One Step Back

One of my favorite outdoor writers is Gordon MacQuarrie. Though he died before I was born, reading his Old Duck Hunters trilogy became an annual ritual for me as hunting season approached. He was one of the major influences (along with “the movie“) that pulled me into the world of fly fishing. Though the title of the trilogy infers it is about hunting,  wonderful fly fishing stories are sprinkled throughout.

Perhaps for that reason, and the fact that I have always leaned toward nostalgia, I began a quest to find other sources for MacQuarrie’s workmanship. MacQuarrie was a newspaper editor in Wisconsin by trade, and in addition to his books he had many magazine articles published. I was able to compile a list of those, and began searching for copies of specific editions on EBay.

I now have a small collection of outdoor magazines from the 1940s and 50s that contain some of Mac’s articles. Some are the traditional “how to” types of stories, and others are the short stories that eventually made up The Old Duck Hunters.

There was an unexpected benefit to this search. Flipping through these magazines that were published around the WWII era, there are great pictures, stories and advertisements that hint at the history being made at that time.

Servicemen had been away at war. Guiding and lodge  businesses that depended on clients traveling to their locales had struggled mightily to stay afloat during years of gasoline and rubber rationing. As the war ended and GI’s returned, advertisements about lakes and rivers that had remained untouched for four or five years were prominent, coaxing customers back.

I love the pictures of the fishermen in these magazines. Bamboo rods  – not because they were cool, but because that is what there was.  Fiberglass rods were a curiosity just beginning to try to find a market, and graphite rods were decades in the future. Flannel shirts, fedoras, creels and maybe a single flybox  were the norm.  Fly vests weren’t that common in the photos, even though Lee Wulff had invented them in the 1930s. Waders, sunglasses, cameras, and other specialized gear common today were rare. It seemed that the focus was on fishing, not looking like a guide.

There was no Facebook, blogs, Snapchat, or Instagram. The outlet for your day spent fishing was retelling your story at the end of the day to friends or family. Maybe an occasional snapshot of a large stringer of fish (catch and release as a conservation ethic was in its infancy).

By my own admission I love gear, and obviously enjoy social media. I have plenty, and it is part of what I enjoy about fly fishing. But there is a price to be paid, and not only at the cash register. Too many gear choices can pull the focus away from the fish and the experience. Trying to get the perfect picture for my Instagram feed or my blog can become a distraction, and can even thwart my attempts to enjoy the escape from the everyday working world. It’s almost like a working vacation (which I have done, and would suggest you avoid).

So, I am swimming somewhat against the current these days. I am trying to downsize what I take to the creek. fewer flies, a single small flybox that fits in my shirt pocket. I have sold off some of my gear that was redundant or didn’t see consistent use. And sometimes…leaving the camera at home.

Now…where is my fedora?


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