They say that fly fishing is not about a competition between fishermen. For most, it’s about being in a beautiful place while trying to catch fish. My response is — they don’t know about the “Hat.”
I have been fishing with the same group of guys (each one lives in a different part of the country) every summer for the past 17 years. It is an annual trip that I always look forward to. Usually, we fish Penns Creek in central Pa but we have been to Yellowstone National Park, the Adirondacks, and Florida. The trip is typically four to five days and, while the fishing is usually decent, some years are better than others. The fun part is the friendship and camaraderie that we share. These are great guys and we enjoy each other’s company. For the most part, there are no competitive forces that dominate the trip. However, there is the annual competition for the “Hat.”
This started about 12 years ago when we were in Yellowstone. The hat was purchased and the competition started. At every trip, he who catches the biggest fish gets to keep and wear the hat until the following year’s trip. What this means is that if you win the hat, you have bragging rights for the next 12 months. As the old MasterCard commercial would say: this is priceless!
If you win the hat, your job for the next trip is to: first — remember to bring the hat to the next trip. Second, you must buy a new fly-fishing pin for the hat. Fast forward 12 years, and now the hat includes 12 really cool pins. It has become pretty heavy. Actually, no one really wears it in public. I have attached a picture for you to see what it looks like today.
This year, our annual trip was to Sanibel, Florida. Fly fishing saltwater was a first for us. We were optimistic and excited about the prospect of catching snook, pompano and sea trout. We all arrived with high hopes — each of each feeling confident that this was his year to win the hat.
To be honest, it has been a few years since I last won the hat.
The first day, the fishing was slow. That is a nice way of putting it. Five guys and no fish caught. The next day had to be better. On the second day, we arrived at the beach just as the sun was coming up. By 10:00 AM, still no fish caught. At around 11:00 AM, my luck changed. As I was stripping in my crystal schminow, I felt a strong tug and, a second later, something strong took the fly and headed out into the gulf. The fight was on and it was a blast. A few minutes later, I landed a beautiful 19.75” snook. Certainly not huge, but I am thinking this could be big enough to win the hat.
Later that afternoon, a buddy was fishing about 50 yards away and, when I looked over, you could tell he had a nice fish on the line. I was excited for him, but slightly more excited to see that it was only a 16” pompano. That was it for day #2. Unfortunately, our luck did not improve on our third day and after three days of fishing, five of us caught only three fish. Not good results. We were disappointed, but all had fun.
The great news is that I won the hat this year. In fact, I may wear it to one of our monthly PVFF meetings. While my friends and I have fun with the annual hat competition, the biggest take away from these annual trips is the continued friendship that we share. During these trips, we certainly laugh a lot, share a bit of bourbon, and tease each other about the hat. But it’s a nice escape for each of us. This annual trip is our way to reconnect. It has been an amazing tradition for 17 years and I hope this will continue for many more years. It’s really not about who catches the biggest fish, but about getting together with good friends.
However, at some point, we may need to look for a bigger “Hat.”