I buy my flies.
There you go, I said it.
I see you recoil in horror.
Calm down, I don’t buy all of my flies. Some of the patterns in my boxes are of my own tying. Be that as it may, I’m not even slightly embarrassed to admit that I overwhelmingly fish flies that I’ve bought from stores or stolen from naively trustful friends.
Once or twice a year I sit down dutifully at my vice to fill gaps in my boxes. It always brings back vague and distant memories. Disconcertingly, the memories are of attending my kids’ pre-primary school plays.
Enough with the gasping already – I know that you share my pain.
I’m aware that it’s important that I’m supportive and I remind myself that there’s nowhere in the world more important for me to be – but somehow my mind drifts off and I stifle a scream as the crowd hushes and the house lights dim.
Weeks of preparation go into these endeavours as I drive around collecting fabric and threads and beads and all manner of ‘essential’ costume trimmings. The list seems endless and no expense or labour is spared in my efforts to turn out the best dressed cast member that I can. In this theatre artistic rivalry is acute and the costume is considered infinitely more important than any actual talent on the part of the player.
When the curtain goes up I sit there aghast as various unrecognisable life forms adorned in their new vestments pass before my eyes and under the glaring spotlight that is focussed down on them. I look around at the smiling faces and proud looks of the other parents and wonder what it is that I’m missing. They’re all taking photos, patting backs and congratulating each other as they point out the fine qualities of the costumes that have been hung on their little ones’ backs.
The curtain comes down at last and I rise with a feeling of profound relief. The show is over for another year. The spotlight cools and dims and I busy myself with packing away the discarded bits of feathers and fur that surround me at roughly the same diameter of a Boer laager of old. (I’ve learned to pack up properly. Decent capes in these troubled economic times are worth roughly the annual GDP of the average African country. A domestic cat, I’ve discovered, likes nothing more than to chew on the rancid desiccated skin of a cape. Right now there are four of the feline bastards stalking the perimeter of my laager, just waiting for a chink to present itself.)
The truth is that I am just about, almost but not quite, discerning about the flies that I fish. I’m not terribly certain how to explain this other than to say that I know what constitutes a good fly and I go out of my way to fish the best tied fly that I can. This isn’t to say that I don’t fish a bad fly – I just don’t fish truly terrible flies.
I cannot abide this kind of fly, but at least they’re really easy to spot. They have the close, buttoned-down look of a Sunday morning part-time real estate agent in a cheap, shiny, tight-fitting suit with a necktie like a silk 1X tapered leader and barely visible through the fumes of what can only be the result of a recent bath in Aqua Velva. They look nothing like what they purport to be. Hell, they’re not even close.
A truly terrible fly performs badly too. Grab one and lightly rotate the dressing and the hook in opposite directions. The dressing will easily turn around the fly. Now take another and pull the dressing either forward or backwards and notice how easily it slides on the shank. You will by this time also witness various bits falling off it, thread unwrapping and dye marks on your fingers.
Grab another handful. Pin the point into the counter and pull at the eye. I guarantee you that it will straighten or snap. Do this a few dozen times; statistical variances will be slight.
You should have by now realised that a terrible fly is both a visual and a mechanical abomination. By all means point this out to the tackle shop jock – right now he’s standing over your shoulder pointing at his sign that says “lovely to look at, lovely to hold, but if you break it consider it sold”. Without a hint of irony you can tell him that you refuse to pay as the trash that he’s selling is neither lovely to look at nor lovely to hold and that you didn’t break them as much as subject them to a righteous mercy killing.
No, a truly terrible fly is like actually meeting the woman on the other end of the phone sex line. Despite how attractively they’ve described themselves they are always going to look like an emaciated grandmother dressed in nylon, laddered stockings, a lurid grin, too much make up and reeking of a lifetime of disappointment.
On the other hand, a pretty bad fly looks just about right and is a tempting buy.
Its singular fault is that it’s proportionally wrong in the way that those chubby ladies in the tight dresses and skyscraperesque heels that you see at the airport or award shows are proportionally wrong. They’re wearing the right labels in the right places but they somehow don’t seem to pull it off very convincingly. They sort of wobble along with a bulge that appears here, disappears there and then catches you unawares by popping back out where you were least expecting it. (If you can picture a chunk of polony wrapped too tightly in cling wrap you’re on the right track.)
When you look at them in dim light or after a drink or two they appear to be the real deal and you snap them up hungrily. When you wake up the next morning and have a half-good look at them you realize that your judgement was a bit wayward and that you’ve got to find a way to shake them off without having anyone’s feelings hurt too badly.
We all own more than a few pretty bad flies. I’m fortunate enough to have not tied these myself and I dispose of them by giving them to my son (I know, but at least I’m blushing as I write this) or by simply throwing them away. The guy who invested hours into filling his box with flies from his vice only to realize that many of them are pretty bad doesn’t have that luxury.
When they come off your vice it is like having spent a great deal of time and money wining, dining and softening up that generously proportioned lass in the telescopic heels. In the morning you’re left regretting your poor investment and wondering whether there’s a slim chance of recovering some of it. Some of guys will hang on in this relationship for a remarkably long while as they try to at least extract some conjugal dividend from their mistake but, in the end, they have to reconcile with the fact that they are, ironically, screwed.
My personal aesthetic doesn’t require perfection. I’m quite happy with workaday flies that get the job done.
Ignorance, in my case, is truly bliss.