Here's a trivia question for you: Who said the following, and when? And where? The ancients wrote of the three ages of man; I propose to write of the three

  • By: Paul Guernsey
Here's a trivia question for you: Who said the following, and when? And where?

The ancients wrote of the three ages of man;
I propose to write of the three ages of the fisherman.
When he wants to catch all the fish that he can.
When he strives to catch the largest fish.
When he studies to catch the most difficult fish he can find,
requiring the greatest skill and most refined tackle, caring more for
the sport than the fish.

And, no, it wasn't the Dalai Lama. If you guessed Edward R. Hewitt, 1948, in his book A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for Seventy-Five Years, go ahead and pour yourself a glass of single-malt. But I'm guessing you didn't; this frequently paraphrased bit of wisdom is most often misattributed to a much more recent author and book. I didn't know for certain myself until a few days ago, after a rereading of the late Sparse Grey Hackle's 1971 essay, "The Perfect Angler," kindled my curiosity. In that fine piece of writing Sparse gives credit to his friend, Mr. Hewitt. But because he didn't also give the when or where, I couldn't be certain Hewitt himself hadn't borrowed from an earlier source. Fortunately, author and angling historian Darrel Martin was kind enough to pin it down for me. (Thanks, Darrel!)

I bring this up because Hewitt's "three ages of the fisherman" got me thinking, for the thousandth time, about which age I myself am in. Sadly, I quickly came to my usual conclusion: Not only am I securely perched in a sort of purgatory between Age Two and Age Three, but I seem unlikely ever to attain that full and final stage of enlightenment. Big fish make me lose my marbles, and there's not much I can do about that. My one consolation is that I've got plenty of company; just about all my angling acquaintances are in the same canoe.

However, if I had to pick the person who comes the closest to being a Third Age Angler, Ted Leeson would certainly be a finalist. Although Ted himself would scoff at the "most difficult fish" and "greatest skill" part, that's only because he is a truly modest man and a habitual self-deprecator.

Caring more for the sport than the fish? Read his unrivaled books of angling essays, The Habit of Rivers and Jerusalem Creek and tell me what you think. And have a look at The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference, written with co-author Jim Schollmeyer; many knowledgeable fly-tiers have told me that if they were limited to a single tying book, this would be the one. It would certainly be my choice.

A passion for the finest equipment? Just read any of the more than 50 comprehensive gear comparisons Ted has done for FR&R, from his first piece on personal watercraft in 1991 to his breathable-waders roundup in this issue. There is no one else in fly-fishing who approaches gear with Ted's combination of seriousness, objectivity, experience and thoroughness; FR&R is extremely lucky to have him.

And, who reads these exhaustive, nit-picking gear evaluations? According to our reader surveys, just about everyone…

By the way, I enjoyed rereading "The Perfect Angler" so much that I thought you'd like it, too. We'll be reprinting it in our upcoming June issue. Keep an eye peeled.