Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Naming of Things

Be warned that I write this as I approach the tale end of my second, two-pint bottle of Three Philosophers, one of the Ommegang brewery's fine craft-brewed ales. Tasty stuff ... much to my wife's chagrin.

What is it about a fly shop? Seriously, what is it? We walk through the front door like young Charlie Bucket stepping into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for the first time, all wide-eyed enthusiasm and wonder.  We're easy marks. Easily mystified. Easily impressed. Easily sold.

Consider the following ...

TCR, Helios, BIIIx, ProGuide, WhisperLite, Silver Label, Guide, Master, Hydros, Velocity, Ion, MTx, Signature, Prestige, Classic, Carbon, Pursuit, Axiom, ZXL, Eastfork, Tournament, Solo, Mirage, Edge, Drifter, GVX, Shadow, One, StreamDance (one word ... two capital letters), GLX, 99, One, Touch, Guru, Encounter, Konic, Trion, 1200, 1600, 1800, Wind River, H2, Force, Evolution, Battenkill, Click, Retro, Hard Alox, Momentum, Vexsis, Headwaters, Henry's Fork, Surge, Superfine, Nimbus, Tigershark, Clearwater, Canyon, Bighorn ...

Looking at that list - through my rose colored beer goggles - I think I begin to better understand the marketing arm of the fly fishing industry. Clearly, tackle manufacturers and resellers have boiled down their customer base into several key demographics. Let's take a look at those constituencies.

The Disciples of Pythagoras: The Disciples try to bring order to fly fishing in the same way they try to order every aspect of their lives, through mathematics. For them, life's inconsistencies can always be reduced to their binary elements or a least common denominator. Every mystery may be solved, every challenge overcome, with a properly constructed algorithm. A brown trout rising sporadically to hendrickson spinners, permit tailing on a flat, a school of outsized carp cruising the shallows in a search of crayfish - these are all problems that may be solved with a little a2 + b2 = c2. Consequently, the Disciples gravitate toward gear that can easily be accounted for in an equation. Sage rods and reels are especially apropos: 99, One, 1200, 1600, 1800, 4800, ... 8675309. The numbers make sense.

I think this thing is at the heart of my Android phone.
Card Carrying Members of the Craig Sheffer Fan Club: What do you mean you don't know Craig Sheffer? Yes, you do. No ... really ... you do. Craig Sheffer is the actor that played Norman Maclean, the narrator and protagonist of the film adaptation of A River Runs Through It. But all you remember is Brad Pitt's performance? Hmmmmmm ... does your wife know you've been visiting Turkish bath houses? 
That Brad Pitt sure is a beautiful man
The point - insofar as this semi-drunken rant has a point - is that Sheffer-ites are escapists. They fly fish to "get away from it all," and many were sold on the sport's more romantic notions by The Movie.  Consequently, Sheffer-ites gravitate toward gear that is marketed to folks with aesthetics and tradition in mind. Part of the irony, of course, is that most of this gear is made in mainland China where fly fishing is about as much a part of the landscape as is a Taco Bell drive-thru.

Irony aside, names like Battenkill, Classic, StreamDance, Drifter, Canyon, Clearwater, and Bighorn leave a Sheffer-ite dreaming wistfully of a time when anglers carried bamboo rods and wore felt hats with flies stuck in the brims. Through the magic of product branding, Sheffer-ites are removed from the cubicles and corporate headquarters in which they tend to congregate, and magically transported to Rocky Mountain freestoners with water pure enough to drink in the raw. Note that the Coors Brewing Company - a company whose products are never commingled with the words "tradition" or "aesthetic" - uses exactly the same marketing strategy to appeal to binge drinking frat boys whose fathers never took them camping.

Nuff' said.
Trekkies (sometimes referred to as Hobbits depending on the angler's proclivities):  

Helios, Hard Alox, Vexsis, Hydros, Shadow, Mirage ... these are the names that writers of fiction give to ancient gods and distant star systems (and fly fishing marketers - or is it marketeers) give to their companies' latest and greatest gizmos. I can almost imagine a Las Vegas convention center filled to overflowing with pointy eared, wader wearing Spocks ... a Fly Fishing Show in which tyer's row is populated by the likes of Gandalf, Scotty, Bilbo, and Sulu - all of whom tie zonkers with trible fur and muddlers with flash from a barrow-wight.

Oh My.
Rapidly Aging Forty Year Old Men - Who Secretly Wish They Had Been Recruited for NASA, the CIA, FBI, or NSA: 

Acronyms are everything. Everything.

That is why these men (and they're always men) often spend so much time and money pursuing university degrees. R.A.F.Y.O.M.s (Rapidly Aging Forty Year Old Men) need to feel accomplished.

I'm a very important person. Can't you tell by my robes and mortarboard?
They need to feel successful, and they need to feel that way because they are terrified of their own deaths ... or their daddies never hugged them ... or Santa Claus overlooked them ... or they've always felt sexually inadequate, or ... whatever. The bottom line is that they're afraid they'll leave this world having left no trace. In their perpetually pubescent minds they feel safe in the assumption that titles mean something, and the letters that follow their names on professional correspondence (FBI, MD, Phd, CIA, MSW, CPA et al) give them the sense of having accomplished something important, being noticed, or having huge ...

Fly rods.

GLX, MTx, ZXL, CLA, TCR, BIIIx, VXP, HDT, TCX, TiCr, BVK, or WLx ... the acronyms are everything. When an R.A.F.Y.O.M. has an acronym in his hand, he is more of a man in his mind. 

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