Letherman’s World Cup

A Fly Fisher’s Guide to the World Cup: Part 1

By Troy Letherman

Some people, my mother for one, operate under the assumption that the life of a fly-fishing writer mostly entails hoovering up all the free gear a guy can find, swilling booze and spanking the occasional ass with the tip section of a new five-weight. Primarily because that’s what I tell them it’s like.

Chicks even dig the World Cup for obvious reasons.

The alternative—what obsessive compulsives might call the truth—gets a little awkward once it’s discovered I’ve less to offer than the fry guy at your local McDonald’s. Superhuman efforts to avoid responsibility have paid off in irrelevance, it seems, since it’s unlikely anyone will be pinning medals to my chest for that all-important Elk Hair Caddis I tied last week or bestowing a scholarship in my name after reading about a buccaneering week in the Bahamas, during which time I found Kalik a useful companion to oxygen and yet still caught bonefish on seven out of every ten casts. These are my most notable recent achievements, though neither makes me a particularly handy mammal to have around.

Ah, the famous nose across the end-line celebration that drew a red card.


Please note, however, that I don’t care. I’m not here to help.  First because I loathe anything dressed up as instructional—especially if people are going to insist on calling it writing and particularly then as it relates to fly fishing. In my opinion, if a guy’s so f’in dumb he can’t figure out his own knots he probably shouldn’t be around moving water in the first place.

And second, there’s a reason I’ve never gotten a real job.

Instead I’m here for no less noble a reason than shoehorning together two topics that have nothing to do with one another, but that I happen to know a lot about—fly fishing and soccer. Feel free to call it fútbol if you’re the kind of hoity-toity pain-in-the-ass who calls wine vino and doesn’t realize it also comes in a box.

Now, you might ask why, other than an uncontrollable urge to mix metaphors, I feel the need to bring these two topics together. The answer’s simple: It’s 2010 and for a staggeringly large percentage of the planet’s population, that means the FIFA World Cup. Yes, it’s unlikely most anglers are among that group, as an alternative fretting over water flow on the Beaverhead, tardy Tricos, the fact that wader prices seem inversely proportionate to their chances of lasting through a season or any other of a hundred heady matters. But then there are also brackets to fill out, and filling out brackets is fun. Also, due to the wonders of international time zones, the World Cup offers us the chance to fish the evening hatch, belly up to the bar for a night of debauchery and then stumble home just in time for kickoff of the day’s games. Last, the tournament takes place in June and July, those unfortunately pleasant months that tend to draw out guys wearing stupid-looking hats who really should be golfing or enjoying the potato salad at an annual Kiwanis potluck, but who instead turn up on your favorite piece of trout water and put the fish off so fast and with such little embarrassment you’d swear it was intentional.

Another classic World Cup celebration.

Might as well find an easy chair, pour a cocktail and learn to enjoy a frustration of an entirely different kind.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be the 19th edition of the tournament and takes place between June 11 and July 11 in South Africa. This is the first time that an African nation has been chosen as host and almost certainly the last. Inefficiency, disorganization, a shocking level of official graft, rampant crime—no one cares too much about any of that, least of all FIFA, perhaps the most inefficient, corrupt organization on Earth. But all those people blowing on horns in the crowd? Just terrible. It’ll be death by vuvuzela.

In the tournament itself, the teams are arranged into eight groups, four teams per group, with the top two from each advancing to the knockout rounds. From there it’s a single-elimination, sudden death, there-is-no-tomorrow festival of clichés. This is where the Germans, like Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, really excel.


The official mascot for this World Cup is Zakumi, an anthropomorphized leopard with green hair. I assume his hair is green from drinking absinthe, because, well, it’s about the same color and does some strange shit to your body. Also, the Adidas match ball has been named the Jabulani, which means “bringing joy to everyone” in isiZulu. Unless you’re suddenly overcome with a wave of happiness upon learning this, you might as well forget you ever read it. No chicks will be impressed by this knowledge.

As mentioned previously, a genuine highlight of the World Cup is the fact that there are brackets to fill out. Brackets mean gambling, and whenever I have a chance to lose money in a meaningless and ultimately unfulfilling manner, I seem to jump on it.

There are several ways to go about this, and my preference is to take charge of the pool myself—that way I can determine important matters like how much will be paid out for my probable eighth-place finish. Once in control, I can also weed out the undesirables, beginning with anyone who might have heard of Cesc Fabregas before. On the other hand, I happen to know a number of avowed steelheaders and these people are universally retarded when it comes to getting value from either their time or their money. Barely functional in any kind of decent society, they typically lead a blinkered existence, having thought longer about the appropriateness of a riffle hitch than just about anything else. Recruit as many as you can into your betting pool.

Moving on, bass fishermen should have trouble pronouncing the names of most of the countries involved in the Cup, so they’re probably out. The saltwater crowd all own boats and would thus have to borrow money from you to take part. And I’ll assume you don’t actually know anyone who’s ever caught a catfish; consequently, as in all other situations in life, we’ll just pretend such people don’t exist.

That leaves trout anglers, the trickiest of the bunch.  The problem here is that guy who wanders down to the creek just after you’ve been skunked with every fly in your box, ties on a sculpin the size of a small bird, sticks it into a branch eighteen feet above his head, wraps most of his leader around the rod tip while figuring this out, finally gets things lined up enough to pull off a nine-foot roll-cast and then promptly bangs a twenty-two inch brown. In truth, you don’t want this man anywhere near your wallet. But since you need at least a few non-steelheaders to take part in your pool, you’ll have to risk it. At least you can be safe in the knowledge that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights recently named trout anglers the world’s most charitable citizens.

Actually, I just made that up, but really, if a trout bum tops your pool (or your sister, come to think of it), he’ll probably buy all the beer for your next outing. Win-win.

Once it’s time to fill out your bracket, remember it’s always best to have a system. This point was driven home to me during the 2006 World Cup, when I was so stupid as to think watching the teams play and then making predictions based on their form would be a winning strategy.  Instead our pool was won by a friend who decided that every game’s outcome could be predicted by judging which of the two competing countries had the hotter women. And he not only triumphed, but we’re talking about a landslide victory. I think he only missed on three games in the whole tournament.
However, since I sincerely doubt the ‘hotter women theory’ will strike twice, a new system is in order, and because I want to win in a fashion that infuriates my closest friends, I figure the weirder the better. My first inclination then was to go with a ‘swarthiest human beings’ plan of attack—mainly because swarthy is a hilarious word and second, I’ve an inkling that a bunch of hairy bastards probably make for an intimidating opponent. For proof of this theory, you can look at Greece’s victory in Euro 2004, the prevalence of mustaches in the Old West or modern-day Butte, and David Hasselhof’s rather magnificent chest rug. Imagine having to Greco-Roman wrestle that son-of-a-bitch.
In the end, though, this plan faltered, mainly because body hair is too frightening a concept to ponder for very long. That brings us back to fly fishing. I know more than is actually appropriate about it; it’s fairly universal, meaning the only reason to ever visit some of these hellholes is to fish, and it’s hardly plausible to think that anyone else will be using the same system. Perfect, in other words, just like the trout of Bristol Bay, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Rainier.

In Part II, we’ll discuss all 32 teams in detail, the eight groups and using fly fishing as our guide, who’s most likely to advance, as well as critical topics such as whether or not Slovenia is a real country and how much cocaine Diego Maradona might have blown through during a single weekend in his pomp.


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