I don't know how many stages of gear-mongering I've passed through, but the answer is almost certainly more than a few. At times I've gathered equipment like a conquistador pillaging three-quarters of Central America; a year or so later the pendulum might swing towards a more restrained outlook, and then I might go an entire summer without articulating just how badly I needed a new reel. Primarily I dabble in between, and often by choice - which means I have passed up making one or two purchases that I could actually afford. On the same note, there was once a period of skepticism that strayed towards the neo-Luddite notion that anything new is to be shunned, and probably shamed. Clearly a period of youthful indiscretion, filled with the type of adolescent hubris that makes one imagine a little bit of skill is more important than a little better rod. But since no amount of practice or talent could keep my waders from leaking, I soon moved on from that view.
Some of these stages I've visited more than once. That's how I've stocked enough fly-tying material to construct roughly 29,340 Egg-sucking Leeches. Should they suddenly become unavailable for purchase, I guess.
The point in all this, like many others, is not infrequently lost on me. Still, I do sometimes stumble into a bit of understanding.
Take, for instance, a trip to the Kanektok a few years ago. The week was meant to be spent in search of kings, a species that brings out the worst of my gear-hauling tendencies. To start, even though I can read a calendar as well as the next guy, personal history has taught me to expect something far less than finding runs at their apex. Consequently, a fishing trip for kings means bringing along the five-weight and a heavy assortment of trout flies. I have six boxes of them and consider each absolutely indispensible. I mean, why would there be so many styles of sculpin imitation if they weren't all necessary?
Since it's midsummer, I'll also decide I need an eight-weight for the sockeye and chum salmon. That means a box of sparse ties for the reds; streamers and even some 'Wogs for the dogs. I'll also need two more lines - meaning two separate reels, one housing the floater, the other a sink-tip. Then, and only then, do I think about the kings: two ten-weights, a nine-weight double-hander, a couple more reels, various tips for the Spey, and piles and piles of flies.
The problem, such as it is, stems from the fact that I own all this - and more. Since most floatplane operations frown upon hauling the entire contents of my garage to camp, I have decisions to make. If I've got something new - on this occasion, a pricey new rod - it's really no decision at all.
First morning, first cast, a loop so symmetrical I almost forgot to set the fly down. This initial toss was so good, in fact, that I immediately picked the line up and cast again. And again, now narrating the physics behind this marvel for my companions in the boat. About the time I was becoming unbearable, but before I truly wanted to, I let the fly settle into a run against the far bank. The feathers barely had time to get wet before it was crushed by a cruising king. As I set the hook, just touching a good bend into the greatest ten-weight I've ever cast, the rod shattered into at least a dozen pieces. I spent the rest of the week abusing my old ten-weight, hauling king after king to the boat with all the subtlety of a crabber. That rod remains in perfectly acceptable shape today.
Now, due to this incident and more, I think much longer and much harder before taking out any piece of new equipment without a first run-through closer to home. And I've never even considered returning the broken ten-weight for another, even though it was clearly a freak deal and there aren't thousands of rods out there bursting into shrapnel at the first signs of a fish. This is what I've come to understand - as with so much in fishing, it's about faith.
I fish what I trust, simple as that. I wear what I know will keep me warm, comfortable and (mostly) dry. I tie-on flies that I believe in, sometimes despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. I never, ever bring a banana onto a boat, which has nothing to do with any of this.
The point is confidence. And having a backup just in case.
-Troy Letherman, editor