From the February 2014 Issue of Car and Driver
Thought car jargon was wordy and impossible to understand? Wait 'till you try fly fishing.
Twenty-some years ago, C/D’s editor-in-chief, William Jeanes, recruited a new managing editor whose job it was to improve our writing. “He is, to some of you, an instrument of torture,” William said of Steve Spence. “You should know, however, that he is my instrument of torture.” In fact, our writing did improve, but one of the M.E.’s pet peeves was insider jargon that he felt scared off novice enthusiasts. The two of us argued endlessly over the acronym “DOHC,” which he insisted be spelled out in its entirety, and we further tussled over “unibody,” which he said had to be followed by the phrase “versus body-on-frame.” If you dared utter shopworn euphemisms like “slushbox” or “mill,” he’d make you read a chapter of The Elements of Style, and he once shouted at me, “I like short words and vulgar fractions,” a line lifted from a Winston Churchill speech. I’d forgotten about all of this until I took up a new hobby: fly-fishing. I hired an Orvis guideundefineda former CIA officerundefined then subscribed to six fishing magazines.
My first rod and reel turned out to be the Pontiac Aztek of fly-fishing rigs. “Ya gonna do, spear the trout?” asked a stream-side crony, who marched me back to the store to purchase a nine-foot, five- weight carbon-fiber rod with superfast action and quick damping of tip vibrations, mated to a heavily ported, mid-arbor, self-lubricating reel with sealed dual-action drag body loaded with hybrid ceramic bearings with an oversize drag knob and a CNC-machined spool of 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. At least I think that’s what I have. I’ll have to ask the CIA officer. I am told this rig represents the difference between a Fiat and a Ferrari, but I can tell you that neither a Fiat nor a Ferrari ever wound itself around my ankles and toppled me into a black pool of 37-degree water.
Then my fishing magazines arrived. In one, there was a debate about fly lines: helium microspheres versus carbon nanotube spray-on coatings versus self-healing plastic polymers. It was like reading the ingredients on a bottle of Tamoxifen. In another review, an editor wrote: “The drag cylinder itself is available in contrasting tones, so it’s visible through the porting in the spool and frame. Kind of like those flashy bright-red Porsche brakes.” Apparently priced by Porsche, too.
Whenever I’d seek guidance through this maze of piscatorial vernacular, I’d utter awful inadvertent blunders, and the fishing pros would glare at me the way I glare at car guys who confuse horsepower with torque and call all BMWs “Beemers.”
Really, this sport is not welcoming. Dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, or streamers? “Match the hatch,” comes the answer, but the available flies are as numerous as failed car companies. You got your Royal Red Humpys and Mystery Meat Skwalas and Chubby Chernobyls. For all I know, there might also be Blue Bricklin Buggers and Dusty DeLorean Drakes. Learning just the generic patterns is like memorizing the entire list of Mercedes-Benz models. It’s like being hired by Tire Rack to talk knowledgeably about 1859 different treads, compounds, and sizes. Right now, when another angler asks what fly I’m using, I shout, “Pale Morning Dun” or “Purple Haze,” those being the only two I can identify with certainty. If the fish spit those, I’ll just bash them with my $135 Brodin Ghost net’s teak handle, which appears to have come from a Bentley’s dash.
Then I drove C/D’s long-term Mercedes-Benz GL450 to Livingston to visit the mecca of fly-