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In the last decade or so, the more pragmatic souls in the angling world have been observed to utter low moans and race for the bathroom when a phrase like "the aesthetics of fly-fishing," delivered in yuppified tones, comes crashing into a conversation.
And yet, and yet....
Who among us is so single-minded that he would not stop to admire the feathery symmetry of a well-tied Hendrickson, or to contemplate the seamless craftsmanship of a split-bamboo rod, or simply to observe a proficient caster spot his fly beneath an overhanging branch from 50 feet away?
And so it is entirely fitting that American fly-fishers have chosen the breath-catchingly pretty village of Manchester, Vt., as the site of their national shrine. As a matter of fact, the American Museum of Fly Fishing has been there on Route 7A since 1968; on June 7 a ceremony honored its remodeled and enlarged premises.
Roughly a third of the museum's visitors, says executive director Don Johnson, are nonanglers, and there's no doubt in his mind what the No. 1 attraction is for them: the nine-foot Hardy "Palakona" split-bamboo fly rod that Ernest Hemingway fished with in Idaho. (But the museum is not pettifoggingly purist. It also has photos of the cane pole with which the young Hemingway fished grasshoppers on Horton's Creek, near Jackson, Mich.)
Next, the drop-ins usually move on to Dwight D. Eisenhower's gear, donated by Mamie, and to George S. Patton's creel. Judging from its generous dimensions, the creel was intended to hold several dozen brook trout that had not been apprised of their rights under the Geneva convention. And, of course, most museum visitors will want to sec Bing Crosby's porkpie hat, pipe and rod.
After that, if they plan to make Burger King in time for lunch or take the kids down Alpine Slide at Bromley Mountain, there probably won't be much time to look over many of the more than 800 reels, the 1,400 rods (including classic Leonards) and the 40,000 flies. Or the library of almost 3,000 angling volumes, the largest in the U.S. that allows free access to the public.
Actually, it's likely some of that stuff will be out on exhibition. There are also small shows from the museum that Johnson calls "tabletops" all over the country at any given time. And there's an auction-dinner in San Francisco every December.
Once you take away the tourists at the museum, though, you are left with the anglers. They divide, fairly neatly, into two subspecies: There are people like you and me, gentle fly-fishermen; and there are the zealots.
I can't speak for all of my thinkalikes, but I am sure that, in spite of Hemingway's rod and Zane Grey's tackle, the most fascinating section to this group is the collection with which the museum began. It came from the dust and grime of the Orvis Company's basements and attics, which are located just down the street in Manchester. It is perhaps the most significant example of angling Americana that exists.