The Defective Gene

In these days of cutting edge genetic research - mapping the human genome, identifying which genes do what, gene therapy and the rest -  I'm sure we could be tested for it.  The defective gene.  The gene that causes us to see a light and think it’s the end of the tunnel, but everyone else sees that it’s a train coming straight at us. Or to find hope in the face of certain doom.  Eternal optimism.  You know the type.  And don’t pretend that you’re not one of ‘us’. If you fish with a fly rod, you definitely qualify to be on of ‘us’.

We'll stay on the water into darkness, certain that the next cast will find that monster fish, even though the water has been empty of signs of fish life all day.  I’ll readily admit that I am afflicted – I've walked miles of beach in a day in search of fish that I just knew should, would, had to be there, and returned home tired and fishless, only to do it all again next time out (often the next day). 

We'll hack our way through thick brush with a certainty of finding a remote unfished pond because it looks right on the map, or worse, because of a second-hand tip.  We should all know by now that those second-hand tips are completely false 99.9% of the time.  Still, those of us with the defective gene stumble on with high hopes for that successful 0.1%. Perhaps there is a gullible gene connected to the defective gene?  Or maybe it's just an extreme manifestation of the defective gene. Why is it that we’ll believe every word of directions to a ‘secret spot’, even though the likelihood of the spot being worth the trouble are slim, but we’ll automatically view with suspicion other angler’s tales of big fish?

Some folks are affected worse than others, so there must be different levels of the defective gene.  Or maybe it's just expressed in different ways.  Some of us will flog the water until we are near exhaustion, totally confident that the next cast will produce a tug on the end of the line.  This group will turn the 'last cast' into a three hour affair, arriving home long after dark, and far later than promised.  After the first hour, why not stay another two?  Once a certain line is crossed, the waiting spouse, kids, parent, or significant other will be irate no matter the hour, so might as well get the most out of the situation.  Plus, those last minutes of light into early darkness do tend to produce the best fish.  Really.  We know it's true.  The hard part is convincing them.
Missing the wedding or graduation of a friend or relative, or worse a funeral, is toward the bad end of the spectrum.  On the other hand, I'd say fishing through an anniversary or birthday is within the realm of expected behavior caused by the defective gene.  Notice that I said 'expected' rather than 'accepted' behavior.  Our predicament is still not recognized as a biological fact, so we are constantly doubted by nay sayers.  In time the truth will be known, and the task will become one of trying to elude gene therapy treatment to correct the 'problem'.

There is another group of anglers in which the defective gene is manifested in a more sinister way, at least to my way of thinking.  These anglers figure the perfect fly, rod, reel, vest, or other material embellishment will put them over the edge and into fishing bliss.  And to a certain extent I guess it does, but not necessarily bliss of the fish catching type.  Rather, these anglers find great satisfaction in knowing they have just found the perfect fly, rod, reel, vest, or other material embellishment that will fool all of the fish, or at least the big ones, the next time they go fishing.  Of course, if these anglers do not have unprecedented success on their next fishing trip it will be because something beyond their control just wasn't right: the new fly, rod, reel, vest, or whatever other gadget they strapped to their body would have been perfect if it had been sunny and warm, or was it cool and damp, or if the water would have been high and dirty, or was it low and clear?  Anyway, there was another variation of the new fly, rod, reel, or other gadget back at the fly shop that would be perfect in these conditions. This form of defective gene expression can be especially sinister because it tends to put the afflicted in the poor house.

Another expression of the defective gene is the fly tier.  It’s not fair to put all fly tiers into this category, because not all fly tiers have the defective gene.  Many tiers will spend their winter tying a limited number of fly patterns of known success, filling small boxes with a season's worth of flies in preparation for spring.  These tiers tie flies to fill the flybox.

Those tiers with the defective gene, however, will fall to fits of genius.  There will be nights when the light over the tying desk will burn into the early morning hours, the tier frantically working to translate his/her genius into reality, even though the distance of the fishing season requires no urgency.  Trying to explain the reason for a late arrival at work the next day is difficult, to say the least.  But genius does not wait.  Large amounts of strong coffee usually offset the cobwebs that fill the next morning, but its difficult to hide the bags under the eyes. The thousand-yard-stare can be overcome by looking thoughtful whenever another person ventures near.  It works most of the time.

These tiers that live in northern climes will create a dozen or so new patterns each winter - surefire fish catchers, flies that will solve those days when the fish are there but not biting.  And they=ll talk about these new flies to anyone that will listen, relating in detail how the brilliant idea came about and was translated onto the hook at the vise.  Daydreams that occur during sudden, unpredictable, trancelike stares often accompany these fits of genius.

Then spring will approach, and these tiers will suddenly realize they have not re-stocked their supply of old faithful flies.  They will set a frantic pace at the tying bench, as they try to tie enough of the old standards 'just in case'.  After all, on most days the fish will fall for one of those old reliable flies, it is for those special days that the magic flies were created and tied. You wouldn’t know this, though, from the space each type of fly takes in the fly box.  Often, the genius flies take space two-to-one over the standards.

With such a large group of us, representing virtually every walk of life in so many parts of the world, we've pretty much ruled out a lot of other factors like environment, parenting, pollution, etc.  So, it must be in the genes.  I wonder if there is a common ancestor from way back who passed the gene along to a select few, or if the gene is a common one that is only turned on when both parents pass the gene on to their offspring.  One thing I am sure about – despite the claims of those who have labeled this the ‘defective’ gene, this gene is not deleterious. It’s just not yet understood.

I suppose we could design a grand experiment to figure it all out.  Not every angler could take part.  We'd have to cut people out of the experiment right away - those casual, once or twice a year types.  With behavior like that they certainly don't carry the gene, they’re just imposters.  And we'd have to have extensive interviews and field tests to weed out the wannabes and big talkers.  There=s nothing like an armchair angler to throw the whole thing off - false readings and such. 

Of course, a genetic test could sort it all out straight away, but we have to cover all angles.  We'd have to organize some fishing and tying, followed by a couple of beers, or maybe some single malt, as part of the interview process - to loosen things up, to get to the truth of the matter.  After all, we owe it to ourselves to get it right, and that takes time and effort.

This sounds to me like the kind of project in which some of the fishing tackle companies would want to become involved. After all, if they can understand the defective gene, they can use that information to their benefit as they design new products. It would greatly reduce the amount of guesswork on the product creation folks. And since many of the folks in the fishing industry most certainly carry the defective gene, they should be easy to convince of the need for this research. I’ll start spreading the word at the next fly fishing show.