by Jeff Mishler
Decay—an imperceptible naturally progressive slumping of inanimate material that happens while you’re focused on something entirely more important, like fishing.
The lanyard around my neck is made of leather. The loop is a hangman’s knot/nail knot sort of thing and in the loop of the hangman are three overhand knots to keep the dangling tools from banging into one another. If the overhand knots are not sufficiently spaced the hook file clanks into the nippers as I walk and soon they are dull and rounded at the corners. I carry a file, a tube of floatant, a loop of 25lb. mono, and nippers. The mono is used to tie nail knots.
Last year, the loop of leather parted during a quiet moment. It just fell from my neck; worn through, rotted from sweat, seriously decayed. My fishing buddy in the front of the drift boat was telling a story when, as if on cue, the works dropped in to my lap with a soft “chink” just as he delivered the punch line. “That was weird”, he said, picking the bottle of floatant from the water sloshing around my feet.
The next lanyard, while in a state of its own decay, looks as good as new though I’ve fished twice as much this year.
Surgical tubing rots, the zippers on the back of vests break, waders leak or just wear thin, fly lines crack, leaders fray, and the thick flexible coating around rod guide wraps which seems impervious to anything when the rod is new, wears thin; little fuzzy edges appearing near the ferrule first, then slowly at each guide until eventually one just falls off or is pulled out of its place when you rake the rod through the brush on your walk to the river.
In each case, the equipment is losing its life, and though the character of the rod, hat or vest thickens, it’s only a matter of time before the down time between fishing trips becomes a series of repair sessions. Retirement is near.
A fly, however, is very different. Fresh from the box, a dry fly looks perfect, nymphs seem clean and colorful, even shiny if shiny materials were used. A new steelhead fly might even hold mini capsules of water along the fibers of marabou and ostrich into mid-day. Only after a hundred violent collisions with the river during the setting of the anchor phase of a Snap-T Spey cast, does residue from the fluorescent die process finally release allowing water to soak into the fiber. It might take days of fishing before the stench of mothballs leaves your favorite bucktail streamer.
Trout prefer that munched, mangled pale morning dun emerger you used incessantly last year in early June when stoneflies were slow to fly from the overhanging vegetation. Out in the current, little mayflies lie flush in the surface film and trout eagerly sucked them in while the in-season adult stones held group hug sessions in the riverside grass, paralyzed by the morning chill. When you decoded this little quandary, you tied on the little yellow, almost transparent pattern; a yellow body, gray poly yarn wing, a thorax of puffy yellow dubbing much like “The Usual” you read about in Fly fisherman fifteen years before, and a mallard flank tail which when wet looks just like a spent nymph husk clinging to the butt of the new dun. The fly is torn and frayed from the teeth of a dozen or so trout you fooled with it. It looks buggier than ever because some inanimate objects, like perfectly tied trout flies, come to life the more used or tattered they appear. Decayed to perfection.