by Tony Orman
John and Marcia are an American fly fishing couple who I’ve taken fishing on several of their visits to New Zealand. It was John who introduced me to Dr R.F Gumperson and Gumperson’s Law.
For those unacquainted with Dr Gumperson as John put it, “Gumperson’s law neatly explains a number of irritating events that might otherwise be put down to mere chance.”
It is the law of perverse opposites. In business life, it explains why after a raise in salary you will have less money at the end of each month than you had before. In fishing it explains why the rank beginner on a fishing weekend somehow catches the biggest and/or most trout while his colleagues each with thirty or forty years experience, bomb out.
Who exactly was the mysterious and uncanny Dr Gumperson, I asked John.
“Well,” he replied as we stood by the Wairau River in Marlborough. “Dr. Gumperson has been a major part of my life since I first read about him in the London Edition of the Wall Street Journal in the early sixties. He has played major roles in my fly fishing efforts and the weather and just about anything else that I attempt to do.”
In fact as John explained weather was a major factor in the good doctor becoming famous or perhaps notorious.
“About 1938 Gumperson began serious work on a phenomenon long known to scientists but up until then, considered a mere curiosity.”
This was the fact that the forecasting record of the weather bureau, despite its use of the most advanced equipment and highly trained personnel, was not as good as the old Farmers’ Almanac.
I glanced overhead. Yes the forecast had said sunny weather but there were ominous dark cumulus clouds gathering and as John explained to me about the theory of perverse opposites, the first drops splattered down and the sound of thunder rumbled up valley.
“Yep, there you are, Dr Gumperson at work,” smiled John.
Slowly it dawned on me that like Murphy’s Laws, the late Dr Gumperson is alive and kicking amongst us fly fishers. I thought back to a good seven pound brown I lost the week before. The fish took a size 14 Parachute dry called by its creator the late Jack Gartside, a Carrot Top because of its orange post. On the lower Wairau, the fish quietly sucked in the dry and for once I sweetly timed the tightening. Gumperson had been pushed aside. The fish roared off across the river, wallowing and leaping as it ran and suddenly there was a jolt as the reel stopped giving line out.
Bang! Tippet broke – fish gone.
I then discovered I’d been too complacent about Gumperson. He’d been lurking, biding his time. The line, somehow and unexplainably had on the reel, inexplicably got itself in under other winds. It was locked tight. I gave up fishing. At home, I had to spend a good three quarters of an hour unravelling the mess going right back to the bare drum on the reel.
I thought of other strange perverse happenings.
Like the day or two or three, I set off fishing and found I’ve left my reel at home. Or the times I have threaded the line through the rings and on turning to get a fly, find the line has slipped back through the rings and onto the ground. Then I thread the line through the rings taking care not to let it slide back and find I’ve missed a ring out.
Or you’ve spotted a trout clearly visible in the morning sunshine, when one – just one small solitary cloud suddenly obscures the sun and your visibility. Now you can’t see the trout in the shadow. Irritatingly all the surrounding river valley is bathed in sunshine. And the cloud hovers and seems to pause over the sun. When it does finally mooch on, the trout has mooched on elsewhere. I swear I glimpsed Gumperson leerng out around the edge of the cloud!
John told me Dr Gumperson served as a consultant to the armed services during World War Two and evolved the procedure where the more a recruit knew about a given subject, the better chance he had of receiving an assignment involving some other subject, he didn’t have the foggiest idea about. The same applies to procedures about the appointments of cabinet ministers in government. A complete lack of knowledge about fish for example, almost guarantees that MP will become Minister of Fisheries.
“There’s no knowing to what further glittering heights Dr Gumperson’s genius would have let him, had it not been for his untimely death in 1947. Strolling along the highway one evening, he was obeying the pedestrian rule of walking on the side facing traffic. He was struck down from behind by a Hillman Minx driven by a New Zealand visitor hugging the wrong side of the road,” said John his blue eyes twinkling.