And double checking with the extras in my guitar case, “44s.”
“Spruce or alder topped?”
“Tuning fork or automatic?”
The questions went on as murmurs in concerts and scuttle in masterclasses. And to be honest, I never really cared much (or perhaps that's just my excuse for not being able to remember the details). I’ve never been a gear head -- in music, in riding, in fly fishing. I’m far too “pragmatic,” I've been told. And just to prove their point, for example, the wading boots I bought at Goodwill for $4.99 have served me well for the past year. And the fact that they look like leftovers from the 70s doesn’t bother me a bit. Most of the rest of my wardrobe does, too. Plus I’ve always said that if you’re worried about what you look like on the river, you’re missing the point entirely.
Trout are like honey badgers, they don’t care.
Yet at the same time (and yes, I often contain these contradictions) I know that good gear does make a difference. Just as a $20 pawn shop guitar will make learning a much more frustrating experience than will a $200 one from Dietz -- a good rod, reel and waders make progressing as an angler a more efficient and enjoyable effort. It’s kind of like riding a highly trained horse -- you’ve got to learn quickly. Shift weight to your left sit-bone and you’re off on a right-going half-pass.
Now....how’d that happen, you're left wondering.
So having good gear does in fact matter. Here the definition of “good” being: it doesn’t make you think about it. Gear you think about while using is not good gear. It’s needy gear. And just like fishing partners of that ilk, they should be traded in.
I’m hard on gear, even the good stuff. Even my bamboo. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, it doesn’t get treated any differently -- doesn't just get hung up for display. If someday long after I’m gone, somebody finds my rod, my reel, my waders and pack, I want them to be scratched and worn and frayed. I believe it was Gierach who once wrote that is how you can determine the good gear -- the stuff that was favored and used above the rest -- by wear. The pristine rod hanging on an old timer’s wall may have been from a famous rodmaker, but the one stored in its canvans sack on a hanger in his closet -- with scratches and sweat marks on the cork -- that one...that one is the rod with the effortless cast.
Last season I went through two pairs of waders in six months as a result of bushwhacking and sliding (falling) down canyon sides; carping and spring bass fishing, too. I fish hard and I fish a lot. I kind of fish like a grade school boy. Which is why I always call fishing trips “adventuring," I suppose.
And so after several months of wearing the same waders, I always get that familiar feeling -- creeping in while concentrating on casting and setting -- straining eyes behind copper-toned polarization. That realization that you’re drenched and have been for hours (which explains why you’re so damned cold) -- it’s like sharing a bed with a wetter. But once the realization hits, there isn’t much you can do besides make feeble attempts at patching seams and going to wash the sheets. Hanging it all out to dry. Again.
Yet, I’ve had the opportunity to wear Redington’s Sonic Pros this season -- in canyon streams, high mountain lakes, and on mud flats. And they’ve got a lot of river-miles in them now, they’ve got a lot of wear: you can tell they’re The Favored Ones, not just hanging on the wall. They’ve got the miles in them -- but you know what? They don't have the water.