A trout fisherman should never look into a mirror. If he does, his ego will collapse like a pair of empty waders. Here he is, a full-grown man dressed like a deep-sea diver, with a ridiculous battered hat on his head instead of a helmet, and more gear hanging from his shoulders than a U.S. marine making a beach landing. And all this to go out and do battle with an adversary that most often is about as long as his middle finger and just as thick.
The trout fisherman is a phony who shrouds himself from any facsimile of the truth with a set of self-created illusions, delusions, laws, creeds, alibis and superstitions that would make a medicine man in a tribe of headhunters turn in his gourds.
The fisherman begins by forgetting the primary purpose of fishing, which is to catch fish. He frowns on any method that is simple and productive, like using a chunk of liver on a hook, or netting, or patronizing the frozen-fish counter at his supermarket. The fisherman has a sagging ego, which he must feed by reducing the odds in favor of the fish with use of artificial flies (preferably homemade) and gossamer-thin leaders.
Above all, the devout trout fisherman distorts fishing in his mind until it is no longer fishing. It becomes an "art": The Piscatorial Art, with himself as the wielder of the brush. It becomes a Heroic Epic, with himself as the wielder of the sword, battling with superhuman efforts of will and might against an unconquerable adversary. In his illusion the trout (legal size: six or seven inches in most states) becomes the "wily" trout, or even the "noble" trout, which slashes and darts and heaves its mighty shoulders through the foam of the rapids.
One of the fisherman's face-saving rationalizations is that he does not meet his adversary on common ground. If, for example, he and the trout were in a bathtub together the result would be inevitable. After a few grasps at his slime-slippery adversary, the fisherman would call upon the higher intelligence of his species: he would pull the plug and end up with his prey gasping in defeat against his flanks. The absence of a bathtub changes everything. It leaves the man in his element hankering after the trout and the trout in its element hankering after whatever trout hanker after.
Confused, often browbeaten, always ego-faltering, man can't leave well enough alone—especially in the spring, when the sap is beginning to rise in him, and he is suddenly Man. He is the protector, the provider and, with flaring nostrils and glinting eyes, he must convince himself of the fact. His blood roils and boils. Only the conquest of a powerful adversary will uncurl his upper lip. It is his destiny, and he cannot deny it. He has got to go out and conquer a trout. But trout fishermen, once they have outgrown the barefoot-boy, tree-branch, store-twine, bent-pin stage, cannot just go out and catch a trout. They must prepare for a crusade.
Preparations usually begin in midwinter, when snow witches are dancing over the white land. They consist of reading the books written by experts on fishing, who somehow always find time out from fishing to write books about it. The rods (plural) are carefully inspected. Although it is virtually impossible to cast with more than one rod at a time, each fisherman has to have several rods. He has soft-action rods that he uses for wet-fly fishing and fast-action rods for dry-fly fishing. Blindfolded he couldn't tell the difference.
The fisherman must also have a multiplicity of lines: lines with long tapers and torpedo-head lines, lines that together sink with wet flies and lines that float with dry flies.
Tying his flies can keep a fisherman busy for months and years on end. These flies are tied to imitate any and every insect that has ever lived or might ever live—and in any and every stage of its development from the nymph stage to its last fluttering moment. These artificial flies must imitate the natural fly precisely. All the experts say so. A minor error might escape the scientifically trained eye of an entomologist, but it would never, never deceive the wily trout.
So the fisherman goes on preparing his armament and dreaming of the fateful day when he will meet his foe face to face. Strangely, that moment when man and fish meet is not known as The Moment of Truth; it is known as Opening Day. That day, marked on every trout fisherman's calendar, sustains him through the frustrations of his everyday living. He doesn't audibly snap back at his boss, he meekly permits himself to be herded to the back of the bus, he allows his doctor to treat him like a none-too-bright child and obediently swallows the pills whose names he dares not ask, he lets insurance salesmen sell him insurance he does not need, he agrees with his wife that she is more capable than he of managing the family finances and he permits his son to practice the trumpet over weekends. He is an ordinary man. But his day is marked on the calendar. His day will come. And eventually it comes.