© 2012 Will K DCIM100SPORT

Dignity in the Water

Flyrodders are a chronically unique group, but a group chronically lacking in individual uniqueness in one righteous regard.  Dignity.  Flyrodders are a group obsessed with it, and together we stand in contrast to a shaming and humiliating cacophony of inflictions of embarrassment.


If a new fly fisher ignorantly and quite innocently posts a photo of his newest catch sprawled on the gravel laid out next to his shiny new outfit, he is taken aside for a discussion of dignity.  The biology of slime coats and half-lives of oxygen saturation are aired in gentle admonishment.  The benefits of catch and release are tied on the end of yarns about not only why we release, but how.  What the fish needs is equated to what it deserves.

Bloggers, fly shop barflies and stream-side confidants all have stories wrought with details of the fish as much as the catch.  We love fish and exalt them oftentimes to idolatrous and godlike statuses.  We devote essays, soapboxes, and poetry about the fish themselves.  To be even more burlesque, we “wax poetic” about the flies we cast, the rods we strain, the reels we hang and the knots concocted and employed.  It is all about the fish, though.  Few cast a Schliske to their yard’s corner Honeysuckle and never a fontinalis.

Whether written, spoken or internally-imagined, it always goes the same–words carried on the back of a romantic and erudite sigh.  “Ah the Brookie.” “Ah the Cutt’.” “Ah the Smallie.” “Ah the (ahem) carp….” Yes even the carp.  Who but flyrodders have sought and brought dignity even to “trash?”

When the dignity of our beloveds is threatened, we fall back on the intensity of each of our own personalities.  Fires are lit and we take up for the fish, for the stream, for the habitat.  Fly fisherman are dam busters (or modifiers), trash collectors and “how dare you” activists.  Why would anyone really care about a particular icthys, a finned inhabitant of a given body of water? It’s just an animal.

It’s not “just” anything.  For us that animal–or at least a certain species of that animal–is the embodiment of dignity.  Something not only to which we owe such or give such, but receive such. We are so aware of the dignity of the fish that we know that we ourselves are dignified by mere contact with it. Our favorite photographs of ourselves are those in which we are hand-holding the fish.  We are addicted to the electric, alternating-current of dignity that flows to and from the fish.

Fly fishing is a dramatically teliocentric way of life, and I’d argue that what we are after is not a set of fins of a particular and predictable pattern and color, it is something far more abstract and unpredictable.  Bringing to hand a flopping fish, we know, is bringing to hand royalty having just spoken the words, “I must meet you” in the form of a cast, drift and set.  Lifting the fish fills the scene with that rare element we seek to experience just once more.  And it happens.

The air of dignity captures us; the heir of dignity raptures us.  Ah the dignity.


  1. Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm | #

    Ahem, I may have on occasion lost some dignity on the river. Particularly to tag alders, but I’ve sacrificed it to a few fish as well.


  2. Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:06 am | #

    Beautiful piece and well written. You have captured a side of fly fishing not often talked about. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm | #

    “Abstract and unpredictable”

    you nailed it. Cheers

  4. Teak Phillips
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 8:07 am | #

    The best dignity is when they are served smoked or poached. Only then have fish fulfilled their God-given destiny.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>