Monday, September 7, 2009

On Ruts and Routines

There is no denying that people are creatures of habit. We find a routine with which we are comfortable, and follow that same time-worn path, most every day. Just take a moment and consider all the things we do simply because we've always done them. We drive the same way to and from work, never varying our route. We order the usual dishes at the usual restaurants. Some of us even go so far as to mow our lawns in particular patterns (Yes, I am that guy). In roughly thirty years of fishing I haven't any reason to think otherwise of my fellow fly flingers.

I'm a rod first kind of guy. That is to say that when I pull up alongside the river, the very first thing I do is pop the trunk and pull out a rod tube. If it's a bamboo rod I intend to fish, I'll extricate the rod, and may even go so far as to give the tube a sniff (rod varnish is intoxicating). Some folks might take a quick look at the river, while still others scan the air for bugs. I need to get my hands on that rod, attach the reel, string it up, and give it precisely three false casts.

Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out! - Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

Each and every time I go to the river, I follow that routine. It's my ritual, and when I'm forced to do things outside of my usual order I feel uncomfortable and unlucky. Of course, my way of doing things isn't necessarily everyone's way of doing things. Some folks prefer to don waders before stringing a rod or checking the water.

Adam is a wader guy. He throws those Orvis Silver Labels on with a speed usually reserved for people doing a 4:00 a.m. dine-n-dash at Denny's (you know who you are). I've never understood why he opts for the waders before all else. It seems to me that if you go with the waders first you'll only sweat that much longer underneath all that no-sweat fabric. Of course, Adam carries only two-thirds of my natural insulation, so maybe sweat isn't so much a concern. Still, there's no way a pair of waders could possibly have as much mojo as a rod. Rods are extensions of our will, old friends ready to charge into the fray alongside us. Waders smell like urine.

There are also those routines that aren't the result of habit or superstition; life has a way of forcing certain customs upon us. My experience is that as we age we fly flingers fall into a seasonal routine. That is to say that we tend to fish the usual places at the usual times. I must admit to doing this quite a bit since my children were born. When I was a younger man I was constantly exploring.

Adam and I each had our Gazetteers, and every week we followed some new blue line. We started with the Battenkill and all of its tributaries, but if there was a river, stream, ditch or puddle somewhere within 75 miles of home then there was a pretty good chance we fished it or thought about fishing it. Over the years we expanded our search for fly fishing Nirvana, and made our way to Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Montana and Wyoming. Everything was fresh. Everything was new.

We haven't seen those maps since we married and had our families. These days our time is at a premium, and we try to hedge our bets. When the hendricksons are on, we fish the hendrickson run. When the sulphurs are on, we fish the sulphur pool. When the river runs at a particular CFS we fish streamers, a little higher and we stay home. Some folks might suggest we're stuck in a rut. The truth is though, that we're finally able to benefit from years spent knee deep in swamp muck, climbing over out-sized boulders, and wading through as many brier patches as riffles.

When we were young we didn't catch a heck of a lot, not as much as we do now at any rate. Sure we were lucky on occasion (I'm reminded of the time Adam took a 20" brown from a tiny tributary to the 'Kill), but for the most part the blue lines creeping across our maps didn't offer the kind of fishing for which we were searching. We eventually found our philosopher's stone, and now we jealously guard the knowledge that took so many years to cultivate.

And having found our holy grail, what is it that we do to keep our rituals from becoming ruts? How do we maintain our passion for a sport that takes us to the same bit of water, day after average day? First, each of our pilgrimages begins with the hope that the day will not be mediocre, but rather exceptional. By and large it is the promise of the next day that keeps us coming back. Second, we remember that we can never really go to the same river twice. She is always in a state of flux, and it is the riddle of those changes that we find so intriguing. Third, we find new ways to approach her challenges. We tie new flies, fish different rods, and use longer and lighter leaders. We vary our technique, and in doing so we change our experience.

I'll finish with some words to those younger bug chuckers who might pity an old guy like me who is closer to 40 than to 20; a fella' who is burdened by the responsibilities of work and family.

Do not pity me, and do not mistake my routine for a rut. Most days I love my job, and my family could never be a burden. I hate to voice a cliche, but I've been there, I've done it, and I am perfectly happy right where I am. You go on and enjoy the swamps and brier patches, and in nine or ten years when you've figured things out, I'll meet you for the hendricksons.

No comments: