The term “dude” first appeared in 1883’s The Home and Farm Manual describing an ill-bred and ostentatious city dweller. It was refined to describe the Easterners, decked out by Abercrombie & Fitch, who trekked west to hunt, ride, and play at ranching. Among its contemporary uses, my favorite describes the argot preferred by youngish flyfishing guides composed of one part surfer lingo, one part passive-aggressive machismo, and one part bong hit.
Although I fish nearly every weekend and drive a rusty Ford Explorer, I am still a Capitol Hill lawyer, literary dilettante, and amateur cook and thus a 19th Century dude. I aspire to the Confluence Films’ indifference and the Drake advertisers’ irony, but am just too conventional. By early-adopting the chest pack, I fooled some of the Lefty Kreh generation, but in any location with aspirations to “Trout Town USA” this façade is as imaginary as the trico hatch.
It seems too that flyfishing coolness now rests largely on mastery of multimedia apparatuses. No trip is successful without photos displayed in fluid sequence to an indie-rock soundtrack. And even this device seems dated—without the highest-def video footage am I an absolute Luddite? I fantasize about making a short film that mocks both the F3T vibe and my own unfulfilled hipster aspirations. Quick, angular cuts between exotic locations, esoteric patterns, and my mud-spattered Ford are accompanied by a post-grunge, lo-fi masterpiece. Panning to me dressed in painfully new gear pulling 10-inch stockers from a suburban tailwater, I look into the camera and say, “Dude, strike indicators are for pussies.”
The four of us that headed to the Deschutes for a long weekend of chasing steelhead, drilling redbands, and drinking beer are dudes to be sure. On these trips I secretly quest for the money shot, where I appear both piscatorily successful and sufficiently fish-grungy—the picture I would want on the cover of my DVD or my Facebook page. My friend Blane—grasping with sinewy fingers a large, bright Deschutes River steelhead held away from his body to increase its apparent size and mimic the poses on guide service websites and glossy magazines—got my money shot instead of me. As consolation, I posed outside the Rainbow Tavern with a local who looked like a wolverine and traded “secret” spots for Hamms.
I stumbled on a couple of snapshots from simpler times, before flyfishing became an obsession—me at 20 years old thumbing the gills of two big browns that I caught, killed, and ate for breakfast. And I realized that this image fixation is misplaced. It is not the look of the dude in the picture but the attitude and commitment to the lifestyle that free a man from dudedom’s gravity.
I don’t have the time, income, or cajones to dedicate myself sufficiently to escape that orbit, yet I still pose and click, hoping destiny produces that relic I can tape to my office wall and stare at while daydreaming about being a really cool dude.