Back to School

After fishing, there’s nothing fishermen like doing more than making up stories about fishing.

By Rob Breeding

The other day a couple of youngsters came into the sporting goods store where I work during the summer. They were nosing around the fly fishing equipment, eyeing some pricey rods and reels while asking about everything. They picked up a couple of leaders and left.

Shortly later the same pair of boys, 10 or so, came back to the counter with a rod and reel combo they had purchased on the cheap at a nearby department store. They wanted to know if I could help them tie the leader onto their new fly line.

In fly fishing knots are everything and no knot is tougher to tie than the nail knot, which is used to attach leader to fly line. It has taken me years to perfect the nail knot — so called because you often wrap the leader around the fly line as well as a nail before cinching it up — and then only after I adopted the use of an inexpensive nail knot tool. Neither the nail, nor a section of brass tube out of an old ball point pen, worked for me. Free hand was an even worse disaster.

The moment reminded me of when I bought my first fly rod. Though I was quite a bit older, like the kids, I saved money buying a cheap combo package at a big box store. Also like the kids, once it became time to assemble the outfit, I headed to a local fishing store for help.

I’ve never forgotten the shop owner’s response. He looked at me, angrily furrowed his brow, and sneered, “You bought that at (insert name of your favorite evil, big box store here) and now you expect me to help you?” He pointed toward an appropriate leader on a nearby shelf, took my cash, and again never saw me in his establishment.

Not surprisingly, that fishing store soon went out of business. It’s a liquor store now.

I suppose I get the dude’s frustration. He was a struggling small business owner. He needed big sales to survive. But like those kids in my store, I wasn’t going to make a big purchase anyway. I was a college student on a college student’s budget. I had recently started dreaming of this fly fishing thing I had read about and wanted to give it a try. I was also beginning to understand the truth about fly fishing that it treats your dollars the way the La Brea Tar Pits treated Pleistocene megafauna: it sucks them in, never relinquishing its grip.

I suspect a different, more helpful approach to potential customers may have been a better tact for that shop owner. Lord knows I’ve spent a lot of cash in tackle shops through the years. Maybe that dude would have recovered that lost business and then some, if he hadn’t instead run me out of his establishment.

There is this catch about difficult-to-learn hobbies such as fly fishing: you need mentors. Folks like tackle shop clerks, older relatives and members of the local rod and gun club become guides for newbies. It’s helpful to remember that except for those of us born with a 9-foot 5-weight in hand, we all were newbies at some point. We had to rely on those with more experience to illuminate the path, and even as veterans, the wise among us never pass up a chance to learn from someone who knows something we don’t.

Only a fool never needs a teacher.

So I told those kids about that way back time in that shop, and its grumpy owner. And then I chuckled and got my nail knot tool out and tied that leader to their fly line. Actually, I screwed it up the first time as the store was closing and I rushed a bit. But I got them set up and told them to come back, any time, and we’d give them all the free advice they could handle. That’s how we do things at our place, as is the case in all of the fishing shops I’ve ever visited in the Flathead.

That’s probably because after fishing, there’s nothing fishermen like doing more than making up stories about fishing.

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