Ask G&G

Fishing Manners and More

How to earn a guide’s respect, Mardi Gras in Mobile, and drinking after church

Illustration: Illustration by Britt Spencer

Q. We’re heading down to Islamorada for some flats fishing. Any advice about guide etiquette?

The best way to treat a guide right is…not to treat him wrong. It’s harder than it sounds. First, clean out your mind. Flats guides have seen everything in their clients, so don’t bother trying to impress them with whatever you think of as your angling skill. Worry instead about wasting shots at fish that they have, in their vast knowledge of tides, wind, and water, produced for you. Great guides have a very complex trigonometry working at all moments of the angling day, and it’s not just about the water, the marl of the bottom, or the wind on this or that flat. The constant ticking trig of the factors they face will include your own weaknesses as an angler, which will be apparent to them within a few minutes on the boat. In fact, being frank about your weaknesses will help them help you snag more fish.

The best thing you can do is to be humbly on your game, meaning, be able to throw a fly at least sixty feet accurately. If you are as rusty as I inevitably am before a trip: Grab the 8- or 9-weight and practice getting line into the air fast. It’s Einstein’s Theory of Flats-Fishing Relativity: As slow as a poled flats boat seems to be moving, and as leisurely as a pod of bones might seem to graze, a few seconds is all you will have when your guide says, Tailing bone, two o’clock, moving left to right, twenty yards out. You have to be able to deliver the hook. That means, deliver the hook to the fish. Not into the guide’s shoulder with your back-cast—sorry, Timmy!—as I once did.

Q. This year we’re thinking of moving our Mardi Gras party to Mobile. What’s up over there?

You can wrap your arms around Mardi Gras in Mobile—it’s a smaller monster than its sibling 145 miles to the west. In New Orleans, one is engaged in what we might call defensive partying, quieter private things at the edges of the inevitably raucous public blowouts so that you don’t pull a Jonah and get swallowed whole. In general, Mobile’s season is less strident and adheres more closely to eighteenth-century tradition. Originally called Boeuf Gras (the fatted calf, or cow) in the French territories, Mobile’s party began for real in 1704 with the Masque de la Mobile, a dance held some fourteen years before the founding of New Orleans. That antecedent still sticks in the craw of some bits of old New Orleans, evidence of a paradigmatic, only-in-the-South argument about who patented the brilliant idea to form clubs to get drunk and chase women anonymously while wearing what passed for eighteenth-century Batman masks, although everybody knew each other and the masks were just meant to serve the French sexy-time banter. Traditions in the two warring sister cities have diverged over the last 312 years since that original ball, although some of Mobile’s “mystic societies” still practice heavy secrecy. The serious old-society parades are held along what’s called Mobile Mardi Gras “Route A,” and occur with pride of place every Saturday in January and February leading up to the main event. On Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras you’ll want to hit the parades of King Felix III, the Order of Athena, the Knights of Revelry, the Comic Cowboys, and the ultimate, and one of the oldest societies, the Order of Myths. Afterward, don’t bother asking what it all means. They’ve sworn not to tell you.

Q. We’ve just received an invitation for “bloodies after church.” What’s that?

At last, the true old-school raises its head. Long thought extinct, bloodies-after-church is a curious animal in the social bestiary. The reason you don’t know what to do with the invitation is that nobody—except for your excellent hosts and a few scattered, ancient families—does this. Let’s swim back three thousand or so years to the Social Pleistocene: Try to imagine a South in which there was no such newfangled excuse for eating—and no such word— as “brunch.” Bloodies-after-church is left over from that pre-brunch epoch—a period defined by another, bigger, also-almost-extinct tradition called Sunday “dinner,” which meant the classic big meal in the middle of the day. A bloodies invite was your fly-by meet-and-greet prior to wherever you were headed for the big sit-down. Ergo: Bloodies-after-church is a stand-up midday cocktail party. There will be edibles, but the presumption is that everybody has someplace else to go. You can of course have the bloodies and the dinner in the same place, but that is not the invite you’re holding. Nota bene: If you’re not coming from church, you might want to know that the dress is up.