Tucker’s most sincere aspiration is to successfully fish “dog hair flies,” taken from his springer spaniel, Meg, who dives for and catches brook trout and pickerel in Maine. Meg’s fur is therefore believed by Tucker to have magical fish-attractant properties. But Tucker is a builder of things. Creating something from nothing brings him pleasure in and of itself. He has a woodshop in his house, and if/when the bottom falls out of the journalism industry, he is well-suited to become a carpenter, just like Jesus before him. Whereas I like to chop wood, to burn wood, and even to pop wood, as my lady friends will attest. But I couldn’t make so much as a paper weight from wood if my children’s lives depended on it. Building things isn’t for everyone, and fly tying isn’t either.
Yet as I gladly and defiantly tell my tying friends, I catch enough fish every year that not tying doesn’t seem to have affected me adversely on the water. Would I be a better fisherman if I were a religious bug expert? Maybe. Or maybe I’d be too married to the hatch chart to throw weird flies that are not seen in nature, but that are proven fish-catchers, like this little act of rebellion. Still, from the sheer volume of the tiers’ insistence otherwise, I too occasionally doubt myself. So I recently put the question of whether I should start tying to one of America’s finest fly shop owners and Riverkeepers, my friend Theaux Le Gardeur,who runs the Backwater Angler in Monkton, Md., on the Gunpowder River.
I half expected Theaux, a skillful fly tier himself, to tell me to buckle down, to assume the position behind a vise, and to get to work. Instead, he smiled guiltily like he was letting me in on a dark secret. “Why tie when you could be fishing?” he said, in the hushed tones of the apostate. “Tying is like dating the head of the math club. Fishing is like going to prom with the homecoming queen. Given the choice, always fish.”
As for entomology, follow Theaux’s advice: “Do the spider web trick. You start off with a gin ’n’ tonic, and leave the house at four in the afternoon. When you get to the water, peer into a spider web to see what it’s catching, then peer into your box, and try to get close. No muss, no fuss, no Latin involved. Just hard physical science. Then tie something on, and go fishing. When you return home, go to the same liquor cabinet and pour a little scotch. The gin keeps the wandering mind focused. The scotch quiets it down after feverishly trying to match the hatch.”
“If you’re the kind of person who would actually write letters to the editor of Scientific American,” adds Theaux, “then tying is for you. If you’d rather look at the pictures, you really should go fishing. We have poets, and we have engineers. Basically, everyone is right.”
Of course, after Theaux said this, he sold me 30 bucks worth of flies that I didn’t need. Another reason not to tie — fly shop sages like Theaux deserve to be subsidized.
Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.