Paul Andersen: The tough old trout of the Fryingpan River
August 19, 2018
The gauntlet of fisherpersons on the Fryingpan River is a sight to see. Lined up like soldiers, they are ready to do battle with anything that dares swim past. The troops are armed with the latest in fly rods and uniformed in the most fashionable fishing duds. With practiced motion, they whip the water with serious of intent.
It's called "sport," but the crowds make it hard not to pity the fish on which the sport takes a toll. These tough old veteran trout have sport of their own navigating the rushing stream through a tangle of lines which, on the end of each, is a tantalizing, delectable, yet unpalatably artificial fly.
I live up the Fryingpan, so I observe it often. From what I see, the mystique of fishing forfeits an essential part of its purity when guides place their clients within a rod's reach of each other.
Fishing along rivers and streams should be a purist's paradise where the solitary angler communes with the spirit of the waterway and offers a fly in a graceful cast that invites the catch. Fishing shoulder-to-shoulder is an affront to the notion of a personal relationship with nature rather than a hobby tainted by the crush of humanity.
"And so I learned what solitude really was," states fisherman extraordinaire David James Duncan, author of "The River Why," which extols the virtues of fishing. "It was raw material — awesome, malleable, older than men or worlds or water. And it was merciless — for it let a man become precisely what he alone made of himself."
I know the value of fishing solo because for many years, I couldn't get enough of it. Any body of water held the promise that I would catch a fish — and I did!
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As a kid, I loved to fish alone, communing with mythical leviathans through the conduit of monofilament line and my old Webco spin-casting rig. It was the perfect excuse to escape parental authority and adult supervision, a chance to allow fate a hand in my young life, an invitation to experience the great mystery in silence.
That's why the mass fishing experience on the Fryingpan is beyond my sensibilities. Sloshing around the river with a half dozen bro-buddies and high-paying clients forecasts the time when there will be waiting lines for river access and queues at popular holes. Such is the nature of mass consumer recreation when it reaches a thoroughly commercial scale.
Customers seem happy to pay big bucks to be escorted to a river sanctuary, and the more privatized, the more they pay. But it is the fish that ultimately pay, if you believe in their sentience. Fishing is not so much about nature as it is about predictable amusement by snaring trout through artifice, cunning and manipulation. There is a cost to the jerk at the end of the line, as Duncan writes:
"The thing I found offensive, the thing I hated about Mohican-mountain-makers, gill-netters, poachers, whale hunters, strip-miners, herbicide-spewers, dam-erectors, nuclear-reactor-builders or anyone who lusted after flesh, meat, mineral, tree, pelt and dollar — including, first and foremost, myself — was the smug ingratitude, the attitude that assumed the world and its creatures owed us everything we could catch, shoot, tear out, alter, plunder, devour … and we owed the world nothing in return."
What the Fryingpan trout receive in return for the sport they provide is the multiple piercings that would make any punk rocker jealous. The most celebrated among these trout are adorned with festive flies lining callused lips that have broken many leaders and held onto the symbols of failed fishing techniques.
Fryingpan trout are fashionably thin from nearly starving to death by noshing artificial flies fed to them in great numbers. The pain of chewing actual food with multiple hooks in their lips is depleting, and fighting the hauler who thrives on the life-and-death struggle of a trout burns precious piscine calories.
Despite heroic efforts to evade painful capture, Fryingpan trout are thrown back to be recycled for the next, the next and the next … all down the line.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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