There have been dirt bag fisherman since the first hominid discovered neolithic sushi. Clasping some now extinct fish with his burled bare hands from some forgotten water, huddling deep with his back into the brush and picking it apart like some flat-browed bear and tending the corners of his vision for the things his pulsing brainstem imagined may do the same to him. He probably didn’t care for the taste or even notice a flavor, and he definitely didn’t stammer into guilt about his methods for achieving this hard attained protein bar.
His progeny have now spawned for a few millenia, honing and crafting the skills passed down and sometimes rebelling against them to forge new paths. And the culmination of our generations of forefathers and mothers have wrought these specimens:
Breaking from thousands of years of tradition by using thousands of dollars of gear to pick a fight with a prehistoric fish. Out of non-necessity the trout bum won’t savor the caloric blessing bestowed upon his custom $100 catch and release net. He will turn to the brush with the writhing trophy held from arms outstretched where his pack of bros have gathered in a tribalistic ritual of hooting and hollering, adorned in neck scarves bearing trout colors and gobro cameras upon their heads surveilling the entire raucous scene of grip and grins and hero shots. Graphite rods worth more than a third world education gleaming in the sun and beads of drought water falling from equally expensive waders that will adorn a trash heap by years end. And after it’s said and done, a tired and nearly air drowned fish will be returned to the water, gobros submerged in it’s wake, to find some sort of refuge from the idiotic deluge it has little or no memory of encountering. The tribe will convene to the laptop in their shiny truck to survey their newest triumph and post it wirelessly on the internet, hashtagging it with #troutbum and sending hero shots to everyone back at the office, along with scenes of “roughing it” at the local campground next to the highway.
They call their tribe the “Trout Bums” and they don’t play for keeps, unless it’s making a sale at the corporate office. They can be identified by the decals bearing their tribal banner adorning their late model trucks, SUVs and Subarus. They peruse the box store fly shops with credit cards in hand, collecting the pretty objects that make their identities personally justified with no sense of irony or shame. They may disconnect from their centered realities by sleeping in the warm bosom of the earth every now and again, where their shallow root may sink into the half-heart of the tribe. In one true regard they are bums – delusional and righteous in their true standing and beliefs, nodding off continually and being constantly drawn towards the safety of the river bank.
I am not exempt from the predatory glow of the corporate fishing marketing department’s trappings, and I probably will never be. I buy new gear and fish it to death. I occasionally get excited for new gadgets and snake oils, fads and rehashed staples. I have used a gobro on the water before, and I have held on to fish for far too long before releasing them. I post fishing pictures on social media and I wear hats with fish logos on them. I keep fish sometimes, I use bait when fishing for coastal rockfish and hell, I even sleep in the dirt on occasion.
I struggle to make ends meet as do many of you poor indignant bastards reading this. And like some of you who have little and long for less I know where to draw the line with my identity. I may be poor, but I am not a god damn “trout bum”.
And neither are you. To put it semantically if you are a fly fisherman, and you live with a roof over your head, you are not a trout bum. You are a fisherman, plain and simple.
That’s not to say there aren’t real trout bums out there, because there are, and if you’re reading this internet blog you probably aren’t one of them, although some have gained internet skills by now. They don’t have Whorevis rods and breathable (if any) waders. They don’t have smart phones and instagram. They don’t belong to Facebook pages with “(insert your location) Trout Bums”. They probably have spin rods found on the side of the road that they fixed with scrap metal and duct tape. They use scraps of tippet that you “accidentally” let drop when you’re re-rigging. They sleep by the river in tents or live in their broken down or out of gas cars. We usually refer to these folks as plain old “bums”, and I don’t have a problem with them as long as they don’t get up in my business.
There’s a second type of trout bum whose identity, along with a misinterpretation of John Gierach’s famous book, birthed this overly marketed mystique and they don’t give a shit about it. The Bill Schaadt‘s, the Dirty Ernies, the rare local legends in your neck of the woods and mine who work just enough to fish and use the same old shit year in and year out, who bum flies and gear from the few they trust to fish with or near, and will outfish all of us with a bare hook if they wanted to. We all know one, or of one, and they aren’t reading this bullshit. They’re out there being trout bums, which isn’t a lifestyle that can be earned or acquired, but is a hand that is dealt by circumstance and conviction. The name can be bestowed, but like I stated above it holds no weight with these folks.
It’s time, enough already. Just call yourself a fisherman, and be happy with that. Let us bury the yuppy trout bum mystique next to the yuppy ski bum, the middle class affected punk rock kid, and the hipster fixed gear purist. Let’s be satisfied with calling a spade a spade, and leave the longing of belonging at the altar of false idols and future comedic fodder.