I was shocked by the violence of the outburst. How us “fly fishing guys were NUTS”, and how the speaker – a largemouth Bass devotee – would rather submit to a colonoscopy before EVER learning to fly fish.
I’m staring at an extended digit, which I assume to be the exclamation point for some hideous crime dealt by some pompous flyfisher …and the victims, the aforementioned gear-wielding bass fiends, being horribly traumatized as a result.
I could understand the vitriol if my fate was the company of fellows I didn’t care for – or the required fly fishing livery and mandatory smoking jacket were unsavory, but as I’m unsure what the source of the angst is – and whether the conversation will end in blows, I’m struggling to envision what horrid crime would anger a fellow fisherman to the point of apoplexy.
I understand it better now.
As a reward for spending the weekend waist deep in cold water with not even a single bite, I was coaxed into a pilgrimage to “Mecca”, a.k.a. the Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World Boating and Tackle Megamall.
To suggest I was intimidated would be an understatement. No sooner had I broke the plane of the entry than I was hailed by a “Walmart Greeter” in store livery, and promptly herded past the acres of checkout aisles, test kitchen tidbits hawked by sweaty fat guys, and into the throng of people headed for the Big Aquarium of Tapped Glass – which was home to numerous large (and sonically deaf) fish whose fate it was to endure children banging on the glass – hoping to startle a resident into activity.
While I’m slowing to take it all in, I realize I’m that Old Lady blocking the soup aisle while poring over the sodium levels of Bean & Bacon versus the Chicken and Rice. I am blocking the path to the Test Kitchen and the free samples of “Gut Shot Elk Butt” being foisted on the unwary. Those same folks that wrinkle their nose at laying a lip on fish from the Wild, now squealing in pleasure as Mother Nature dipped in sugar and deep fried makes the sumbitch tastes like a Twinkie ..
I managed to find refuge in an side aisle featuring a mixture of “my organ is bigger because I kill stuff” fluorescent tees, (which all the kids were in a tizzy over) mixed with the more staid earth tones of Sherpa gear that just came off the Matterhorn, whose drab sophistication Mom and Pop found enchanting.
I found a side eddy that took me past more glittering silver and gold spinner-baits than King Croesus’s treasury, and as I slow I begin to see price tags and comprehend where I am. I’m in “SevenDollarLand” where everything large or small, glittery or drab, wiggly or inflexible – cost seven dollars each.
Like Walmart, bins of merchandise dominated by sale banners and bold typefaces ensuring us old guys don’t have to squint before pantomiming our displeasure. Suddenly that tasteful bit of tackle we’re fondling is the “dipped toe” into many hundred’s of dollars in liability, and we find ourselves cornered by an angry spouse with no path to the hordes of squeezables in the Rubber Worm Garden.
I’m a fish out of water – uncomfortable in what should have been a religious experience. Organ music and choir warble gives way to announcements of lost children, debtor’s prison, and the screams of kids no longer interested in Dad’s pending decision between Deep Fuggin Craw and Yum Yum Yello Crankbait.
I’m cheek to jowl with many thousands of folks who have no interest in any of this other than the spectacle.
The fly fishing section was framed in dark wood and dim lighting, a welcome contrast to the bustle and garish colors of the Crankbait aisle. Large price stickers announced the fly tying section as “Threedollarland” – where spools of tying thread were $3.19, as were the tiny bits of duck’s arse, deer fetlock, and turkey down.
I hadn’t thought the price tag mounted on the rear of a glassine envelope to be the fly fishing equivalent of “demure”, but I understand better now.
The shock of how much a new fly tier pays for materials caused my eyes to water. Hackle has never recovered from the heady days of hair inserts, and the White River shop brand for Bass Pro was a small (and useless) handful of neck hackle reminiscent of India capes. At $13.00 per packet, a fellow could go broke tying a dozen dries.
I was more fortunate, given it was Shad season. I picked up a few fetching colors of pink and chartreuse tinsel, a packet of pink beads, a couple 10lb tippet spools (mono not flouro) and two spools of heavy white thread – and I was out the door at $31.00.
Nine flies later I wasn’t so impressed at my acumen …
Pricing a Royal Wulff was an eye opener. $14.00 for a packet of brown hackle, $5 for the calf tail, $4.79 for the Peacock, another $3.19 for red floss, and $3.19 for the thread, closely followed by $7 for a 25 pack of hooks, meant I was into the fly about $38 by the time I had everything.
Considering the hackle as the delimiter, maybe I could tie 9 good flies .. making the cost per fly about Four Dollars Each. As Bass Pro sells the damn flies for $12/dozen, we’re not likely to see the fly tying ranks swell much …
Ditto for the Thousand Dollar Fly Rod. As Momma and the kids stroll past the fly fishing section (with prices visible from the closest three aisles) we’re sending a powerful message to our recruit pool.
Tying flies as a means of defraying the cost of buying store-bought has always been one of the reasons for fly shop visitation and our continued support even during non fishing season. Like tippet, it’s one of the most common reasons for us to visit and toy with that new rod, or try on those new zipper front waders.
One megamall does not a trend make … but as our numbers are dwindling quite rapidly, and these “foreign” venues present our craft to thousands of potential recruits, far in excess of anything our small stores can muster, I was a bit surprised at my own reaction …
… and was an eloquent depiction of why my hardware mongering bass pals won’t even consider the long rod. A lesson punctuated by airborne spittle and much finger pointing.