That Charles Darwin has got some bad press over the last few centuries is not an exaggeration. Only in the last few decades has the throttling chokehold of well-intentioned groups been released from the throats of science so that it may fully express itself.
I am, obviously, talking about evolution. Having recently stepped into murky waters by expressing my, usual, cynical (or just straightforward?) views on angling journals and their contributing journalists I figure I may as well move onto the holy grail of out-of-bounds topics.
What has this to do with trout, you ask? I could go on for hours on how they have evolved to match their surroundings and food sources and how they evade predators, etc., but I suspect that you would simply rise from your porcelain throne and throw this article aside in abject boredom. No one wants to be bored on the crapper. For most of us work-a-day Joes it’s the closest we’ll come to nirvana; those few undisturbed minutes of lavatorial bliss.
What I’ve been thinking about is evolution and, specifically, the related concept of ‘specialization‘ as it applies to the angler. As an apex species (or THE apex species judging by our propensity to blood the noses of every other living thing whose paths we cross) we tend to think that our last little brush with evolution was when we left a cave in search of a drive-through burger joint and a six pack. Not so, I argue.
This subject, my friend, can be likened to a field full of old land mines where a false step in either direction may result in an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. I come from a long line of ‘creationists’. What I believe is not important and I am neither, through nature nor nurture, best placed to comment. Certainly my rather crude knowledge of science and biology do not promote my status as a commentator in the debate, but as a keen observer of human behavior I’ll give it my best shot.
A lot of what passes for evolutionary science is, I think, just a case of whether form follows function or whether function follows form and has little to do with the evolution of the species. You just do what you are best at doing and as you specialise you get even better at it until you can’t even remember what the hell else it was that you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It is, for example, a bit like when you are despatched to urgently pick up a loaf of bread, bump into a mate, have a quick drink and arrive back home three days later unsure of what it was that you nipped out for at all. It’s called specialization and has resulted in more failed marriages than the heinous crime of forgetting to bring your Tupperware lunch boxes home from work. (I myself no longer take lunch to work. Early in my marriage my wife would pack me sandwiches daily; healthy ones with green stuff on them. One morning around ten she popped by to collect something from me and remarked that I’d already finished my lunch. She left in something of a rage when a colleague remarked that it was pizza day and could she please slice his tomatoes a little thinner in the future. Thus ended the ‘I’ll bring the snacks for tea and you get lunch’ agreement that had, up to that point, been working rather well.)
You see, this specialization is what my father would call ‘evolution within a species’. That, as I understand it, goes something like ‘God made the animals and the animals adapted and changed – but remained the same animal‘. It’s a bit of a cop-out as far as opinions go but, I will try to explain his view.
Let’s consider an example of form. I have a fly-flogging friend (as surprising as that may sound) who is tall. Really tall. Really, properly tall. 6 foot freaking 4 inches tall. His maker, in a not-so-small feat of genetic engineering, saw fit to bestow on him an incandescent shock of ginger hair. I, on the other hand, am of somewhat more average proportions (ok, ok, I’m a smidge below average) with what the tiers of flies would call ‘dun’ hair. He has legs are like tree trunks whereas I’ve been told that when I lie on the beach I look like a speed trap on the N2.
Whenever I relate to this buddy of mine my exploits on small streams he swings the conversation neatly and immediately to behemoth fish taken from float tubes.
I explain the joys of the gentle upstream flicking of minute imitations and watching their long flawless drifts as they pass over small, pretty fish. He describes flies that appear to consist of entire gamefowl cast between weed beds and how, as soon as the waves resulting from their breaking of the surface tension have dimished enough for him to steady his tube once again, he retrieves them in a blistering fast hand-over-hand retrieve. He tells me of the need to have a reel with a strong drag and a few hundred fathoms of backing and I tell him that I have not seen anything but the first four meters of my fly line since I put it onto the reel. You get my point.
While you may say that we just enjoy different aspects of the sport I put it to you that there are larger evolutionary forces at play. You see, whereas my stick-like legs are almost entirely drag free (those fine Italian guys at Ferrari have asked if they can study them in wind tunnel experiments so as to improve the aerodynamics of their vehicles) in order to to enable me to wade up fast currents for hours, my friend’s long and impressively muscular legs are made for hours of kicking a tube across large lakes. His lofty height enables him to keep his cast from slapping the water while kick boating just as my diminutive stature conceals me from the anxiety-drenched gaze of the denizens of small streams. His veritable conflagration of fiery locks send our river-run quarry scuttling to cover from fifty yards whereas my dun crest blends into my surroundings perfectly.
You see, this is a case of evolution ‘within‘ a species; specialization, if you prefer. My friend has evolved into something of a still water specialist whereas I have evolved into a small stream angler. (I don’t feel right to call myself a specialist. Certainly, no one else has ever called me that. Oh, I’ve often been called ‘special‘ but just never once a ‘specialist‘.)
I’m sure that given enough time this specialization will continue to unfold and develop. From my careful studies I predict that the branch of evolution that resulted in the homo sapien is set to fork once again as two very distinct sub species develop. What will the respective angler look like in a few hundred generations? It’s hard to predict, but I’ll venture a guess.
Let’s start with the still water angler, from the bottom up.
[Reading this in the voice of renowned naturalist, David Attenborough, will really assist you to get a feel for the content. Picture the writer, if it helps, suspended on a rope rigged to high treetops looking down on the scene as it unfolds. If it helps you, by all means dress into an outfit with strong khaki tones.]
His feet will become larger and flatter thus obviating the need for those ridiculous strap-on flippers that they love so much and in which they look so ridiculous. Below the ankle, midway through the foot will be a marvelous joint capable of bending both forward and backwards. His toes will disappear through not being required to perform any useful function and the joint I have so recently described will be the re-purposed remains of the current joints where the toes meet the foot. This will provide him with an extremity not unlike a seal’s flipper and which will be a powerful advantage in getting to the prime areas of the lake ahead of his rivals.
I can picture him speeding across the lake with dab chicks being drawn into and drowning in his powerful, churning wake and with plumes of spray behind him like a monsterous rooster tail. Children will gasp at the beauty of the rainbows formed in his spray, etc.
His legs will continue to grow until they perform very much the same function as that of a kangaroo; to extend outwards like the sudden release of a tightly coiled spring – with great force and propulsion. His on-land perambulations will be akin to that of a sea lion; graceful while in the water but entirely comically ungainly on dry land.
On the subject of sea lions and seals, out lake fisherman has already (evolution is an ongoing process and is not to be confused with the creation or Big Bang or whichever world view you subscribe to and doesn’t just happen between dinner one day and breakfast the next) began to evolve to emulate the characteristics of these aquatic mammals. He has, for instance (for heaven’s sakes, look around you) developed a permanent layer of blubber to protect him from frigid waters. Fat, as you are well aware, is several times lighter than water and he is already able to float like a cork; warm and (for the most part) dry. As his evolutionary path unfolds he will develop the thick black hide of the seal or sea lion. This hide will protect him and will enable him to glide, streamlined through the water. This hide together with his propensity to head off for distant waters at a moment’s notice will unfortunately, and rather cruelly, lead stream anglers to dub him ‘mudflap‘ (dark, flexible and willing to travel).
His gonads, as a result of that nasty little vertical climb that they do on first settling into a float tube on an icy lake, will have moved upwards and settled into a position on his chest. His voice will also move upwards in register and he will communicate in top C. Some of his subspecies will find alternate employment and pleasurable pastime in the opera, choirs or boy bands. (His ‘nads won’t stay there long as nature will again move them when she realizes her mistake. Lake fishermen, obvious even to the most disinterested observer, do a lot of beating of their own chests and the inconvenience and sheer eye watering pain of having a pair of chestnuts cannot be understated.)
His penis will be long, strong and well defined. His bladder will enlarge and will be surrounded by a very strong set of contracting muscles. This set-up will render him perfectly suited to the pissing contests that he so enthusiastically engages is. This activity is not to be confused with a mating ritual, as it is performed with members of his own gender to determine the alpha individual in the group. (His mating rituals are easily discernible; they start with the consumption of much alcohol and drawing back of the shoulders. They invariably end with him being kneed in the chest. The proliferation of the subspecies will become a touch-and-go thing.)
While today we see our appendix as a useless remnant from pre-human times and only good for exploding and almost killing us at the most in appropriate opportunity, the lake angler, a few thousand years from now, will have an enlarged, highly flexible and very useful apendix. He will have the ability to clamp tightly shut his sphincter, release from deep in his fetid bowels a substance not dissimilar to swamp gas and use it to inflate his appendix to enormous proportions. This deep-bowel pneumatic device will entirely obviate the need for a float tube.
This flexibility of body parts will not be restricted to the appendix. His arms will develop immense elasticity as a result of countless generations of regular wide stretching in opposite directions when describing fish he lost. Future wives and drinking buddies will be treated (read – bored to tears) by stories and demonstrations of 11 foot fish lost in the weeds. His arms will further evolve to become a seething mass of muscles and tendons as a result of his repetitive punching of glider-sized flies leagues across a lake.
Future archeologists and archeoanthropologists (honestly, I just shake my head at these grand titles) when sifting through the compacted silt that was once the margin of a high altitude lake will ascribe to this sub-species the name homo exaggeritticus piscatorus as a result of his being an out-and-out liar on the subject of his catches. (How do they, with only fossil record to guide them, know that he was given to exaggeration you ask? Easy. No fossilized fish found will come to within a third of the size of those scribbled on his cave wall / ‘fish lost’ diary.)
Our stream fisherman, on the other hand, will evolve along an entirely different path and will earn the name homo elegantus piscatorus owing to his beautifully elegant bodily make-up.
The most obvious feature of this species, and more than a bit off-putting by today’s standards, will be his 360 degree knee joint. While there is no doubt that the ability to bend one’s knee in any direction is a gift for the fisher of freestone streams, seeing someone move their shin forwards from the knee and forty-five degrees to one side leaves the onlooker with a feeling much like that left by the sound of fingernails being slowly drawn down a blackboard. (Pause and try to imagine that for a second. Kinda makes your teeth itch, doesn’t it?).
Even more disconcerting to the modern eye than a 360 degree knee joint will be the overall evolution of his legs. The move from typically mammalian legs to those more avian in form and function place our stream enthusiast at a distinct advantage. Picture, if you will, the sight and advantages of a pair of heron-like legs. The battle against the pushing of bow waves forward into pools, the bite of ticks and spiders or fatigue as a result of resistance to current flow will be forgotten. Also, not having to wear those ridiculous zip off quick-dry trouser leg things will promote what has up to now been a rather sketchy mating success rate.
In a remarkable example of devolution his brow will revert back to its Neanderthal shape; a prominent bone jutting outward from his forehead. This is specialization of the highest degree. His brow will shield the eyes from glare and enable him to sight moving fish with ease. No longer will our angler have to suffer the ignominity of a ridiculous wide brimmed hat. (You paid what for that? Surely you’ve seen a reflection of yourself while wearing that thing? Practicals? Give me melanomas on my head any day.)
His ears will disappear, seemingly melting away into his skull. If his quarry cannot hear a shotgun being fired a few inches above their heads it makes no sense for our angler to need to have advanced aural sensitivity. Besides, speaking for myself, the freedom from pain of an ear no longer subject to impaling by cold iron is a cause for celebration.
His eyes will demonstrate the highest level of sophistication and specialization in any species ever to have roamed this planet. A ‘second eyelid’, much like that of the crocodile, will slide over the eye and will protect it from stray aerial hooks. This eyelid has a further function as it provides perfect, glare-free Polaroid vision. The eye itself through a complex systems of muscles will contract to provide perfect focus when threading 9X tippet through the eye of a #28 fly. As he follows the fly down the bubble line the muscles of the eye snap into line and allow him perfect binocular vision of the path of the fly.
Homo elegantus piscatorus will have an evolutionary cousin, homo sinkus horribulus, with whom he should not be confused. While the former continued to evolve to become the very pinnacle of human evolution the later drifted off into an evolutionary eddy where he became trapped and immovable like the mammoths in the tar pits. Horribulus represents what the chimpanzee represents to homo sapien – the brown that turns away just under the fly, the fly struck hard from out of the jaw of the rainbow before he had a chance to turn away with it; a case of “Oh shit, did you see that? That was so-o-o-o close.”, to which your fishing buddy answers “bro, you fish like a monkey.” (Which can easily be countered by explaining to him that a chimp is not a monkey but an ape and that apes do not have tails and that he’s welcome to check the facts himself. The distinction is largely academic and won’t put the fish into your creel, but at least you can take a smug stance on the matter.)
Horribulus, you see, never mastered the upstream dry and continued to fish downstream winged wets on a fast sinking line. This mastery of the upstream dry is generally considered by the evolutionary sciences (or antichrist bunkum, depending on your viewpoint) as the watershed in the split in this subspecies with one side moving into the glorious light and the other sitting in a darkened corner of the bar buying drinks for anyone who would listen to him defending his technique and its purported astounding fish catching ability.
So. That’s how I see it happening. In fact, look closely at our subjects, evolution is happening every day all around us and you may have seen some of yourself or an acquaintance in the examples noted.
That I may have unintentionally involved myself in a running bunfight between the Church and science and stand the chance of being the Salmon Rushdie (see what I did there?) of my generation is entirely regrettable but, I fear, in the interests of telling it how it is, necessary.