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The Myth of Maximization

How the Dominant Culture of More, Faster, Better Might Be Ruining Your Fishing

Coffee-filled Rambler in one hand, steering wheel in the other... a shadowy landscape begins to give way to a golden red warmth slowly showing over the eastern peaks. Right turn off of the quiet pavement to the familiar gravel crunch under the tires....slowing down the drive and seeing the eves of the lodge coming to form out of the willow shadows beyond the giant blue guardian spruces.

Morning gear-up at the Lodge

Crank the steering wheel right, come to a stop, throw the tranny in reverse, and (usually) expertly back right to my Clacka's trailer coupler. Step out into the chilly crisp morning, a faint hint of breath steam rising, shuffle through the light dew, and lift the damp-to-the-touch trailer up and onto the hitch ball.

From a slightly "safe" distance, the rise and fall of conversation...of promises, tactics, and gear floats from the unseen gathering on the lodge's back patio. There's almost always a familiar tone and cadence to said meeting of minds; the friendly jabs, ensuing laughter, return jabs, heavier laughter, stories of yester-fish, and …inevitably... the bets. I half smile, roll my eyes, and think, "Here we go again..."

"I'm a guide, not God!" a close guide friend of mine used to exclaim on the tough days.

Continuing to sip my coffee and keeping a calm and even keel, I wander toward the cacophony for morning introductions...small talk, assignments, and then back to the rig to load and roll out. In the moments between the first handshakes and launching on the river, it's nearly impossible not to mentally sum up the group... and have at least some idea of how the coming day will likely unfold. I'm often right, sometimes surprised, but at least try to ditch expectations and let the day present itself as it will. Such is the life of a guide. And it isn't a bad one.

Generally, everyone is pleased just to be out....and that's the point. The catching is great but there's often a natural ebb and flow to that, especially as a freestone guide where even "consistency" can have a daily catch count fluctuating by a dozen or two.

"I'm a guide, not God!" a close guide friend of mine used to exclaim on the tough days. And he's right. As guides, our job is to help you have your best chance at finding fish. But some of it's also up to the client. And a lot of it is up to Mother Nature's whims.

Embracing the pace of the place

The hardest thing for me to admit is that some people you jive with and others you don't. That being said, it's my job to be able to roll with the punches. It's my job to be able to handle all types. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely a line when it comes to client (and guide) behavior, but 999 times out of a thousand, nothing even comes close to said threshold. But why even mention it then?

Well, it's because I've found the underlying commonality in those who are generally pleasurable to fish with and those that are harder for myself and a lot of the guides I know to have to deal with (don't worry, I'm an absolute professional. Handle it, I do).

So what is the thing I can't get behind? Generally, at least in fly fishing, it's More, Faster, Better.

There isn't a person alive that doesn't want to catch more fish. Well... a few might exist, but I personally cannot make this the sole driving force. I can't honestly can't even put it in the top 5. If maximizing your fishing, beating your friends, and catching numbers is your priority, well, maybe...consider bait fishing. Or maybe join the competitive fly fishing circuits.

As I've come to understand it over the last 35 years, the dominant grind harder, dig deeper, and even catch more mentality is contrary to the fundamentals of fly fishing.

The start of another workday

Fly fishing is built on a more natural, more rhythmic, more observant base. It's beats and measures and cadence. It's drift and flow and dance. As I've witnessed, it's not exerting your force and will on nature but an allowing.... tuning to nature's energy and movements and becoming present to its enveloping presence.

So what's happening to fly fishing culture? Where did the notion of solitude and slow motion begin to fizzle? It's still there but seemingly harder to find.

I remember when the cult of the fly seemed to be vastly smaller...almost uncommon. Seemingly it's exploded into a pseudo "alternative sport" akin to snowboarding, skateboarding, or skydiving shifting the cultural zeitgeist of the pursuit.

The drip, drop, grip-n'-grin that dominates the outdoors person's social media feed is a never-ending loop sh*t out by a ravenous monster named Mark Z. Jokes. Kind of.

I cannot exempt myself from said group either. Business needs attention. Today, to bolster attention, you (most often but not always) need some form of social media presence.

But what's the line and how do we toe it? That's the question I think all must ask of themselves. There's no canon of measurement to suit all. It's seemingly a trial-and-error loop we've all got to get a personal grip on.

The human mind isn't built to handle our modern world as well as we think. That's a hard notion for many... our minds are brilliant, highly developed, and even cunning. But in many ways, our modern lives are outpacing the evolution of our brains.

I truly believe with all my heart that we were not built to deal with such massive amounts of digital stimulation, instantaneous gratification, and constant distraction. It overexcites and fries the nervous system....the only bodily system that connects every part of our body. The brain needs a break for heaven's sake! It needs to not be plugged in. It needs to not be overstimulated, regularly, for a distinct period of time.

We're generally all out there for the same reason. Catching fish...don't get me wrong, that's the goal but it isn't the goal. It's more a reward for understanding the concepts the natural world is trying to teach us.

There's nothing wrong with competition either! It's healthy. It stimulates the mind, challenges the body, and forces us to grow. I really believe that sport is a must for humankind...that it teaches us A LOT about ourselves.

I'm not wanting to hand out participation ribbons to everyone who grabs a damn fly rod. My sole argument here is that, most often, we're already getting enough sport. We're constantly barraged with competition. We're fighting for our remain connected to this physical world/ourselves and not get lost in the static of email, AI, or the constant barrage of dings and pings and whistles that programmers are using to train us like Pavlov's dogs!

If not for the river, where? If not while fly fishing, when?

These are the questions I'm asking myself on a daily. And I'll be honest...I've got to fight the tendency to drift off into the to-do list while standing mid-thigh in the South Fork watching my skwala bob down the riffle.

It's a big question, but a fair one.

End of musing.



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Wonderful insights Nic. I find self improvement is addictive and it’s marketed to us in similar ways as the ideas around “bigger, better, faster, stronger” in fly fishing…or anything else on the shelves. The river can set the pace if we let it, and all the good comes with it. Thanks for a great reminder and thoughtful article.

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Thanks, bud. I'm just happy someone actually reads the damn thing ha.


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