Making the most of a bald situation.
[by Ben Romans]
I NEVER SENSED MY HAIRLINE HAD THE MOXIE OR THE GENETICS TO GO THE LONG HAUL, but it took a barber in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I tasked with making me presentable for my sister’s wedding to confirm my worst fears. The vibrating buzz of the clippers and #1 guard on my sides, and the gingerly pull, pinch, and snip on top, sounded and felt like every haircut before. But I had no idea what was going on. For some reason the chair remained turned opposite the mirror while she worked. When I finally faced my reflection, I needed an explanation.
“I trimmed it tight down here, but I left it long on the top so you can comb it over, like this,” she said, fanning my thinned topknot in all directions. I clapped and raised my hands in the air, signaling surrender. “I’m done!”
Thirty minutes later, I walked into my bathroom with clippers in hand, shaved off my mop, and wrote off barbers for good. Since then, I’ve hidden my chrome dome under any number of fishing hats—or “hairpieces,” as I like to call them.
Like a real rug, I can change my look on any given day simply by exchanging my lid for another color, a different logo, or a different material. I can even change my attitude—to get that slicked-back, “don’t talk to me,” undercut look, I just flip the dang thing backwards and put on sunglasses. Everyone just assumes I’m angry. No tape or weave required.
My fishing hairpiece of preference has deviated over the years. I commandeered one of my favorites from a high school buddy. I occasionally helped with farm chores in exchange for permission to ply his ponds for bass and panfish, and one day, I simply decided to swipe it (sorry, Harvey). Like the style at that time (think jean shorts and jean shirts), the cap is pure denim, with a patch that reads Farming is everybody’s bread & butter. I wore it until it fell apart—literally. The cardboard brim eventually deteriorated and crumbled out a hole, and it’s as weathered as a dirty sock. I still have it, and for years I’ve meant to put the patch on a new bonnet, but I’m afraid it won’t measure up.
I progressed through a college cap phase, a hometown phase (back when wearing a Cleveland Indians hat wasn’t such a PC issue), and a logo phase (I never even owned a John Deere). Eventually the trucker hat phase took over and I’m happy to have brandished many mesh-backed, fly fishing fedoras. Some fit better than others, but none offer complete protection. By mid-July there are pentagram-shaped tan lines stenciled atop my polished noggin.
Despite their foul stench, they’re as critical to my fly fishing repertoire as a rod and reel, and I’ve kept them all. Each is used and abused, missing stitches, faded from the sun, and veiled in all manners of dirt, oil, and those thin, squirrely, white salt lines from sweat.
There’s one I wore my first year guiding in Montana. Another—a freebie the late Doug Persico gave me from his Rock Creek Mercantile stash—is pitted with rusty holes from old flies. My dark green howler monkey Jolly Roger looks significantly paler than I remember, and it’s missing the button on top, but it still works.
I continue to add to the collection every season, and occasionally, I’ll comb through (hair pun intended) and don one for old times’ sake. My wife says they’re gross, but if you can bring a fly out of retirement, why not a fly fishing hat?