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  • Writer's pictureChris O'Byrne


Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Bits of the Fantasy We Left

Do we know that our memories will fade? Do we know at a subconscious level that despite the effort to create and live them, our minds alone will not hold the complete record of our adventurous escapes? What are the reasons we bring souvenirs of our angling destinations home with us?

Maybe these tokens will be used as evidence of our status, presented in the court of friends’ opinion. Or we might be trying to extend “…the limited, momentary way we come to understand a place on a trip” that Gierach noted.

Even though it seems as natural as leaning against the bed of a pickup, do some have an immunity to the urge that makes packrat-anglers of others.? The bringers-home must be more sentimental, right? Are we using an escapist skill born from bad incidents in an earlier age? Or are we mere tools of capitalism? Would that mean that the leavers-behind are more practical, confident, and independent?

Back home, these keepsakes become mostly positive distractions. For precious moments we can take our brain out of the world our body must inhabit and remember a different more pleasant world we fished in. Does the logo on that hat fill in memories of a spot we haven’t completely left and can’t completely recall? Like silent psychologists, favorite souvenirs of fishing adventures help return us to an angler’s happy place. Does that mean we are dissatisfied with the world we must return to? Do we gather remembrances to medicate ourselves with tangible bits of fantasies we left?

What relics that move us in this way qualify as souvenirs, anyway? Some anglers have a pile of fishing licenses in a not completely forgotten drawer. But are identification badges from shows and expositions worth keeping? Boarding passes? Do these bureaucratic documents gain special value because of their destinations? What about marriage licenses? Are flies souvenirs? Can chewed up and ripped up and faded lures that don’t work in our home waters still have an effect on us when we get home?

If fly boxes count as souvenirs, this distraction feature causes problems for me while I am fishing home waters. When I pull out a box bearing the logo of a destination fly shop, I am distracted by the happy memories of that completed trip. (Some of the bad ones too, but mostly the good) By the time I return to the world my body is inhabiting, the boat has floated out of position and I’ve forgotten what fly I needed. To my suggestable mind, souvenir fly boxes are best used for storage at the tying bench.

I am a bringer-home not a psychologist, so I really don’t know why we cling to these bits and pieces. But if you stop by the fly shop, we can share our favorite souvenirs.

Authors notes: See a future installment for the photo essay which accompanies these meanderings. The author is grateful to John Gierach and Simon & Schuster Publishers for the use of his descriptive book At the Grave of the Unknown Fisherman.

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