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Ronan's report

Sunday November 11th, 2012

After tying the body, rib, and thorax, I just needed to add a hackle and the fly would be done. On the table in front of me were almost half a dozen of the same pattern, surrounded by the debris of an around an hour’s worth of tying: Spools of thread, spools of wire, odd clumps of fur and hackle feather, a dubbing needle, two pairs of scissors, a small bottle of Hard as Nails, and an empty tea-mug.

This last fly would complete the half dozen I needed to restock the fly box. Finish this and I could get up, stretch my legs, and have another mug of tea. Might even have a biscuit. Then I noticed the ribbing. It was slightly off.

It wasn't a disaster, just a little uneven. The fly was fine. Really. I could easily have tied in the hackle, whip finished and had the kettle on all inside two minutes. The fly box would be fully stocked with half a dozen serviceable fish-catching flies.

But I surprised myself by carefully unwinding the thorax (picking off stray dubbing hairs from the thread), and then re-winding the ribbing to make sure the turns were properly spaced. Then I dubbed on a new thorax, completed the hackle and finished the fly as planned.

As I sipped my fresh mug of tea I got to thinking about that last fly. It's not like me to be picky. In general terms I think of myself as a pragmatist and not a perfectionist. I try not to sweat the small stuff and focus on functionality more than dotting i's and crossing t's. My fly box is by no means a collection of exhibition-level tying, and I’d hate for you to look at it under a magnifying glass. So why did I bother unpicking that last fly to redo the rib?

There is a satisfaction in doing anything well. Painting a fence, parking a car, hitting the waste paper basket first time from across the room. But with this last fly it was more than that, I almost felt that I had a responsibility to myself and to the fish to make a better fly.

Very odd.

We spend hours, days, months, and years trying to tie better flies, cast better loops; learn about myriad insects, rivers, lakes and fish. This huge investment in time and effort isn't all simply about trying to catch more fish though, is it? It's more than that.

I'm tempted to say that trying to do all these things well is an outward demonstration of respect. Respect for the fish, the environment, and for ourselves. But the fish doesn't care a fig whether my ribbing is uneven or not, and the piscatorial understanding of the concept of respect is probably somewhat limited. So what’s going on?

When we talk about respecting our quarry we mean something else. Respect for the fish is an outward demonstration that we understand the consequences of what we're doing. We take away their liberty and sometimes even their lives, and that is something that we must not take lightly.

As we get deeper into our sport we come to understand that the more effort we put in, the more we value the end result. That old saw about starting off wanting to catch all the fish and finishing up wanting to catch the hardest fish is repeated so much that it has us yawning with boredom, but it is repeated so much because it contains a grain of truth.

We seldom value things that are easily had, and here in the developed world lots of things are, actually, had very easily indeed. So it does us good to sometimes take the long route. To walk rather than drive. To cook rather than get a takeaway. To tie rather than buy.

To re-rib the fly.


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