Monday, January 10, 2011

At The Club: an Over-Seas Member

                                                   Braving it out at The Flyfishers'Club.
                                                           69 Brook Street, London,
                                                                      October 2019.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Transcription of a Paper Letter from One Old Fisherman to Another

Dear Richard,
   Yup, I agree. There is so much out there to make us feel bad, such a variety of things, so much that we cannot change. I guess that we must resort to a holding action; that is, trying hard to keep as cheerful as we can in the face of it all. Which is to say that we must not let the bastards get us.
   One day last week, two new “fishing magazines” came in the mail. I sat down with them only to end up tossing them away in deep discouragement. It felt to me like our fishing’s gone to the dogs.
   We’re bombarded in every field sports publication by the many and frantic efforts to get kids out there fishing, to teach them, convert them, instruct them even in their school rooms. The movement has gone evangelical, impassioned, and frantic.
   My hunch is that it’s all in vain, that these newer generations will never fish as we have fished, let alone think of fishing as we have thought of it. The new “tackle” clutched in their hands will not be a fly rod, but a blackberry or an iPhone. That kid, standing there on the corner is receiving or sending another text, not dreaming of a way to get out and catch a trout. 
    Still the hue and  cry is to get those damned kids out of the malls and away from their devices and out fishing-- if not for their own good, then for the good their names, added to the rosters and the polls, can do in the ongoing politics of sport-- but even more, for the greater good of corporate profit.
    I think the battle is lost.
   I think the effort to convert kids is at root disingenuous. Our motives are impure. At the deepest level what we want is to recruit kids to support the “industry” of angling: the manufacturers, the shops, the guides.    Already the  “industry” is slipping downward on the graphs of our tough times. We look with dismay at that kid walking the mall who carries the entire world electronically in his hand. He angles the world at will and almost for free. We old-time anglers simply can’t compete and can only stand by and wish we could yank that cell phone from his hand. We want him to memorialize that “barefoot boy with cheek of tan”,* with a cane pole and can of worms sauntering down an old dirt road to the old fishing hole. But that kid is gone forever-- as are his country parents. There is no rural America left where a kid can discover the field sports in his own sweet way.
   We have to realize, I think, that for the first time, perhaps, in the history of human culture, kids do not much want to live the life that their parents lived. You and I may have had our spates of rebellion and wanted things different from our old folks, but their way remained the same safe way of life that we knew and wanted for ourselves. We lived within continuity and tradition.
   Not that these kids today know what it is they want instead of what they have, but it clearly seems not to be the model that their parents represent. Going fishing with Dad hasn’t the appeal that it once had. Other social constituencies have come to understand this, but not the angling community in which thinking about social issues has never been a long suit. The capitalization and incorporation of youth as an important market looks to be  total, with the field sports bringing up the rear
   When we were kids, we lived closer to what we could see was the source of our daily bread. We understood what our dads did for a living to  support us. And we tended to respect it. If Dad fished, it must be a good thing: such was the dynamic of our culture.
   But not any more. So little is actually manufactured, so much is only computed in obscure offices that our lives have tended to become abstracted from a productive, work-a-day substantial reality. We become digital in our satisfactions and leave the rest to China.
   And, as if this were not enough, demographics are running against all the field sports; ethnicities on the rise are not those where commonly a tradition of field sports is honored let alone practiced. I fear that we are in the late days of our angling tradition. 

I am, neverthless, yours,

* John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Barefoot Boy” (1885) defined and immortalized this  fundamental American  symbol.

in the collection of Mrs. Claude Albrighton of Boulder, Colorado