Fishmail: A good-looking corpse

July 13th, 2002

It's time for a confession.

My name is Sean Geer, and I am a fashion victim.

It pained me to write those words, but it is an inescapable fact. The evidence is all around me, and I have until now chosen to ignore it, despite the fact that everyone I know can tell you the truth of this.  A glimpse in the top drawer of the desk where I now sit reveals it in all its grisly detail: a Sony laptop (you know, the one with the fetching brushed aluminium case and purple trim), a pair of Leica Trinovid binoculars, a Ricoh GR1 camera, Bose noise reduction headphones. And there's a lot more which I am as yet unable to really come to terms with, not least because it reminds me exactly why I hover endlessly on the brink of bankruptcy.

There are probably any number of explanations for my desire for beautiful objects. William Morris, a bloke who knew a thing or two about this sort of thing, said that we should have nothing in our houses that we did not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful, and that has always seemed like excellent advice to me. But as far as fishing is concerned, I have so far been happy to make an exception to this rule. Quite apart from anything else, years struggling around muddy ponds and fetid riverbanks with my coarse fishing gear has taught me that whatever else it might be, fishing is not what anyone might reasonably regard as a glamorous pursuit.

But then, of course, fly-fishing came along, and with it a whole new world of opportunities to exercise my vanity. Coarse fishing gear is functional and prosaic; its fly-fishing equivalents seem elegant and poetic by comparison. Branding, the scourge of the modern age, actually means something in fly-fishing circles, not least because it translates into real, measurable benefits. Say what you like about Shakespeare flyrods – they simply don't do the same job as the Scotts and Sages and Loomises that cost four times as much and have me salivating over my copy of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine. Fly reels may indeed just be containers for the line (and flylines have their own inherent hierarchical snobbery, for sure) – but that means little in a world in which Loop Evotec lightweight reels exist, objects which induce almost fetishistic lust in otherwise sane and careful human beings despite the fact that it would probably be easier to reassemble a Boeing 777 from its component parts than change the spool on one.

All this came to a head last week, when one of the Sexyloops faithful responded to my plea for help in my quest for the perfect fishing bag. He sent me a link to the website of an American company which he thought might be useful; and following up his lead, I rushed straight to one of their distributors, sufficiently inspired by what I'd seen to want a closer look for myself.

Never mind that the shop in question knew almost nothing about these products, despite the fact that it stocked them. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that the bags in question cost several times as much as their lacklustre equivalents from other manufacturers. Just imagine me wide-eyed, much as I was at Harrods' toy fair as a kid, suddenly sensing that somehow, I'd been missing something all my life.

I will review a couple of the objects of desire in question very shortly on these pages. For now, I can tell you that they aren't perfect by any means; but I can also tell you that they pressed all my horribly predictable fashion-victim buttons in a way that no other kind of accessory has done since I adopted fly-fishing as my preferred means of filling the hours between work and sleep. For one thing, they look like thay have been designed by someone who has actually been fishing for a while, in more than one place, rather than someone who has a few thousand miles of dull brown canvas they have to get rid of in a hurry. They come in a range of exciting shapes and sizes; some so exciting that they almost belong in an upmarket lingerie catalogue rather than a snooty, faded London-based fishing tackle shop. And they recognise that fact that there are a tragic few of us who, despite the fact that in an ideal world are on their own a long way up a river somewhere, like to think that when their bear-ravaged corpse is discovered will still look pretty goddamn cool.

John Gierach, that most insightful of modern writers about fly-fishing, has written of a North American phenonemon that now presents itself the world over – the 'Gore-Tex hatch', a sudden proliferation of well-dressed men with a seemingly greater interest in how they look that what they catch. I stand here before you as a deeply compromised member of that strange brigade. I may not catch any more fish than the Grizzly Adams lookalike with his possum-skin bag upstream of me – indeed, tests have shown that I usually catch considerably less – but years of imitating him have shown me that the beard and sandals are no substitute for the knowledge required to make them irrelevant. 

Reading all that back to myself, I feel almost ashamed. It would be nice to think that I was one of those fortunate people for whom catching fish was a simple and natural process, for whom even the smell of Gore-Tex is enough to have them reaching for their shotguns. But I am not: and in my defence, I will say only this. In the same way that buying books is a substitute for actually reading them, buying sexy new tackle is, for all of us, a substitute for being able to doing anything useful with it. And if, as seems likely, I'm going to die in my attempt to catch a six-pound trout, I might as well leave a good-looking corpse.

 
Sean Geer (sean@fishmail.co.uk) is a freelance journalist and author. He specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in Ireland, where he became the first angler in history to not land a mayfly-caught trout on Lough Corrib in the middle of the mayfly season. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.

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