Monday, December 8, 2014

The Social Fly Fisherman?: Part 1

Star catcher?
I spend ninety percent of my time fly fishing alone. I like to imagine this is because of my schedule (night shift) and not because I am terrible at making friends or have offensive body odor. Whatever the cause, fly fishing makes a fine companion for hermits like myself and any loneliness easily gives way to serenity and the joy of fishing at ones own pace. Early this year however, I made a bold, contrary move and looked into joining a local fly fishing club in Boise. My reasons were selfish which comes easily to hermit types. Five years of fishing solo had left me feeling somewhat unsupervised and unpolished. No fishing buddies meant no one around to critique my casting technique and so no way to know if I was doing it all wrong.  My time alone also left me wondering whether social, gregarious fly fishermen actually existed or if did the sport cater to mostly reclusive types.

The plan: First, find a club. Second, meet a few like-minded fly fishing enthusiasts to blabber with and spare my wife from another two hour monologue about how great fly fishing is, was and always will be. Third, buddy up some cool old club guy who would take me under his wing and show me all of his secret fishing spots, best fly patterns and pubs that had the coldest beer, served by the cutest waitresses. An ill-conceived plan is often worse than no plan at all I soon found out.

After Facebook stalking all potential candidates in the valley, I decided to sit in on a few club meetings. Before making any social commitments. I needed to feel out the vibe and glare at people from under the bill of my hat, which was part of the hermit's code. Each club offered fly tying, guest speakers and a promise of inclusion, but it was the club that offered free beer along with unlimited support for trout that caught my attention. Free beer delighted me for two reasons, first I am cheap and you can't beat free and second I have mild social anxiety and beer always makes a crowded room seem less hostile.
Rock on!
On the night of my first meeting I kissed the wife goodbye and dashed off excited that I was about to become part of something larger. I arrived early and sat down against an outside wall which offered a better vantage point for watching members toddle in. The meeting began and ended in much the same way, with the clearing of throats and little else.  The guest speaker however was amazing and the free beer kept my nervous hands company.  Unfortunately the clubs greeting party was absent and my reception cold.  As I recall not  a single member made an introduction, gave a smile or even a tossed me a glance. I was a fly on the wall among fly fishermen. I left feeling deflated.

On the drive home I thought to myself "should I really be surprised by the cold reception?" Maybe not. Maybe fly fishermen are all loners. What can one really expect from a gathering of hermits, who are not generally know for their hospitality. As far as I know there is no name for a gathering of hermits but if there ever has been one, the hermits soon realized what a mistake it was and quickly scattered.

Not wanting to admit defeat just yet, I attended another meeting the following month. The second wasn't much better and the meeting left me feeling like a hobbit that had stumbled into a fly fishing "Entmoot." To clarify, Ents are the ancient tree creatures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and an "Entmoot" is a gathering of these creatures (maybe the closest thing to a gathering of hermits). Basically the meeting was attended by a bunch of old, groaning, grumpy, slow moving curmudgeons. For the record, I love old people. My career is working with them and I even have a specialty in geriatrics because I like that population so much. So why am I being ignored? I have unruly nose hair and am nearly bald, doesn't that make me an honorary member?  I skulked home again and whined to my wife about their obliviousness to other humans and their general lack of enthusiasm. She tried to help in the way girls like to help and recommended I introduce myself.  I chose to stomp around like an idiot, figuring they should be courting me not the other way around.

The third meeting I opted for a more radical strategy, knowing now that I had nothing to lose, I turned to fly fishing for inspiration. My plan was so deviously cleaver that it had to work. Mimicking is a survival strategy common among insects and this fly on the wall was about go Darwin on this club. What if these old codgers were no different than any wise old rainbow buck that scanned the waters surface and easily picked out and ignored the fake and hastily made flies. Maybe I was a player in a strange initiation process or test.  And then I realized what I had to do. I must become invisible to be seen. Like a perfectly tied fly, I would try to blend in and only then would I catch their attention.  And so it was that with each meeting my metamorphosis progressed. Board shorts were replaced with khaki pants, flip-flops exchanged for loafers. At the fifth meeting I even stuck a Smokey The Bear 50 year anniversary commemoration pin in my hat. I paid my dues and set my face into the grimace I saw all around me. And so it was for several months. I was a social fisherman alone in a crowded room.

The sixth meeting was held on a rainy day that made the stuffy meeting hall smell like feet. That night from among the clatter of coughs, grumbles and snapping knee joints that I heard my name called out by the club president at the lectern. As I walked up on stage to claim my hat, won in a raffle, I saw two dozen pairs of eyes look at me. It was in that moment that they finally noticed me. Their eyes puzzled over my existence, like someone who finds cat shit on the carpet but knows they don't have a cat. I wished I was invisible again as I shuffled back to my seat prize in hand. The hat incident concluded any desire to continue my membership with the club. It was clear that I didn't fit in with this crowd despite my best efforts. Time to move on.

In the end I didn't land an old fly fishing mentor or hear of any secret fishing holes but I didn't learn a few lessons from all this. First, be skeptical of anyone giving out free beer. Second, hermits don't shake hands, smile or chat about the weather, embrace them for who they are. Finally, if you find yourself in a deep pool full of cranky old bulltrout, don't expect even a eyes wink unless those eyes are looking to eat you. My next post will be part two. It will continue to chronicle my progress finding a fly fishing club to call home.