Getting Out of the Batrace

I caught a bat once. It wasn’t a very big bat, mind you, but I’ve never caught another so it’s what guys these days would call a “PB”.

While my wife waited against a rapidly setting sun for me to execute another half hour or so of last casts I lost sight of where my fly landed. Squinting into the gloaming I became aware of a faint tugging on my line and when I looked up my line was directly above me and moving in an anxious figure of eight pattern. 

I reeled in. I looked at the bat. The bat looked at me. I was trying to remember whether bats carried rabies while the bat for its part was probably crossing #14 muddler minnows from its list of high-calorie dinners. Across the void between our two species there was a mutual acceptance that this wasn’t exactly how either of us had seen the evening playing out. Like the Sunday morning after a bout of Saturday evening of bad decision making we just tried to extricate ourselves with as little as possible eye contact and as much dignity as we could rescue from the situation. We didn’t bother with a photo. 

Still, it remains my biggest bat to date – but I’d hardly call it a trophy. The unfortunate mammal was just fractionally big enough to make girls run in circles and scream about it flying into their hair. I don’t know what the record bat on 5X tippet is, and I reckon that if you target those big fruit bats the picture may be different, but it put up a weak fight and it isn’t a species that I would recommend adding to your to-catch list.

Swallows (I’ve caught two now) put up a remarkably good fight but as a species are too pretty to actively target, I feel. Getting a hook into that beak isn’t easy and foul hooking them is sad enough to make you cry. Their first two or three runs may take you into the backing, and while there is a certain undeniable thrill in that, it’s hard to get over the thought of having hurt them. Besides that, they’re all pretty much the same size and this can be somewhat counter productive to the habitual chaser of the PB. 

As kids my brother and I, to quote Tommy Lee Jones, would “hard target” whatever the available angling equivalent of every “henhouse, outhouse and doghouse” was. We didn’t care much for size – numbers were our game and we played the game with barely manageable energy. Our red bait was left to rot in the sun for exactly the appropriate length of time and we imagined (not entirely immodestly) that the blacktail of Mazeppa Bay quivered in fear when they heard our rowdy voices approaching our favorite gullies. 

My brother was, and is still, particularly obsessed. As a result of this preoccupation with all things piscatorial in nature his Freudian slips as a child were many and hilarious. The morning after a singularly breathtaking celestial alignment he risked a warm klap by butting into adult conversation (a cardinal transgression in those days but a behavior that is seemingly considered “cute” in these) to ask whether anyone else had witnessed the “kingklip of the moon” the night before. He went on in life to successfully target behemoth fish in almost every species while I, as I mostly do, took a different path. 

I’d love to tell you that my meander through this world has been spent in pursuit of a simple purity of fishing expression. I could tell you that as a sometimes wannabe student of Zen I seek the void, that I live in the here and the now and that the counting of species or the targeting of records is simply a vulgar expression of the vulgar ego. I’d be quite right about it, too. But I’d also be dishonest. What it is, my disdain of numbers and records, is a function of my complete and overwhelming laziness. Sloth. Indolence. Utter, bone idleness. Call it what you want, I’m the undefeated world champion. 

You see, were I to target a wide range of species and have to therefore remember their weights and lengths I’d need to have some sort of recording system. This in turn would require me to write things down. That would mean that I’d need to file it somewhere. At some point I’d want to study it to look for trends in weather, tides, conditions and such. 

That, my friend, is starting to me to sound like a lot of work and it is as close to my personal vision of hell as you could get. 

No, this owning of storage lockers full of gear, the endless research into the feeding habits of locally endemic sub-species, the calibration of digital scales, the correct two-stroke mixing ratio, how to tie the bimini twist and the maintaining of endless catch record books simply isn’t worth the energy. The cost-benefit deficit of it all is almost as staggering as the thoroughly awful risk-reward payback. It’s true that every few hundred hours or so you’ll get a new species or a bigger fish than the last, but it’s also true that even dead cats bounce (when you drop them from high enough). 

Happily, I’ve found a compromise. I think that it gives me an air of purism (the holy grail, nirvana and chequered flag of fly fishing – and you better know it). I get to affect an demeanor of superior nonchalance and thinly veiled disdain as the only rod that I own and my single fly box containing roughly four patterns stand beside me. People nod and say “there goes a purist” and I return the nod slowly in my best impression of the Dalai Lama – all the while trying not to unnecessarily over-exert myself.

The way I see it there are only two types of animals in this world – ones that eat a #18 Adams and ones that don’t.