Testament of a Fisherman, Deconstructed

John Voelker (pen name Robert Traver) wrote his “Testament of a Fisherman” in 1964. The world has changed quite a bit in 47 years and so have anglers (a more up to date, gender-neutral term). I am not yet an old codger, pining away for the good old days (more like a middle-aged long-hair with an appreciation for fine fire-water and bamboo rods), but I think it would be interesting to take Traver’s words from nearly a half-century ago and see how they stand up to the world we live in today.

“I fish because I love to; …”

Yup. It’s still true. We don’t need to fish, at least not as our ancestors did, to put food in our bellies. I will admit to keeping a brace of trout for the table from time to time but that is not the reason I fish. Whatever our reasons, we love it. Some of us are even willing to travel thousands of miles for the chance to touch a fish, only to let it go, and the Catch & Release ethic ensures the love of fishing can be passed on for generations to come.

” … because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; …”

I won’t take the opportunity to point out that there are no trout in Times Square, at least as far as I know. I am also going to skip right over the fact that, 5 years after this line was written, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, OH caught fire (again!) and that it is now possible to catch highly adaptable brown trout just about anywhere, even in urban locales. Crowds of people bring (leave behind) garbage, automobile exhaust, noise, dog poop and dirty diapers. Wherever crowds gather to take in the view, I’d much rather be way up or out there, in the view they’ve come to see.

” … because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; …”

When this line was written there were no wireless devices with which to distract ourselves from the world around us and no portable DVD players so we could look at anything we wanted instead of what’s right in front of us. But just as in 1964, even here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, some members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society seem more concerned with what’s going on elsewhere, as well as their own standing (as they see it, anyway) and with who is in charge rather than what gets done. Ego is all. (We’ll deal with cocktails in a bit)

” … because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; …”

Some things never change and there will always be people who can’t be anything other than miserable bastards, they take everything so darn seriously. I have seen and heard them sitting on the porch of the lodge and on the docks in front of the camps, grousing about this, that and the other thing with the warm orange glow of sunset flickering off gossamer wings as the evening hatch kicks in. I may pay for it with karma points in the long run but heading out to fish while they stew in whatever juices they’re stewing in just tickles me to no end. If I can hook a feisty trout twenty yards from where they sit, all the better. Poor slobs.

” … because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; …”

I believe that all men (okay, and women) are equal before trout (and every other living creature for that matter) and I believe a few more anglers could benefit from some quietude, humility and patience. Maybe it’s the incredible digital age in which we live — maybe I’m just getting old — but there sure are a lot of photos out there of fish held up like trophies and plenty of talk about bombing the runs, ripping lips and other such nonsense. There is a difference between sharing an experience and showing off, and it is not for me to judge which is which. Still, there seems to be a lot of “look at me!” going on, and not just on the water. Just turn on the TV or look at all the blogs out there (this one included).

” … because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; …”  

You can interpret this little philosophical tidbit any way you want. On the one hand, there is that old saw about never hearing someone regret on their death-bed that they didn’t spend more time in the office; on the other hand, there is the saying that the hours spent fishing are not subtracted from whatever time we are allotted on this earth. If the latter were true, I know a couple of guys in their 90s who, without fishing, would have been dead years ago, so go figure.

” …because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; …”

Well, fiddlesticks! This one is certainly no longer true and it is only due to rudeness and inflated feelings of self-importance. There. I said it. Unless you’re carrying donated organs for transplant in that cooler, no one wants to hear your phone ring while they are fishing. We won World Wars and put men on the moon without cell phones; whatever it is can wait. If it can’t wait, you are much too important to be spending your time fishing and I swear on the grave of Cornelia Crosby, if I ever again hear someone repeating, over and over, “I can’t talk right now, I’m fishing,” there will be trouble. 

” … because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; …”

Now, there’s a concept that seems to be foreign in the 21st Century. If it’s not the phones it’s the other stuff — the false companionship that comes from constantly checking in and updating and tweeting and the fear of being alone with ourselves, spending time in our own heads. All too often, I’ve had guys cancel their reservations (during the late June Hex hatch, no less!) because this buddy or that couldn’t make it. I spend more time alone in the woods and on the water than most people, and I know they probably don’t want to end up like me, but more folks really ought to spend more time thinking about and doing (gasp!) nothing.

” … because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; …”

Okay, now we’re talkin’! The same is true of rum, scotch and rye. Straight up, please, although the occasional chunk of ice might be alright. You can’t hook a highball glass on your belt and you’ll get funny looks taking your coffee from a tumbler but a tin cup has the versatility for both these tasks and more. Other than some Coke™ in my rum once in a while, or orange juice to cover the taste of vodka, I avoid cocktails and so should you; we all know what kinds of people drink cocktails. (On a somewhat related note, waxed paper cups should not be used when partaking of fiery potations. Good scotch will pull the wax off in chunks and quickly soak right through the paper. Or so I’ve heard.)

” … because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; …”

Hey, a guy can always hope, can’t he? Female anglers may wish for whatever their little hearts desire but I’m holding out for a mermaid. If nothing else, I can imagine mayflies to be faeries and there should be no disappointment over seeing the loons or even a moose.

” … and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.”

Amen, brother, amen!

TESTAMENT OF A FISHERMAN

I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.  ~Robert Traver, 1964

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Categories: Fly Fishing, nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Testament of a Fisherman, Deconstructed

  1. I get more from your blog posts, than from any other of the several dozen I try to keep up with. I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t say what I’m thinking….and that is, that you should steal away some time whenever you can…and get to work on a book. I’ll buy the first ten copies when it releases…one or two for me, and the rest for my dear fishing friends.

    As someone who rarely puts together anything in writing that resembles true reflection, I appreciate the thought and heart you put into these kinds of posts. Those fancy-pants-boys could never appreciate it…but by golly I sure do, Quill. I sure do.

    your friend,
    owl

  2. Great post. Traver is my favorite writer and have read his books MANY times. He certainly had a way with words and embodied what fly fishing should be, but has sadly not become.

  3. Great post Owl going to have to add this book to my reading list.

  4. Let’s see, don’t drink bourbon out of an old tin cup (sober for 16 +years), worked as a Press Agent (flack) in Hollyweird, wouldn’t think of taking a cell on the water…caught lots of mermaids…and Trout still don’t lie…seems timely to me…:-)

    PT/TB

  5. Aw, shucks, Owl! I’m glad you like my stuff. Or are you just being nice, hoping for an invite?

    Morne- Thank you. I like looking back to see how things used to be and reading guys like Traver make me nostalgic for something I never got to see. And as far as I know, you’re my first reader from Africa! Ain’t the interwebs great?

    Fishaholics – I’m putting you down for the second 10 copies (the first go to Owl)

    PT/TB – Thanks for stopping by. Always good to see you! Congrats on 16+ years sober (and also for putting the Hollyweird flack stuff in the past tense). I would bet you still have the old tin cup, though? Makes everything taste better. Lots of mermaids; lucky so and so. Looking forward to more midge patterns over there at Planet Trout!

  6. Tom

    Nice work on Deconstructed. I have a little cottage probably not very far from Fish in a Barrel Pond. We have a trout stream in front, a slough in the back and Traver inside. You did fine work with those words. I am looking forward to poking around your blog and looking for a picture of that mermaid or the book order form.

  7. Pingback: Friday Findings | The Accidental Angler

  8. “” … because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; …” Beautiful deconstruction……thank you for it.

  9. Thanks for this timeless message and unique perspective. Just found your blog via Erin on FB and am now following.

  10. Pingback: What Are You Looking For? « The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond

  11. Even better the 2nd time around, this piece. And I do believe mayflies to be faeries…

  12. Hi Quill;

    I just read through this; am familiar with Traver’s writing, have several of his books, including Anatomy of a Murder. I especially loved your telephone / cell phone / tweet / text / “deconstruction.” Do I have a story for that…I just might do a bit on my blog, using some of your words – with permission of course – especially this part:

    ” …because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; …”

    “Well, fiddlesticks! This one is certainly no longer true and it is only due to rudeness and inflated feelings of self-importance. There. I said it. Unless you’re carrying donated organs for transplant in that cooler, no one wants to hear your phone ring while they are fishing. We won World Wars and put men on the moon without cell phones; whatever it is can wait. If it can’t wait, you are much too important to be spending your time fishing and I swear on the grave of Cornelia Crosby, if I ever again hear someone repeating, over and over, “I can’t talk right now, I’m fishing,” there will be trouble.”

    On May 5th I was fishing Spring Creek in the evening, sulphurs, and all of a sudden I hear talking. Yet there is only one angler close enough for me to hear. The guy right above me,100 feet away, is holding his cell phone to his ear in his right hand, and casting with his left, for FIVE MINUTES!!!!!!! All I could think of and say to myself was, “WTF?” There I’ve said that. And that’s what I meant. But I got one even better than that…

    Thanks for some great deconstruction!

  13. John Rieger

    Thank you for your comments on Robert Travers; he captured the essence of trout fishing in his Testament. My father was an ardent fisherman and bought Traver’s books, when I was in high school. I devoured them; the result was a lifetime of fishing and fellowship. Men like him are in short supply but it is nice to see someone like you carrying on the true fishing ethic.
    Thanks again, John

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