How Sick Are You, Really?

(Note: This article previously appeared in High Country Angler Magazine)

If you’re any kind of fisherman, you’ve probably had the finger of accusation pointed at you from time to time. Usually it’s a spouse, significant other, or family member. “You think more about fishing than you do about me”. “The guy at the fly shop sees more of you than I do.” “You never look at me the way you look at that reel.”

And let’s face it, nine times out of ten it is true. There is no hiding from the fact that as fishermen, we are, to differing degrees, struck down with the sickness. For some, the symptoms are relatively mild, the cure relatively straight forward. A couple of times a year, you head to the river for some quiet time. A few hours, a clearer head, and you are back to your normal station in life, a functioning, productive human being. For others the situation is more complex, the symptoms hold deeper, the cure less attainable. Social interaction becomes problematic, personal hygiene an irrelevance, the need to have two feet planted in water somewhere an unquenchable thirst. The question that preys most on the mind is this: How sick am I? Am I sick at all? Am I OK and everyone else is sick? Jeez, doesn’t that guy with the slightly bulging eyes look like that bull trout I landed in Idaho last fall?

So how do you find out if your sickness is mild or untreatable? Where do you go for an impartial diagnosis? Certainly not to a medical doctor. They’ll either be infected themselves, or else “one of them”, that is, a non fisherman, and so in no position to make any judgements. Psychologist? What the heck would they know anyway, they’re probably too screwed up dealing with other people’s problems in the first place. Family? Gimme a break, they’re the ones pointing the finger in the first place, so no hope of impartiality there. No, the only hope is through an honest and searching self assessment.

So grab a pen, paper and a bottle of Scotch ( in vino veritas ), and take the “Is It Me, Or The Whole Damn World Who Is Sick?” test. Answer the following six questions honestly, and for each answer score the same number of points as the answer you choose.

1: You arrive home from your latest fishing trip. Your kids: 1) Rush in to your arms, and welcome you back with cries of “Did you have fun, Daddy?” and “We’re so glad your home, let’s help you unpack.” 2) Greet your arrival home with total indifference, resuming their video game with barely a glance in your direction. 3) Run screaming to their mother, yelling “Mom there’s a strange, hairy, smelly person standing in the kitchen trying to hug us!.”

2: The real reason you okayed your kids getting that new hamster was to: 1) Teach them about the responsibilities of caring for another living creature. 2) Give them something to do so they wouldn’t hassle you so much about taking them to soccer practice or dance recital. 3) That light tan patch of fur on Fluffy’s back is the perfect shade of color for those caddis nymphs you are planning to tie for your upcoming trip to Montana.

3: That attractive blonde from the accounting department has been casting furtive glances in your direction lately, and blushes slightly every time you meet her eye. You decide the best course of action is to: 1) Empty your bladder, take a deep breath and going up to her and say that although, as a fisherman, you sadly have zero social skills, you would love to take a walk along a riverbank with her sometime. 2) Ignore her, on the assumption that once she got to know you, she’d dump you anyway. 3) Just the thought of trying to initiate a conversation with her makes you empty your bladder before you make it to the bathroom.

4: Your mother calls to point out that it has been a few months since you’ve dropped by to visit, especially disconcerting considering you live only three blocks away. Your response is to: 1) Realize that she is correct, and decide to cancel that trip to the river this afternoon, and drop by and visit, and maybe mow her lawns for her. 2) You figure she is correct, you have been neglecting her lately, and decide to drop by to visit this afternoon, but, what the heck, you’ll take the 3wt along just in case there’s enough light left at the end of the day to hit the river for a few casts. 3) Patiently explain to her that for the last few weeks the blue wings have been hatching, in fact the best hatch in recent memory. It’s only supposed to last for a couple more weeks, and you’ll be around to say “hi” after that, then making a note to have her number added to your blocked caller list.

5: Your daughter comes home breathless one evening, telling you that Steve just proposed, and she accepted. They want to tie the knot at the end of June, which corresponds with the stone fly hatch in the Gunny Gorge. Your response is to: 1) Break down in tears at the thought of your little treasure getting married and leaving the nest. But Steve is a great, sober guy with a great job, and you’d hoped all along she would choose him and not that jerk on the Harley. 2) Break down in tears at the thought of your little treasure getting married and leaving the nest. But Steve is a great, sober guy with a great job, and you’ll get him a 5 wt as an engagement present, hopefully gaining a fishing buddy as well as a son in law. And thank God she didn’t pursue things with that spin fishing jerk on the Harley. 3) Break down in tears as you realize that you’ll have cancel the trip to the Gorge this year, unless you can talk her into an on river wedding. Damn, life sure would have been a heck of a lot easier if she’d just ran off with that guy on the Harley.

6: Your wife announces that she has been thinking about learning to fish. She saw on Oprah the other day how fly fishing is naturally suited to a woman’s physiology and disposition. If she likes it she’ll be able to come along on your fishing trips, and won’t that be fun? Your response is : 1) Lend her your 5 wt, and organize for her to sign on with the local outfitter’s women’s fishing program. This is your dream come true, finally something you can share together outside of your normal domestic relationship. 2) Lend her your 5 wt, and organize for her to sign on with the local outfitter’s women’s fishing program, but lovingly explain that for you, fishing is a means of having a life outside of marriage, but you are sure she’ll make many new friends along the way herself. 3) Break out in a cold sweat, and after surveying all the options, set her up with the crustiest guide you know, and tell him there’s an extra hundred in his tip if she comes home with the words “I hate fishing, and that guide’s a real jerk” on her lips.


6 – 8: Relax, you’re fine. In fact, getting out and fishing a little more wouldn’t do any harm.

9 -11: You still fit well within the bell curve of accepted social norms. Carry on as you are, but the need for constant self assessment is advised.

12 – 14: Check yourself into a psychiatric facility specializing in the treatment of narcissism and denial while you can still do so voluntarily. It will make it a lot easier to maybe get out later on.

15 – 18: As Macbeth stated: “ I am in blood steeped so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as the go o’er.” In other words, too late to turn back now. Withdraw immediately from society, buy that remote tract with the Unibomber shed on it you’ve always wanted anyway, ditch the razor and cell phone, and fish your ass off.


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