, who lives in my basement. For example, I am having a sandwich with summer sausage and mustard for lunch, lets ask Og what he is having for lunch. “Hey Og, what are you eating?”

“Og eat old shoe, mmm… old shoe best.”

Blech. See? Best is subjective.

Another problem with the concept of ‘best’ is that it often translates to ‘easiest.’

What is the ‘best’ method of fishing for trout in a river? How about bait? That would be best because it would place more fish to hand. However, what if a hatch was occurring? Then fly-fishing with a dry fly might be best. Does skill enter into this at all? Is what is ‘best’ for the neophyte angler different from what may be best for a master of the sport?

Does best mean the most fish to hand? Most difficult? Easiest for Og? Most colorful? Shortest? Longest? Perhaps 'Most efficient in the hands of beginning to moderate casters and fishermen' might be better. To most people though, it means "What will make me a better fisherman and catch more fish than my buddy without having to put in any work or practice of my own." ‘Efficient’ in many cases may mean the easiest way.

Let’s ask Og what he thinks.

“Og fish best. Og smash fish with rock. Fish good!”

O.K., so Og might not be the right person to ask, but it helped illustrate the point. Og, being a creature of little intellect and a subsistence feeder, jumps in the river and grabs a fish, then hits it with a rock and swallows it whole. That is what is ‘best’ for him.

When it comes down to it, the best for you may not be the best for your neighbor. What works for me may not work for you. As the proverb puts it, “One man’s meat may be another man’s poison.”

We tend to look for simple answers to complex questions.

Beware of the simple answers in life.


  1. Thomas McGuane once wrote that anglers have come to crave conformity, and even long for leadership. People WANT those easy answers. That makes a lot of sense when one considers the frantic, hectic lifestyles most people subject themselves to. Thus a notable figure in the "industry" is able to make a blanket statement about the best new technique or piece of equipment, which is followed by much whining of Pavlovian curs and the sounds of cash registers and credit card machines. In one sense, that is also the result of our technology fueled society. That which is new MUST be better right? I think it was Seth Norman that wrote he disliked the term "obsolete" because it assumes that the characteristics that made something desirable in the past no longer apply. In that recent post on Speypages about the "demise" of the long belly spey line, a certain luminary said "if you like to do it the old fashion way, good for you but it you want to catch fish, you need to do it my way." Not in so many words, but the statement was pretty clear. To paraphrase Paul Maclean, "I'd like to get that bastard on the Clearwater for a day with a bet on the side." OK not really, since that kind of competitive ego demeans both the fish and the sport. Nonetheless it was a pretty subjective stance to take. I got a little sidetracked there, but you are absolutely right. What constitutes "the best" is totally subjective. The problem as I see it is that many of us have become hard wired to the idea of instant success. Combine that with little or no time to experiment and grow as anglers, it's easy to see why folks write in asking "what's the best..."

  2. TC,
    Wow. I think you wrote a better post than I did!
    Best does often equate easy and/or new. New = good. Old no longer works.
    Seth Norman is the most underrated writer in this genre. Thanks for the quotation and referance.

    Thank you also for taking the time to post a most excellent comment. I wish others would write provocative commentaries as well. Perhaps some of the other readers/lurkers out there might be inspired by what you wrote.
    Thanks again,

  3. Erik, thanks for the kind words. I was feeling a wee bit acerbic thanks to a conversation I had on the river the other day and your post really struck a chord. So yes, I was attempting to be provocative. Hope it works... I agree that Seth Norman is a tremendous writer. For someone who has dealt with the utter depths of human misery, depravity and madness he still manages to remain upbeat and positive, and he has a real gift for articulating what is truly important.--AJ

  4. Like you both said. What constitutes "the best" is totally subjective. Therefore, within different realities reside different truths. Whether this or that, is a personal conclusion. That what makes us individuals, and being able to make decidions on internet watercooler advise or marketing commonplace allows us to define our place in the fishing world(or personal lives). So for someone like me that doesnt have many fishing buddies reguardless of what gear is used. A substantial amount of research is required when making a large purchase. This research involves all types of input. Form the sellers to the sold to and the true trusted friends.
    I really like your blog.
    - Matt

  5. Matt,
    As you put it, decisions can be quite complicated, and people need to do their research as you do. The internet is a two-edged sword. Before its advent information was more difficult to come by, but the information one did obtain was often far better quality, being dispensed or written by people in the know. Now, anybody can give their two-cents. Information overload...


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