August 16, 2017
Dear Bishop Hackle,
I'm either ruining my ministry utterly or redeeming it from the devilish evils so commonly associated with mid-life crisis. I really can't tell which at this point.
With my 50th birthday come and gone, it's not unreasonable to finally begin reveling in that uniquely male tradition of middle-age debauchery, complete with all its requisite excesses such as fast motorcycles, faster women, and quicker liquor. As thrilling as said "crisis" may sound, I suspect it would embarrass one's congregation considerably. So, inspired by Walton's Complete Angler, I have chosen a different route along which to carry out the irresponsibility expected by our culture and normally associated with a man of my age, namely fly fishing.
Tossing feathers to fish is certainly a redemptive alternative to bikes, babes, and booze. Perhaps even more satisfying. Many an angler quivers in excitement just at the mere thought of raising a large rainbow to a little fly. I dare not say what may happen upon an actual hook-up! But, alas dear Bishop, the so-called "quiet sport" can set in motion the financial and social devastation its most ardent disciples.
As I sit here writing to you, I am simultaneously staring at the website of a renowned glass rod builder. In the dawn of time when Satan tempted our first parents, he disguised himself as a snake. Now, when he attempts to seduce a Lefty Kreh wannabe like me, he disguises himself as JP Ross and whispers, "Did your wife really say, 'There's no way in hell you're ever going to spend that much money on a fiberglass fly rod?”
Fortunately for me, I inherited a relative's bamboo 4-weight a few months ago. However, therein lies the cause of my impending monetary disaster. A single stick is far from sufficient. Fly rods vary according to their action, length, and the line weight they carry, each being better suited to a specific purpose than the others. Blatantly put, I must buy more cane, period. But, why bamboo, especially when it's so absurdly expensive?
Continuity, my dear bishop, continuity. Split bamboo provides a historical link to the golden age of fly fishing, when the concept of casting anything else was nearly blasphemous. The esoteric feel of wood sends the fly fisherman on a nostalgic journey back to his roots, which is especially nice when he is not catching fish in the present.
And, of course, the list of required accessories is nigh unto endless: reels, lines, leaders, waders, fishing vests and hats, tippets, landing nets, and flies by the thousands . . . nonnegotiable things I simply can't live without. The relentless need for stuff is exceeded only by the ever escalating expense of it all. Trust me, financial ruination is a distinct possibility.
Furthermore, fly fishermen typically become socially regressive because their angling inevitably undergoes an unhealthy metamorphosis from hobby to life style. Eventually the cynical "Life is a bitch and then you die" perspective gives way to the pathological "Life is like a trout stream" philosophy. Everything becomes analogous to some aspect of fishing. Take my word for it, this really pisses people off. Not good for a pastor!
Worse yet, marital bliss rushes right over the dam, crashing upon the rocks below. When a husband starts regarding his wife's breasts as highly developed pectoral fins you know his weighted nymph of a brain has definitely drifted into a very deep hole. I'm not confessing personal guilt here, but I am closely associated with a preacher who is one cast away from getting a swift kick in the seat of his waders.
Obsession is the right word, or perhaps addiction. Since not enough hours exist in a day to think about monster trout, imagination must take over during the wee hours of darkness. I have a constant fear I'll fantasize some night of hooking a huge brown and suddenly wake up yelling, "I've got a big one!" Whereupon my startled bride will bolt upright in bed and shout, "In your dreams, asshole, now get back to sleep!"
Needless to say, my preaching is suffering horribly. You've no idea how embarrassing it can be when "Repent" comes out as "Mend your cast." And ever since I publicly chastised our Lord's apostolic fishermen for not practicing catch-and-release, my church has been questioning my calling and accusing me of heresy.
Obviously I shall welcome any spiritual counsel you're willing to offer. Should you not find me in my study, however, I'll likely be wading a river somewhere. And being mid-stream at mid-life is definitely not a bad place to be.
Father Felim McAllister
Father Felim McAllister is the pastor of the recently planted Walton Episcopal Church, deliberately located on banks of the Deerfield River in Massachusetts for reasons now obvious to both his slightly amused and highly annoyed parishioners. He is an unrepentant fly fisherman with an equally unrepentant appreciation for Cuban cigars, heavy-bodied English pipe tobacco, and single malt whisky. And when the good Father is not waving a stick in the stream, he's pissing off the denominational establishment by preparing conservative sermons or offending the ecclesial moralists by writing articles that often refer to all bait fishermen as "assholes." But at least he is liberally inclusive about it!