Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Epistle on Experts

An Epistle on Experts

An interesting thread on Joe's Board on what and who is an expert on fishing tackle got me thinking. As I am sometimes asked for my opinion on fishing tackle by the media and other collectors, I would assume others feel I have some expertise in the field. After all, other than Mary Kefover Kelly, I am probably one of the few people who has taken the time to read Spirit of the Times, Forest & Stream, The American Angler, Field & Stream, and a host of other magazines in their entirety. I literally spent three years reading this material.

But I am here to say that, while I may know some things, the more I learn the more I realize I don't know jack. It is literally impossible to know even a small percentage of what is currently available on fishing tackle--just page through a Luckey or Murphy & Edmisten book and ask yourself what you really know about the many lures pictured. I can flat out guarantee you that Bill Sonnett has forgotten more about fishing lures than I will ever know, and there are dozens more out there just like him. But as Bill or Joe Stag or anyone who is really knowledgable will admit, they don't know everything.

Here is a case in point. I know a good bit about fish hooks, having spent a lot of time and effort researching and writing about them. But my knowledge is limited largely to the general history of hooks and specifically to American hooks. I would never consider myself an expert on English hooks, like Ronn Lucass, or on hooks and harnesses, like Jeff Kieny. When I have questions on this and many other subjects, I will start by trying to find the answer out myself, and when I am stumped, asking (politely) of people who are more knowledgable than myself.

My point in all this is to remind you that the two more overused words in the English language are Expert and Genius. James Gleick once penned the best definition of genius I have ever read. In his book Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman he declared that genius is defined by those rare instances when we come across something and say to ourselves, "in a million lifetimes I could never have done that." Thus, your geniuses are limited to people like Einstein, Beethoven, Shakespeare, etc., and come around very rarely.

On the other hand experts, both real and purported, are around us every day. How much expertise any individual may actually possess is a question I will leave others to decide. One would think it would be impossible to call yourself an expert without at least having expended some effort at learning your trade. Many collectors have expertise in one or more fields, no one has expertise in all of them. And just because someone has written on the subject doesn't always make them an expert (or even right in some cases). So pick and choose your experts very carefully.

Regardless of this, I will say the best definition of Expert I have ever come across is from my friend's father, a man who left home at age eleven to work in the cotton fields, fought in Burma in WWII, and who eventually became a master carpenter--the kind who can mitre by sight and build a roll-top desk from scrap wood in the basement. "An expert?" he once declared, "I know what an expert is. Its some sonofabitch in a suit from the head office."

So here's to all the true experts out there in the fishing tackle world. May they continue to share their expertise, with no hope of reward, with the rest of us neophytes.

-- Dr. Todd

1 comment:

billsonnett said...

Thanks for the compliment Todd, but I've always considered myself a "student" not that other word.
Bill Sonnett