Default, Dear Brutus, Is Not In Our Stars…

…but in our operating systems. Or so the Immortal Bard might have written had he tapped out Julius Caesar on an iPad rather than scratching it out on parchment with a goose feather. I started thinking about defaults the other day as I sat in the estimable Rangeley Public Library (est. 1909, now on the National Register of Historic Places).

My default library.

As the RPL is in a town which has been a world-famous angling destination for well over a century, it is only fitting that an original painting by the locally legendary Herbie Welch — artist, guide, taxidermist, fly-tyer, Renaissance Man — is on prominent and permanent display.

Herbie Welch’s Brook Trout.

My laptop was tied into the library’s wifi, and I wanted to print some documents plus that day’s New York Times crossword puzzle on the library’s printer. I was given the IP address — 169.244.157.XXX, entered it into my computer and hit Print. I was asked if I wanted to make 169.244.157.XXX my default printer. I said, no, thanks, I wouldn’t want to cheat on my home printer, dear old ET-4500. But because I had a few more things to print I thought, yeah, just for now, I’ll default to 169.244.157.XXX. Then, of course, when I got home and tried to print something I had to switch my allegiance back to ET-4500.

Then I thought, what other defaults do I have? (Not faults; I don’t have space for that.) To paraphrase the Bard again, “To fish, or not to fish, that is the question…” And I realized that my default mode is to fish. Given a choice — do I go fishing, or do I (wash my sheets/go shopping/mow the lawn) — I go fishing. Fishing has often taken precedence over eating, especially as the best fishing often occurs in the evening hours when most people are sitting down to dinner. The problem, I have learned, with staying at an American Plan fishing lodge, as I occasionally have, is that they serve the evening meal during prime angling hours, and just try to persuade the kitchen staff to keep your dinner warm in the oven until you come ashore; their default position is usually fuggeddaboudit.

When I am not fishing I read. Reading is another default setting for me. And when I read I like to read words printed on a page made of paper — what’s now referred to as an “actual book.” Another default. So to satisfy that default, I visit libraries and bookstores, repositories of those ancient objects. When I’m at camp, my default bookstore is Wess and Pongsiri Connally’s Books, Lines & Thinkers, which is as whimsical as its name and offers a thoughtful selection of new and used books. I find it hard to walk out of there without a book.

My default bookstore.

Getting back to fishing. I have countless — well, I suppose that’s not literally true but I ain’t about to count them — trout and salmon flies. The number is easily in the hundreds. How many do I actually get wet during a season? Maybe a dozen. And among that dozen there is one that is my default fly, the one that I start with on any day of fishing and often don’t bother to change. You’d laugh if you saw it, but I’m not going to show it to you and embarrass it and all the fish that have fallen for its charms. It’s a fly I tie myself and it doesn’t have a name. Well, that’s not technically true: its name is Nick’s No-Name. There are many flies with wonderfully colorful and evocative names like Parmachene Belle, Montreal Whore, Egg-Sucking Leech. And many flies that are created with lots of bling, flies of many feathers and many colors, with sequins and sparklers and rings on their fingers and bells on their toes; they catch a lot of anglers in Bean’s flyfishing department but fewer fish on the stream. Nick’s No-Name has none of that. Nick’s No-Name is dressed like, say, Liz Taylor in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” or like, say, a guy who overslept and is running to catch the 7:43 in his underwear, or like, say, a sexy woman in a little black dress worn commando. In other words, Nick’s No-Name goes around almost naked, which is why I won’t show you a picture. But catching fish is Nick’s No-Name’s default mode. One recent evening fishing with Nick’s No-Name in the large pool below a well-known dam I caught eight fish on eight casts. And these were respectable fish, trout and salmon, no doinkers. Eight casts, eight fish. Given my modest angling skills, that’s like a utility infielder on a last place team going 8-for-8 in a doubleheader with a couple of homers, four doubles and a pair of singles. Default, dear Brutus, is how I roll.

Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.