Dressing up for the outdoors gets a dressing down

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The preening in which a teenager engages a mirror often sets me back on my heels, and I consider buying a pipe and checked flannel slippers as I gaze longingly into a past that took the last Greyhound over the hill a while ago.

This occurred today.

As I pondered this morning a fine Borkum Riff versus Prince Albert, a teenager I know, but whose identity I will not disclose, meticulously put a hair in place with the inspired effort of a champion player of pick-up sticks, then glued it there.

Then he double-checked his coiffeur from a variety of angles before, seemingly satisfied, he huffed and began the process again.

And for a moment I thought of the old pals and acquaintances with pocket combs and hair putty that I knew from school, who sneaked their sister’s hair spray to ensure their mullets were confined — with seeming carelessness — over a shirt collar...

Wait, wait, wait.

That never happened.

I feel, however, and I will go on the record here, that adults add to the self-indulgent inspiration of their young charges when they play the part of hunters and anglers.

I will say, right up front, that I am guilty of this transgression, although it has passed, at least for the time being:

We outdoors people like to dress up. We like not only to play the part of hunters and anglers, we often like to look the part too. And this glaring violation often attributed to “sports” affects grinders with equal efficacy.

Take for instance a time I stood on the banks of the Clearwater River with a large 15-foot spey caster that did not belong to me. It was a loaner and I loved it so, and therefore I haven’t returned it.

Unknown to me, the spey casting machine was no longer in vogue. It was hopelessly out of fashion. A variety of rods in various sizes and stoutness had replaced this single-minded salmon and sea-run trout catcher.

I learned this much later from a man who has a small shop nearby. My loaner rod was among the first versions of these Atlantic salmon hooking machines allowed into the U.S. They were introduced across the pond to their shoddy western cousins with a raised eyebrow by Europeans who viewed this gracious endowment with the suspicion similarly reserved for the unleashing on cretin Americans of their finely tuned versions of hunting dogs, such as German drahthaar and shorthair pointers.

Bred specifically for hunting and only hunting, the Europeans worried that we dog-loving rogues would allow these warm-blooded pointing and retrieving machines to sleep on our beds, share our popcorn while watching our favorite Disney movies, generally spoiling the breeds the Europeans had worked so diligently to develop.

The same principle applied to spey rods.

We Americans seemed almost too aesthetically challenged to appreciate these gracious casters, and likely the anglers of Ireland, Britain and Scotland were spot on.

So, there I was, having trammeled and trundled out to the river in the kind of darkness that has you longing for REM, picking my way across a cobble flat, waiting for the sun to rise, shivering in the cold of the autumn morning, the river a broadshouldered wall of water channeled and headed to the Pacific, when I noticed several people emerge from the mist.

They were outlanders, I could tell.

Their uniforms outshone mine even in the gray dark with the poor-wills announcing their arrival as almost celestial casters of spey. They were top tier anglers of the boutique hierarchy, donning four-figure waders and casting jackets, hobnailed shoes — not those felt-soled distributors of disease that the blue collar casters relied on for lack of academics or cash.

I almost hid my feet in the sand as I watched them approach.

Their ball caps were hand-woven mesh and advertised smart shops from the coast. Their rods were recently unboxed, the latest in action and zest. Steam rose from them.

“Hello,” they said as they approached, raising one hand.

Their voices iterated a Cary Grant-like nuance.

“How do?” I said. It sounded like Jim Carrey choking on lefse.

“Mind if we fish this run?”

There was that voice again.

One of the stalwart hosts of angling prowess espied my patched waders, and double-flannel Walmart work shirt. I noticed the scholarly flicker of an archaeologist as he viewed my 15-foot rod.

“No worries, dudes,” I replied, casually masking the awe in my voice. “I was just leaving.”

Then I picked my way through the yielding dark like a coon hunter on bad terrain, the baying of the dogs a mere cognitive whisper.

I have since owned up to my pusillanimity in the face of excellent gear, both attire and tools, and proudly venture forth in hand me downs and patchwork.

Because there is a lesson in all of this.

Once I articulate it, I plan to write it down and tell it to my teenager.


Ralph Bartholdt is a Press staff writer. Email: rbartholdt@cdapress.com

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