P.G. Wodehouse got it right, I think: “Christmas has us by the throat again.” You barely get the Thanksgiving dishes cleared off the table before Father Christmas puts a headlock on you and drags you off to the mall, subjects you to the Christmas Music Torture and vacuums out your wallet. This is why we get drunk on New Year’s Eve.
For the angler, though, there is some joy to be found outside of a Christmas carol. At 5:44 a.m. on December 21st the Earth begins the annual wobble that brings the sun back to Maine. The Winter Solstice marks the moment when the light begins to shine for a few more precious moments every day until finally comes a day in June when we can fish until 10:00 p.m. At least, my brother can; I get too hungry and head back to camp before the stars emerge. And on that June day the planet tips the other way and the darkness begins to descend ever earlier. If you’re a glass-half-empty guy you think of December 21 as the shortest, darkest day of the year. The glass-half-full guys, like most anglers, think of it as the turning of the corner that leads to Opening Day.
But after musing briefly on the great astronomical event, we again become aware of that headlock and the great existential dilemma comes into sharp and alarming focus on the Winter Solstice: What to get an angler for Christmas? The angler whose collections of flies, lures, lines, leaders, rods, reels, waders, nets, vests, canoes, outboards, paddles, anchors, tackle boxes and mounted trophies may soon require building an extra room on the house? That angler.
Perhaps, you think, a fresh, updated DeLorme’s Maine Atlas & Gazetteer to replace that tattered, dog-eared, cover-taped-on copy that lives in the truck?
No way. The old one is annotated with arcana about hidden trails, productive waters, secret ponds — years of personal fishing lore and lessons. That tattered volume is the angler’s equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Rosetta Stone, holding secrets of the ages. A new vest? To replace the tattered, stained, reeking garment that hangs in the garage in order to protect the family from its odors? Are you kidding me? That vest is sacred and will one day be interred with the angler; it’s stipulated in the will.
If you are not an angler but must find a gift for the angler(s) in your tribe, the best piece of advice I can offer is to ask in advance. There’s no chance that you will guess right. This is why I have been gifted with duplicates of gear, gadgets and books I already owned, why I have boxed sets of big, fluffy flies that were very effective at luring the gift-giver but will never get wet, and why I now provide specific guidance. Ask. You may get a list with cryptic notations such as 5X, or DT5F, or #18PMD. Take the list to a reliable outfitter such as the fishing department at L.L. Bean, or Brett and Sue Damm’s Rangeley Region Sport Shop, or Dan and Penny Legere’s Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, where the code will be broken and you will have a happy angler on Christmas morning.