By Joe A. Pisarro

In the early 1990s, the museum published a newsletter called the Greenheart Gazette. For this publication, longtime volunteer Joe Pisarro—for whom the museum’s Joe A. Pisarro Volunteer of the Year Award is named—wrote a column called “The Reel Thing.” The following gem is his inaugural piece (Volume 1, Number 1, Summer 1990).

Recently, my friend and sometime fishing companion Donovan made a remark that threw me into a funk for days. The topic, as it often is between us, was fly-fishing skill. “To couple your name with skill is to create an oxymoron,” he snorted.

I don’t often go in for one-upmanship, but Donovan’s remark set me to brooding. How could I top him? Ob­viously any thought of bettering him in fishing bordered on fantasy. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the non sequitur has to be the father of inspiration; it came to me.

Now Lee Wulff is the acknowledged authority on the Atlantic salmon; Ernest Schwiebert has no peer in matching hatches, naming nymphs, and remembering rivers; Vincent Marinaro was the undisputed tsar of terrestrials; Lefty Kreh stands alone in the fief of knotdom; Ed Zern easily leads the pack in aging humor. But none of these regal figures begins to approach me in a rather esoteric branch of the sport, not even Donovan: that of losing flies. On that subject, I could write a book, titled, inevitably, How Do I Lose Thee? Well, let me count the ways.

Anyone can lose flies by hanging his backcast in a streamside hemlock, and I tug a forelock to no man in my proficiency in that method of fly disposal, a talent memorialized by my son, who penned these words:

Onions bring tears,
Potatoes have eyes;
Leaves are on trees
And so are your flies.

An 1899 line drawing of an angler looking back at the fly caught in a tree behind him.

From The Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes,
vol. VIII (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899), 171.

Then there are those—I should be so lucky!—who have a hooked fish break off with a fly embedded in its jaw. But those are minor-league tactics, requiring years to rack up the kind of score that would impress Donovan. What distinguishes me as a fly-loser of high order is my gift for losing flies in volume. I mean I lose flies by the boxful. There are fishermen from the Batten Kill to the Bitterroot who have acquired enough flies for several seasons simply by having been downstream from me when a well-stuffed fly box floated within net reach.

Fishing-garb designers are marvelously adept at fashioning vests and jackets with an unbelievable number of pockets to hold fly boxes. I, of course, cram each pocket with boxes stuffed to the gills with flies of every description, from tiny nymphs to huge muddlers, no-hackles, paraduns, and just about every other known type. You name it and chances are I’ll have a boxful in some pocket. To their credit, designers build in all sorts of security measures—zippers, Velcro, snaps, straps, buttons, hooks—everything but padlocks. It’s hopeless; they might just as well save themselves the bother. I leave pockets unfastened, and short of some device that would automatically seal a pocket, I will go on leaving pocket flaps unclosed and my pockets will continue to spew out flies by the boxful.

Now, I grant this is not a distinction likely to cause other fishermen to churn with envy. Nor earn me a niche in the Angling Hall of Fame. But it is the one area of the sport where I can top Donovan.

To say nothing of the gratitude of all those fishermen downstream from me.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 (Vol. 46, No. 1) issue of the American Fly Fisher.