Leader strength is based as much on the margin of error for nicks and abrasions as it is on real breaking strength. Many anglers feel that the ultrathin leader materials now available do not equal their breaking-strength counterparts because the thin stuff weakens steeply if at all abraded. There is a very long list of things that can quickly change the breaking strength of tippets, which includes the touching bottom, hinging at the knots, scraping on teeth and gill plates and so on. There is a real reason many anglers, especially steelheaders and salmon anglers who cast a lot of bites, stick with the low-tech stuff. It doesn’t have to be terribly heavy because there are few rods which are comfortable to cast that can break anything over 10-pound-test at all.
I asked the greatest trout fisherman of my era, who is himself an out-of-control proliferator of technical doodads, what percentage of his annual catch of fish he would catch if he were reduced to Adamses and Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear nymphs. His answer? “Certainly over 90 percent.” When pressed about the staggering variety of patterns available in his fly shop, he said, “I don’t sell flies to fish.”
There are many things in fishing which separate the men from the boys but in my opinion that one thing we should all work toward in becoming better anglers is what I would call, for want of a better term, smoothness. Many of the great anglers I have fished with have had this trait above all others and it is the one thing that I continually strive for. It is the trait that unites sportsmen as diverse as the Grand Prix driver Juan Fangio, who was so smooth he rarely strained the cars he drove, golfers like Bobby Jones and baseball players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. There are always a few blessed with genius and inspiration, towering casters, lead-footed deep-river waders, anglers with astounding vision and so on. But the angler who sets out to accept his gifts and limitations, who recognizes the importance of keeping his fly in the water, who abjures tackle tinkering once he reaches the river and who strives to fish coherently throughout the fishing day will usually, finally, succeed. Steelhead and salmon fishing exaggerate the importance of this; and sometimes relatively unskilled anglers, who are otherwise persistent and capable of sustained focus, will outfish flashier types, better casters and ever more experienced anglers. I have seen steelhead rivers act with great leveling effect on men of hope, rewarding the scrupulous if limited anglers and penalizing mere technicians, tackle nuts, distance casters and fishing experts. A great angler like Bill Schaadt was a tremendous caster, an outstanding schemer, an intimate of the rivers he fished; but what impressed me about him the few times we fished together was that he was tougher and more persistent than anybody I’d ever seen. He kept the fly in the water more than anyone, ever. He was smooth and efficient. All of his strength and talent, indeed the overall design of his life, was at the service of keeping the fly fishing, which begins by casting a straight line. There are armchair anglers who can cast four kinds of the curve but can’t cast a straight line except in dead-still conditions. A late start in the morning prevents the fly from fishing; a crooked cast delays a fly from fishing; fly changing and leisurely meals can play a part in preventing the fly from fishing. Bill Schaadt’s term was “lost motion.” Every angler should strive for its elimination, not to become an automaton, but as part of the smoothness that seems to be a part of angling when it is done beautifully and effectively.
Why do fishermen lie? An interesting question; it ought to be dealt with because it is the single thing we are most famous for among the general public. I think that most who love fishing do not wish to compete but have found no successful way to avoid competition when fishing with others. I, for example, do not wish to compete and therefore do most of my fishing alone so that I may absorb its mysteries, poetry, and intimations of mortality. On many occasions, however, I find myself fishing with others and it is then that I helplessly find myself competing, crossing at hookups, admiring some great thing about my tackle when I really mean my self. The lone angler or even the angler who has just been able to get around the bend from his companions may fish and dawdle as he pleases, take in the migratory birds, the soaring hawk, the hunting mink, the glancing light on the rifle, the sound of the hollow bank. He may even catch fish. Later, upon meeting up with his companions, he may dispense with matters of competition by lying about his results. How did he do? “Major poundage. A semi-load.” The most incredulous of his companions have probably come by their incredulity honestly: They’ve been lying too. So all is well. A day in the life has been suitably taken in and in an avalanche of lies, the truth has been served. And the only people who are the wise are the general public.