Opinion,    Writing

Embracing Your Inner Caveman (or, Are Fly Fishermen Reptiles Or Appreciators?)

Posted by Tom Chandler 4/27/2012

It's no surprise our brains are somewhat modal. We process a lot of information, and despite all the mobile computing/smartphone ads to the contrary, we multitask rather poorly.

The Gears Are Turning at the UndergroundI know that when I'm truly focused on fishing, I'm sunk in an almost reptilian "zog catch fish" mode that drives the rest of the world away.

Yet sometimes I find myself translating the fishing experience into ideas, sentences and paragraphs as it happens -- an odd sensation, but one that has become far more common since I started the Underground 6.5 years ago.

The latter "translation" mode delivers less fishing success, but more sentences for the text editor. And a very, very different fishing experience.

It's likely that some people (notably productive fiction writers) are always in "writer" mode, directly translating their streams of symbols into sentences. Others shift into it.

I wonder if the compelling, directly told experiences of John Gierach suggest he's always in translation mode (and that he does it well), while the more complex constructs surrounding Leeson's writing means he fishes now and translates later.

Probably no way to know for sure, and it's a tough question to ask.

Fav sci-fi writer Walter Jon Williams cops to something similar when he describes his writing process, which involves a translation from symbols into words -- a reaction to a writer's workshop where other writers suggested they thought in sentences (I'd guess Williams is working on a deeper level):



After that I began paying more attention to the way my brain seems to function. When I think, I’m not using a structured, grammatical language, it’s more like I’m laying out a series of Tarot cards. Each card is a symbol, or series of symbols, that stands for a group of concepts or associations. The shape of the array of cards implies a structure and a conclusion. My mind skips from one card to the other without bothering to fill in the grammar that connects them, like a mountain goat bounding from peak to peak without traversing the valleys in between.

I can translate this into English, but it takes a certain amount of effort. I have to add the grammar and explain what the symbols mean. Sometimes my mind gets well ahead of the translation and I stumble to a halt, looking for a word or phrase that got lost. Sometimes I can backtrack and pick up the translation where it stopped; and sometimes I end up totally lost, with people staring at me wondering what the hell I was trying to say.


Most fly fishermen aren't much concerned with translating their experience into words (though with advent of blogs, that number has grown). For them, achieving "caveman mode" is the most desirable outcome.

The world recedes and the fish come. Simply put, "life good."

While you'd expect someone's fly fishing experience to change over the course of 6.5 years, I believe that writing constantly about fly fishing has altered the way I experience the sport.

To Tom the Caveman, the fish are the end result. To Tom the Writer, the goals and the picture are hazier.

Some fishing buddies will tell you I'm pretty intense about fishing for a time. Dave Roberts once remarked that we'd get halfway through a drift boat trip and I'd suddenly straighten up and start looking around, not bored with the process, but not as deeply sunk in it either.

I know that moment, and I think a lot of the fishing reports I've filed over the last three years reflect the fact that Tom the Writer/Appreciator is now present as much as Tom the Caveman.

The Changing Caveman


I've become more interested in exploring small streams -- more interested in what's around the next bend or how a stretch feels like "home water" -- than I am with hoovering every available fish from every available pool.

That's not to denigrate Tom the Caveman (who could probably stand to bathe more often). Becoming the Caveman is a prerequisite for learning to catch trout, and Tom the Writer's appreciation for the formerly empty space surrounding the act of fishing is predicated on an ability to catch those fish.

All of this is interesting (at least it was to me as I wrote it), but it also skirts pretty closely to the fly fishing writing abyss: Excessive Navel Gazing.

Which is why I'm halting here, and inviting the Undergrounders to sit back for a minute and try to distinguish between their Caveman and their Appreciator. Given the nature of any population, I'd expect some never remove themselves from Caveman mode, while others essentially live in Appreciator mode.

And for those who flip, how many of you know the moment when it happens?

See you with Zog and the Writer on the river, Tom Chandler.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

19 comments
The line tightening and the bent over rod--the fish swishing to and fro while attempting to cypher why the heck he took that thing that doesn't look like any bug--yup it needs to happen, but I never tire of the woods and water. Never that. In my world, the caveman and appreciator run parallel and somewhere way out there where some philosopher/physicists say so--they converge.
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One of the interesting/rather amusing questions to me is: how can people see what I see and still contrive to write THAT?! I'm particularly flummoxed by those who, for example, visit a weepingly beautiful trout stream and, for some unfathomable reason, decide that what's most pertinent is to write about how to put rod tip A into rod butt B.
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trout chaser: She listened seriously for a bit, then asked “does he need me to write him a prescription for lithium?” Frankly, she's probably onto something.
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Yes
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Without the caveman I wouldn't be on the stream; the "tug is the drug" and all that. But if I couldn't put the caveman away at some point I'd never find the words.
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I just referenced this little post in a conversation with a doctor friend. One of those unfortunately earnest, literal minded individuals who just doesn't get it... She listened seriously for a bit, then asked "does he need me to write him a prescription for lithium?"
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Generally speaking, the more time one puts in on the river, the less one worries about catching fish. Maybe this is the flip. Some of this is related to the known ability of being able to catch fish. This confidence comes after many years on the water.....it is not to be mistaken with arrogance. Guides with less time behind the net/oars/rod, rarely understand this and are part of the problem these ... more days - they convince clients that it is all about catching fish...purely a numbers game. Some guides feel better about themselves when they get their clients into 42 trout while staring at a bobber all day. My goal with guiding is to teach both sides as equals - catching fish is fun, but just sitting on the river is fun too. I enjoy the caveman mode when fishing -
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Zog read tiny words and scratch his head. Words hard, make Zog want to fish. You have done it yet again Mr. Chandler, Bravo!
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This is fascinating. And I am always in translation mode. Which is why fishing, for me, isn't a way to "check out" or be a caveman...it really isn't even relaxing because my mind is always on. I like the description of the tarot cards/symbols taking the place of sentences/words. It reminds me of friends I have who see musical tones as colors. Sometimes my translations comes out as complete sentences, ... more but very rarely -- most often it's an idea, a card, a pictured outline that I jot down and color in later. Really enjoyed this piece, Tom.
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We should not be so quick to dismiss the Inner Caveman; he is motivated by the catching – even if we don’t keep our catch - and the primary, subconscious and perhaps too quickly denied motivator for getting out there. He seeks the fish, even if he is not there at the surface. If the fish aren’t there, it’s only casting practice. I don’t know too many fly fishermen who talk about the big cast that ... more got away. Then again, I might be running with the wrong crowd.
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We're guys; I'm pretty sure we think about sex at a minimum of several times every minute, regardless of circumstances.
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And I think this "switch" may be age related. As I dwell more and more in Senior Rapture Zog reoccurs less and less often, sometimes he shows up not at all... I will never catch all the fish and I no longer care. One or two Brook Trout, a pleasant spot on a secluded stream... Who was it said "it's not about the fish..."
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Jonny You got it right, Not about quantity, you know the rest. I enjoy watching the ospreys, the deer in the bank, all that stuff.
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It's a really interesting question. I used to fish a river in NY State where I would eagerly scamper to a reliable spot to catch a fish, then relax and "enjoy the rest of the day". It was like taking the pressure of the fish off in order to turn the pleasure of the day on - the fishing part. Weird shit that, God love it.
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Tom Chandler: See, two is really my limit (sex and fish). Yes. Thinking about sex and fish in parallel would be a little weird. Whatever floats your drift boat...
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Mike: You’ve given me yet another thing to think about on the stream. See, two is really my limit (sex and fish). I guess that's why I flip instead of think in parallel.
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Oh great. You've given me yet another thing to think about on the stream. Have I flipped yet? Thanks. Truth be told, I think I flip flop as the day progresses. I jog from Zog to hack and back. And totally enjoy both. Thanks for an interesting thought.
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Steve Z: I had fished for three hours; clearly in Caveman mode. Zog wanted fish and I finally found them.I'm tempted to say this statement explains those nasty rumors on the Internet, but the L&T keeps telling me I should be nicer...Seriously, the moment when you decide you've caught enough trout one way so it's time to start experimenting with others is a pretty clearly defined flip, at least ... more in my mind.If all you wanted was fish, you'd keep pounding away. When you want to see where the boundaries really lie, you're clearly after something else.
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I know what you mean. Wednesday at about 4 pm I flipped. I had fished for three hours; clearly in Caveman mode. Zog wanted fish and I finally found them. I pulled six out relatively quickly out of a current seam that I had stumbled upon. I figured there were probably another six in that seam who would yield to my nymph but I had had enough. I was, for a very brief moment, satisfied. I still hadn't ... more gotten one on a streamer and I was now thinking about the arc of the story and how getting one on a streamer would make a fine end to the day/story (I even jotted some notes streamside) so I switched to streamers (and got a couple). I'm a sentence person. Sometimes I see the tarot cards, but by the time it comes time to write I either can't see them anymore or forget what they mean.
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