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Bait vs. fly debate never dies

Times Staff Writer

The great bait debate is no joke. Ask Tom Loe.

“Years of observing the average bait chucker ... have left me tainted and hardened to the point where my humor on this subject may be too dark for publication,” the fly-fishing guide said recently by e-mail.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Apr. 23, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Casting instructor -- An article in Tuesday’s Outdoors section about fishing referred to casting instructor Chris Menadier on second reference as “she.” Menadier is a man.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 27, 2004 Home Edition Outdoors Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Casting instructor -- An article in the April 20 Outdoors section about fishing incorrectly referred to casting instructor Chris Menadier on second reference as “she.” Menadier is male.

People who don’t fish can’t possibly grasp the depth of the divide separating the two species of trout anglers. One tries to entice trout with worms, florescent Power Bait or sparkly lures. The other casts bits of fur and thread tied into patterns that imitate insects -- a.k.a. “flies.” Stupid? Perhaps. But beneath the surface of that confrontation are even stupider matters of aesthetics, conscience and class.

For Loe, the us-versus-them difference was clearly reflected in this encounter: He was rowing a fly-fishing client down the Lower Owens in his drift boat on a cool spring afternoon. They were doing well, catching and gently releasing a fine quantity of rainbows and the wild browns that fly-fishermen covet because they don’t come from hatcheries.

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Then, as the sun dipped behind the Sierra peaks, there appeared on the bank a toothless old man in the mood to goad.

“I got two good-sized rainbows that are going to be great for dinner -- along with my brown!” the “bait-head” shouted, hoisting a stringer of fish that would never again rise to a fly or a worm.

“We should pity these individuals and designate special water for them to wallow and congregate with their own,” Loe said, probably joking. “A reduced-fee license should also be in order, as most of these chromosome-deprived folks fall into the lower levels of the socio-economic scales, and catching trout for sustenance is a way to add protein to their meals of pork rinds and Cheez-Its.”

Do all fly-folk harbor such antipathy?

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“Absolutely not. We’re all fishermen. The only difference is the equipment we use,” says Gary Gunsolley, who runs a Bishop fly-fishing store and also drifts the Lower Owens.

Shawn Arnold, publisher of Fish Taco Chronicles magazine, jokes that you can tell the difference easily enough: “A fly-fisherman has a woolly bugger in his tackle box, while a bait fisherman has one on his sleeve.”

Arnold is a bait fisherman, he says, “because I like to catch fish.” Translation: It’s easier. It’s also more expensive.

“I wouldn’t mind trying” fly-fishing, says Darren Crawford, a bait fisherman from Garden Grove, “but then I’d probably find myself traveling to more distant waters, spending a lot more money and ... looking down on bait fishermen.”

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Chuck Furimsky, a promoter of fly-fishing shows from Carlisle, Pa., says fly-fishermen, as a rule, are not uppity elitists. Then he can’t help but add: “In bait fishing you buy some Power Bait, squeeze it onto your hook and that’s it. You don’t have to decide on the insect hatches, the size of flies or time of day.”

Furimsky used to fish with bait but moved “to the next level” after opening his tackle box one day and finding it reeking of minnows, cheese and maggots. The fly-fishing world has its stinkers too, most rational observers would note. Casting instructor Chris Menadier of Brea says she’s witnessed members of the supposedly more genteel breed clashing with one another: shore fisherman with drift-boater, independent anglers with those who pay for a guide. “I’ve seen fistfights among fly-fishermen,” Menadier says.

Bob Slamal, owner of Riverside Ski and Sport, bills his establishment as “a redneck fly shop” and says some of his customers “have tattoos and look like they’re ex-cons.”

They’re the ones, it might be said, who attract more flies than they buy.

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