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Anger Management for Anglers

Or, why our best fly-fishing buddies sometimes lunge for our throats.

Anger Management for Anglers

(Al Hassall art)

Appleton has issues. I’m not talking about his cursing and fist shaking when I jump ahead of him to get to the good bend pools, or conveniently leave my wallet at home when it’s my turn to buy breakfast or gas. At those times, I patiently point out that these are behaviors all seasoned anglers engage in, which in the name of friendship must be overlooked. I’m talking about tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories and repeated attempts on my life.

When his fly got hung in the top of a pine tree, I watched with concern as he climbed to the top of a boulder, balanced himself on one knee, used his other leg as a counterweight, and stretched out to make several grabs for the fly. If he slipped, he was looking at a twelve-foot drop into the crick.

“Big fish—behind rock—jerked it—out of—his mouth,” he explained between lunges for the fly.

“Big fish? Where? What rock?”  


“Rock—at—head—of pool,” he grunted between grabs.


My immediate concern was for his safety, and as my fly settled gently behind the rock I called out, “You almost had it that time. You just need a little more stretch . . . Just . . . a little more . . . stretch,” I said between casts.

I’d like to take a moment to clear something up. I deny Appleton’s accusation that I was responsible for his fall. He slipped off of that rock when he lunged for my throat as I was showing him the big fish I had just landed.

Lately he’s been concentrating on conserving tippet material by tying knots with ridiculously short tag ends that take twice as long to tie and require magnifying glasses and tweezers. The other day as we were stringing up our rods I found a long-forgotten roll of tippet in the recesses of my vest. That fat-happy glow of the well-stocked angler washed over me.

“Hey, check it out,” I said. “You’re in luck. I just found a whole roll of 6X.”




“It looks old,” said Appleton, looking at it over his magnifying glasses. “I don’t think they even make that brand anymore.”

“Couldn’t be more than ten years old,” I said, blowing the lint off of it.

“I think that stuff has a shelf life.”

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“Huh? Naw, that’s just if it’s been in the sunlight. This has been in my vest,” I explained as I unselfishly handed him the spool.

Appleton’s allegation that it was old, brittle tippet material that caused him to lose those several twenty-inch cutthroat is false. He was setting the hook too hard.

I tried pointing this out to him at the time, but he refused to listen and kept lunging for my throat.  

Another sign of his descent into madness is the reesty, scruffy, Duck Dynasty look that he thinks is so cool. Unlike Appleton, I like the people I kiss. His wife was unaware of what was causing the whisker burn until I pointed it out to her. She then initiated a dry spell that lasted until Appleton resumed daily shaving.

I’d just like to say that when my fly got tangled in Appleton’s beard on a backcast, it was an accident. His shouts alerted me to the situation, and by leaning back, raising my rod tip, and ripping the fly from his whiskers I was able to quickly free him up so he could resume fishing. When I kindly thanked him for the whiskers that made my Adams ride nice and high in the water, froth dribbled onto the bare spot on his chin as he lunged for my throat.    

At times Appleton’s tantrums seem to be tied to his loss of memory. When he thought he’d left his wading shoes at home, I watched him search in vain through his bag of gear and the back of his truck. I tried to help by asking, “You’re sure they’re not in your bag?” and, “Did you look under the seat?” This caused him to retrace his steps the first few times, but my well-intentioned efforts to help eventually seemed only to irritate.

“They say the memory is the first thing to go,” I good-naturedly pointed out. “They’re wrong,” he whispered through clinched teeth as the muscles in his neck began to twitch. “The first thing to go is the smartass.”

Art of fly angler falling backward off  of a cliff into water; fly rod in the air
(Al Hassall art)

With Appleton relegated to fishing from the bank, I was able to outdistance him for the first time since we had been fishing together. It was heartbreaking to look back and see him standing there looking dejected and abandoned. My eyes welled with tears as I waved and disappeared around a bend in the river.

Appleton’s reaction to finding his wading shoes under my duffle bag was, in my opinion, over the top, and his charge that I hid them in order to gain some advantage is totally unfounded.

One of the things that got left behind recently was a water bottle. Well, to be more specific, Appleton’s water bottle. I saw him set his bottle on the cab of the truck just before we set out, but I didn’t think it worth mentioning at the time. He didn’t notice it missing until he saw me take a cool, refreshing drink from my canteen after our hot three-mile hike.

I coughed and charitably told him that I would be glad to share my water with him, but I thought that I was coming down with something. Luckily, Appleton relies heavily on my considerable knowledge of outdoor survival techniques and I was able to advise him that he could safely drink from the crick by straining the water through his teeth.

He soon expressed some regret at neglecting to bring along emergency toilet paper. Fortunately, I had some and told him I would be happy to share with him. I tore off one square of the paper and was handing it to him when he did this rapid movement thing with his eyes and lunged for my throat. It was when he broke concentration to make the attempt on my life that he had what we now refer to as “the accident.”

In the interest of being fair, I should tell what happened to me last week. While in the middle of the winter doldrums, I decided that ordering a new fly rod would be just the thing to lift my spirits, but after the initial excitement, I found my boredom replaced by an overwhelming itch to take it fishing. It would be another month before winter released its hold on the high country, but I figured that I could make a quick run up the canyon during a break in the weather, and put the new rod through the paces.  

It took five phone calls, a promise that it would be a quick trip, and assurances that we wouldn’t go in uncertain weather before Appleton agreed to go with me. I picked him up that morning and he immediately started whining about how cloudy it was and how he wished he’d worn another layer of clothes.

“You checked the weather reports, right?” he whined. “Huh? Oh yeah, we’re good to go.”

“It looks socked in up top,” he sniveled. “We won’t stay long. If it turns cold, I’ve got an extra coat behind the seat you can use,” I reassured him.

It was an hour and a half drive up to this section of crick that I thought would be the perfect spot to put the new rod to the test. I parked the truck into the wind, jumped out, and began rigging up. I pulled the rod from its tube and removed it from the rod sack. I slipped the tip section onto the butt section and checked that the guides were lined up. I seated the ferrules and turned to get the reel—I couldn’t find my reel bag. I went back to the cab of the truck and looked on the seat, behind the seat, and under the seat . . . nothing. I went back to the tailgate and stared at the pile of gear. I had a clear mental picture of the reel bag sitting by my tying desk where I had put it months ago after cleaning fly lines.

By that time, Appleton had rigged up and was a hundred yards down the crick, and it was starting to snow. The wind was picking up so I had to shout, “I’M GOING HOME TO GET MY REEL!”

“What the . . . COAT!” he shouted back.

I cupped my hands and shouted into the wind, “OK THEN. I’LL BE RIGHT BACK.” And if I hadn’t gotten stuck behind that snowplow on the way back I would have made good time.  

Luckily, I spotted Appleton on the side of the road in my headlights. I noticed with interest that he’d developed a twitch in his left eye that caused ice crystals to pop off his eyebrow and float down to rest on his cracked and bleeding lips. He was strangely silent on the way home, and it wasn’t until I told him that I thought the snow that had drifted onto his shoulders made him look Christmassy that he became agitated and lunged for my throat.

Appleton now rests quietly on most days, but remains delusional and continues to blame me for his lack of angling skills and questionable woodcraft; however, I will not abandon him in his hour of need—as soon as he’s released, I’m takin’ him fishing.  


Robert Robinson lives in Price, Utah.

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