Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Rule of Three

To the best of our knowledge, this world functions on a basis of laws. Or, at least that is how we have come to classify the naturally occurring events. These laws fascinate me. The law of conservation of mass, the laws of motion, and the law of conservation of energy are a handful that readily come to mind. Their implications produce a fun little game I like to play with myself. I am always, often unconsciously, looking for things that act the way they do as a direct result of one of these laws.

For example, think about the law of the conservation of energy and an angler's cast. Ultimately what places the fly on the very end of the line at that far distance is a direct result of the energy from the sun. I'll bet you have never thought of your casts as a result of solar energy. The sun heats the earth, and transfers energy into plants. The plants convert that energy into a form that can be consumed by the plant. The plant is eaten by animals, carrying that same energy into the animal, and we get the energy by either eating the plant or another animal that ate the plant. That energy is then used by our bodies, allowing our hearts to beat, blood to flow, and muscles to move. Our magnificent creation of a body then takes that same energy, which originally came from the sun, and thrusts a flexible, whip-like rod backward and forward in the air, allowing the energy to transfer from our arm to our wrist, then down to the tip of the rod, and into the line, which pulls the fly along, eventually placing it delicately (or not so for streamer chuckers) on the water. Multiple laws could be referred to in the whole process, and I find the connections fascinating. Ain't no harm in nerding out.

Seeking Summer Solitude

Laws are much easier to observe in the physical world. The thing is, there are laws that concern people, but with the malleable nature of humanity, the laws are much harder to see and prove. So much so that the sciences that surround these studies are often referred to as soft or pseudo-sciences.

In a nutshell, it's hard to know our influence on other people, or theirs on us. These kinds of things require long-term studies, which are impractical, unwieldy, and often lack enough control to be consistently accurate. But, we can make some assumptions, form some opinions, and identify some overall trends, which can be just as interesting to explore. Sometimes it is enough to be able to see or sense a thing, but not be able to explain it.

The Rule of Three

A good friend of mine introduced me to this idea, and through my little personal game of looking for validation of laws, I have come to believe it as an accurate assessment. I guess I would even go so far as to call it the law of three. It is that, for every person you show a fishing location to, they will show it to at least three others. They may not spread it at first, but by and by it will be spread. I have to interject here, that this rule applies to those who are actively pursuing angling, not really those who go once or twice a year. The implication is that exponential growth will eventually follow. The real question is, is this a bad thing? I found myself asking this question as I stood in the river, fishing for trout in a run alongside 10 other anglers, who had all walked up while I was already fishing the run. I marveled for a moment, that I was in Idaho, trout fishing, not steelhead fishing, and in moments it had become a "combat fishing" scenario. I casted for a bit longer, and then called it a day.

There is no doubt about it. Social media has changed the game. Many people's definition of exploring new water is scouring the internet for new pictures and information of areas that are already known to other anglers. Pictures motivate and give little clues. It is much less of an independent boots-on-the-ground endeavor. It makes me somewhat sad to see, but just because it is not my approach does not mean it is wrong, or that I have not or will not benefit from the process. I have found my fair share of help from google earth, and I have some pretty sharp friends who do quite well at the game. The internet tools we have are powerful, and not altogether bad. What does bother me is the bartering I occasionally see happening. The "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" approach. I consider myself a pretty nice guy, who is pretty slow to anger, but this approach gets under my skin pretty quick, especially when it involves waters that I care about, and frequent. I struggle to find balance with these issues. I can't even say that the "bartering" is a wrong way to go about it. I just don't personally like it because of my own scarcity mentality. Who gets to be in the "circle of trust" and who should be left out? How many people fishing an area is too much? If I had my druthers, I would never see another angler fishing the water I have chosen to fish in any given outing. I like my solitude. Its one reason I have become a much more nocturnal angler. But, even that is losing its solitude. In many ways I blame myself.

Social media has created a new baseline. It is taking a lot of the "blood, sweat, and tears" out of the exploration, and making it more of a "pay to play" endeavor. My hands are not clean in the process, as I have learned, and it has led me to seriously reconsider my involvement on social media as of late. I still hold to the idea, as I have mentioned in previous posts, that many of the problems with social media are a symptom of individuals' lack of respect. It's the same argument that surrounds gun control issues. People kill people, regardless of the guns, but a gun can certainly make the process easier. People ruin the solitude and quality of a location, but social media certainly makes it easier. There will always be those who use social media because they love to fish, and would go on happily fishing even without cameras and Instagram posts. But, I wonder who wouldn't be seen on the river if there were no cameras. Think about that one for a moment, it goes more than one way.

Social media speeds the process presented by the rule of three, but the rule really comes into play with in-person interactions. When a person is personally escorted to a location, shown specifically where to fish, is given effective tools to do so, and is then shown how to, they have now been given a gift. It is a gift born of someone else's exploration and effort. The thing is, everybody has friends, or at least acquaintances with similar interests, and we cannot, or will not, always be fishing with the same people. So don't be surprised when you run into other people fishing your regular haunts, and find that you have a common friend, because, well, the rule of three. It's just as much of a law as any other.

This brings up questions: Do we not share? Is social media more of a problem than a benefit? If someone chooses to share a location with someone, how do they do it responsibly and respectfully? Is it all just a river etiquette thing? Will the rise in pressure eventually die away? Is less more, or is more less? What do you get out of fly fishing versus what someone else might get out of it? Is one wrong while the other is right? In the end, if the rule holds true, I just might see you on the river. Who knows, maybe I already have.


  1. This post speaks directly to many recent personal anxieties I've been mulling over. I appreciate your candor and your clarity. Foremost, I have to say that I know I am the beneficiary of other people's knowledge in very direct ways. I don't think I've ever fully believed in the (peculiarly American) myth of the self-made man. And I won't claim that said myth suggests that no one *ever* benefits from another person's largess, but sometimes I think we as anglers (and humans in general) convince ourselves that we are the exception, as in "No one helped me. I did this myself." It's always a farce, as a matter of degrees. Sure, there is such thing as invention and self-direction, but just as the sun's energy is embodied and made kinetic through diffuse and numerous processes, so too our abilities and knowledge usually represent a subtle and collective body of amalgamated wisdom. Jung was on to something, both in terms of ancient knowledge and also something more directly relevant: we are borne aloft on other people's help, and there is no way around that.

    Recently, Nate and I talked at length about the very issues you're raising. I've come to the conclusion that one cannot be involved in social media to any degree without being complicit in "the problem." And this is not to suggest that no good comes from social media and the attendant knowledge-swap of our preferred formats. I know that positive awareness and ethical practice can be a byproduct. But I am inclined to believe that these are nominal gains given the manifold pressures added on resources because of these formats. I've found that, as a minimum, involvement with social media (be it Instagram, FB, etc) has a tendency to involve a user in a hyper-visual community that soon threatens to objectify the very thing we love. For example, when recently carp fishing, the thought entered my head that I needed to catch a nice carp to post on IG. I immediately checked myself and the upshot of this type of thinking. For the moment, I was non-present, objectifying the sport and the things I love, thinking not about my interaction with these things or my immediate environment, but in using an image of these things for the digital delectation of myself and others, as a means of pure self-aggrandizement, as an instrumental good. And again, while some of us are likely more prone to these ways of thinking, I maintain that you cannot avoid this mentality entirely, as pure as you might be ("you" here in the journalistic sense, not you, Chris).

    I will also readily admit that I have on occasion damaged the gift. As a late comer to the strange synergy of social media and "communities of desire," I often haven't practiced the best media ethics, and I believe it cost me friendships--I truly believe that. Although I have made mistakes innocently, there is often a zero sum threshold with such media and our interpersonal relationships that stem from the media, and I'm hoping to be a better practitioner in the days ahead. This might (likely will) involve a complete abdication from social media. The argument I am making might be generational, or at very least posit me with the rest of my GenX compatriots, but I do long for the simplicity of a pre-social-media fishing community. That is disingenuous, I know, because I have benefited greatly from these communities. And much of my longing might also be a result of maturation and (since speaking of laws is on the table) the law of diminishing marginal utility--I'm a jaded old man, overloaded with experience to the point that the thrill of rarity is attenuated. But I can't shake the feeling that there is something to my complaint, at the bottom of it. These formats many of us frequent give us all of the light of interaction, but little of the warmth. The adage of fishing knowledge has always been "show don't tell." Media now suggests we tell only, or show impersonally from afar.

    1. Joe, I appreciate your keen observations. Objectification is not something I had even considered in the equation, but that is it. It is exactly that. The very same thing we do with women's bodies throughout marketing and media. And, you are completely correct in the awkward benefit we have all gained, at least those who would be reading and interacting via this venue.

      I have talked on the topic of stages before, as it pertains to an angler's evolution. What I have not really included, and not even really considered until recently, is the role social media plays in it all. I think it has modified the whole process. I need to give it more thought, as I am not quite sure how it affects it, but I am sure it does. Maybe that will be the next post. Certainly is some food for thought, as was the idea of objectification. I look forward to sitting down and chatting about it in person.

    2. Joe, that's a really well thought I reply, and I have new things to think about. Good stuff.

  2. Chris, I always enjoy your insightful style.

    "... for every person you show a fishing location to, they will show it to at least three others." --- I think that's so true. And it's unfair to assume that the person whom we show it too will keep the secret. Once they fish it a few times, how is it any more ours than their's? What, just because we found it first? Part of me showing a friend a new spot is me understanding that it will be passed on, even if I don't want it to be.

    "Social media has created a new baseline. It is taking a lot of the "blood, sweat, and tears" out of the exploration, and making it more of a "pay to play" endeavor." --- Your definition of pay-to-play is a good one. What a strange world it is now. People whom I've never met will message me, and after just a couple short niceties, they start guessing where I was fishing and want me to confirm. Or, like you said, they want to tell me where they catch fish, obviously wanting me to reciprocate. No, I don't like that. BUT, I've also made some very good friendships that were started from social media interactions, and I would never trade those away.

    "But, I wonder who wouldn't be seen on the river if there were no cameras." lol. That's another great point. I've said this before: It seems many fisherman are out there to see and to be seen. -- And I agree, social media makes that way worse.

    All of these are tough questions. Personally, I keep blogging mostly to share stories and share tactics. I like to think that some people will be inspired enough to really dig into fishing and feel the same rewards that I have. To me, it's worth it to pass that on.

    Good read, Chris. Thanks for writing.

  3. Very nice read, personally I have been through many of the topics that were mentioned above and finding myself question my social media existence. Have also taken friends fishing to some places where I make them swear away their first born child that they won't give up the spot and hear them a week later telling someone mile markers and exact setups. What it comes down to me is it weeds out your friends that are there for just the picture or the owns who don't care how many hours it takes to get to the hole or even if we catch anything. I find it rare that people respect the fish as much as I do. The cliché quote from river runs through it comes to mind "If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to catch a fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him."
    Sorry for the poor Grammer and english.
    But thank you for the good food for thought.

    1. Well said Anthony. Thanks for the thoughts.