Versatile. Proprietary. Ultralightweight. Aggressive. It's a pair of boots, for the love of Dog. I don't know about you, but the image of an aggressive pair of boots can conjure some slightly frightening mental images for me. I have no wish to wear Ray Lewis on my feet.
They love to foist the gear on us. Most of my hunting interests will be peaking very soon, and the dudes over at Guns-n-Rods-R-Us ain't dumb. They know I'm sitting here all jacked up, waiting with bated breath for the chance to go, for the wind to swing around from the north and the leaves to start changing. And they know I can do little about it, outside of sitting on my wallet while I read their articles and surf their websites. So my inbox fills with their emails as fast as my mailbox fills with their catalogs.
If you were to believe them, you could leave the house an expert in the woods without ever having visited them. Why worry about wind direction on a stalk? Simply slither into this activated charcoal cocoon, and bumble out the door. Can't navigate cross-country with a map and compass? No problem! Just purchase one of theses handy-dandy GPS units, guaranteed to save a brazillian waypoints and locate your butt anywhere on the planet. Until the batteries die. Want to catch a bigger fish than that knothead, Mike, down the hall in accounting? This $20 crankbait should do the trick. If you know where to throw it, not to mention when and how.
All that being said, gear is good. Tools of the trade are necessary, and sometimes downright cool. Some of them might even save your bacon one day, if you're dumb or unlucky enough to get in a pinch. But the whole purchasing of them can easily spin out of control faster than a freshman farm kid on spring break in Cancun.
Picture the outdoor gear retailer's greatest dream. It's easy -- I'm over there on the right in the beard and bomber hat, a self-admitted gear nerd. As a patriotic American, I'm duty bound to genuflect at the feet of consumerism, to acquire the latest and greatest gear every year. If I don't have those Gore-Tex bibs with the new, NASA-inspired shoulder strap system, the terrorists win, right?
It's not that bad for me now, but it nearly was once upon a time. Thankfully, most of my friends and I have been in this game long enough that we no longer feel the need to run out, and blow our hard earned checks on this season's avalanche of camouflage crap. Of course, the temptation lingers.
Fly tying is the worst. There are literally thousands of products and materials out there, all so shiny and inviting. My fly tying bench looks like a a bomb went off at an all chicken disco party. Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck... Stayin' alive! There are any number of these tiny baubles and doodads that are integral to the flies that I tie. There are also dozens of these little things that I've purchased, and never used. Why did I need stainless tarpon hooks? I have no idea, but I bet they were in the bottom of some bargain bin, just waiting for the next sucker to come along.
I tie here in the computer room, more aptly titled, "the fly tying and fishing shit tornado room," where the fur and feathers glacially migrate across the desk, and calve onto the floor, until I finally beat them back to various drawers, bins, and peg hooks. While not nearly artwork, and not even artisan's work, the flies do occasionally appeal the the eye of both fisherman and fish enough to make wading through drifts of deer hair and chicken feathers worth it. The vicious strike of the smallmouth on a topwater I've spun and stacked is reward enough for sometimes finding trimmed deer hair in my dinner, on my sheets, and even in the shower.
The fishing rods themselves also contribute mightily to the wallet suck that is outdoor purchases. Non-fishers often gawk and comment when they spy the thicket of rods sprouting in the corner or sprawling across the bed of a pick up. They don't understand that fishing rods are a lot like golf clubs -- there's a rod in the bag for every shot, so to speak. You don't cast for little native brookies on a massive 9-weight thunderstick, nor to do you chase muskies with dainty little bamboo trout rods... and all the permutations in between. That's not even considering all the conventional spinning and bait casting tackle of similar ratings and uses. It can grow to quite a number. And once you settle on a rod maker of choice (I'm smitten with a certain famous rod company from here in Wisconsin that shares it's name with a famous river) those rods seem to have the ability to reproduce in the dark secret places we store them. I can't possibly have purchased that entire stack, they must spawn in the back of the truck after a few too many cocktails around the campfire. It's been known to happen.
Clothes are bad too. I'll admit I'm a bit of a clothes horse. Fortunately, I'll never be mistaken as a dandy or metrosexual as most of my purchases hail from the Filson and Woolrich end of the spectrum. That doesn't mean they don't pile up. Closets erupt with fleece and wool. To open certain drawers, stuffed to their limit with Thinsulate and Polypro, coarse language and the strength of Thor must both be employed.
Honestly, part of the problem here seems to be that for a few years there after school, everything always shrank in the off season. I must have been drying everything on high. Or eating everything in sight. One of the two. Thankfully, I've managed to settle into a more comfortable zone now, roughly maintaining the mass of a red dwarf star, but there's still one pair of waders out in the garage that I no longer wear for fear of being mistaken as a giant, overstuffed camouflage bratwurst. Yummy!
Of course, the subject would not be complete without addressing the random gimmicky crap we fall prey to on occasion. Don't look at me like that. You know what you've done as well as I do. It was a plastic piece of crap purchased from Satan's colon (based in Bentonville, AR) that broke inexplicably when you looked at it sidelong the first time you took it out. Or it was some completely useless trinket, purchased on a whim for no discernible reason. We all have a box of them in the basement or garage that should go on E-bay or in the garbage. I find one in a tackle box, backpack, or vest every once in a while. Nothing to do but hang your head in amused shame at that point. You got me with your fancy advertising. What a rube.
I purchased a knife sharpening kit years ago. I won't name the brand or the online retailer from which it was procured, but this thing may as well have been made from confetti and spit. I'm pretty sure the knives actually sharpened the stones they were so soft, and the rickety little joke of an angle guide imploded faster than a game of drunken Jenga. I could write for an hour on these little debit card catastrophes, but I won't. You've been there at least once yourself.
Buying and using the gear is only half the fun. A great deal of the joy comes from simply pawing it up at home, getting ready for the next excursion. Hours, days, entire weekends have been frittered away painting and sharpening, sewing on buttons and tweaking baits. Most of the time it's a perfectly harmless way to pass the time while you dream of the upcoming adventure. You show me a man on his first trip of the season, I'll show you a guy who spent an hour playing with his toys like a monkey in the zoo the night before.
I'm going deer hunting this coming weekend. As my departure approaches, long underwear will have to be located, outerwear will need to be packed, my rifle and ammo will need a good ogle, boots and knives and any number of things will have to be sharpened, re-waterproofed, and generally dinked around with. Before I sat down to write this, I spent a good two minutes looking at faucet handles, across the house in the kitchen, through my binoculars. Just like a monkey in a zoo.