Closer to the Ground, by Dylan Tomine
2012, Patagonia Books
I’d like to preface this write-up by saying that there’s no accounting for taste. I always get a little nervous doing a book “review” because I feel this pressure to say whether it was “good” or “bad” or something else. Well – don’t expect that kind of review from me. Rather I like to present some of my thoughts on the book, and try to give the prospective reader an idea of the flavor of the book. And hopefully do that in a way that other reviewers have not. That way folks can make a decision whether it’s a book that they may like. That’s the goal anyway. Rather than just saying it’s “good” or “bad”. So there it is, and here it is. Oh and one more thing, this is not a fly fishing book. It is written by a guy with fly fishing cred, and I think it will appeal to many ff’ers out there but it is not a fly fishing book.
Closer to the Ground is a good name for this book. Dylan Tomine invites us to share in a year of living with him and his family, and notably with his two kids. And as you know children are closer to the ground. Of course this is literal as well as metaphorical. On one mushroom hunting trip detailed in the book we see Mr. Tomine’s son Weston find all the mushrooms because of this fact of his lower carriage. Weston is simply closer to the ground. So he finds the booty. But there is of course another layer – and that’s what I like. There are different kinds of people in this world – people that are in a hurry to grow up and join in the grown up business of the world, and that don’t have room for wonder and exploration and the joy of childhood anymore. And other folks that are struggling to maintain that – or maybe struggling to remember what that was like – to remember what it is like to be a child, to be closer to the ground. Yes of course we all grow up – but Tomine has written a book that reminds me of the boundless enthusiasm and un-managed expectations of childhood. And more importantly he reminds me not to squash that in my children. Allow my children to be children, and allow myself to be caught up in the wonder of the natural world with them, and teach them what I know about it.
We live on a planet that is tilted on its axis. And in a modern world it can be easy to forget this, at least for those of us in a house in the city or suburbs, that buy our food all wrapped up in plastic and cardboard at the local giant grocery store. In Closer to the Ground we are reminded that we live in a tilted world. A world that changes. A world with seasons. The weather changes and the available food changes – or at least it used to. Dylan Tomine and his family live a little more closely linked to the changing seasons. They grow a garden, pick blackberries and mushrooms, fish for salmon, dig clams and cut firewood. Nothing Earth shattering. And Tomine makes it clear that his book is not any sort of radical back to nature, survivalist manual. The Tomine family does garden and fish and forage – but they also go to the grocery store and use computers. He tries to heat his home with wood – but he has a furnace too – just in case. He’s not attempting to give us the details of how we could change our lives. He is giving us a peek at his life through the seasons of a year – and how he and his family have made some little changes which have brought them in closer touch with the Earth and its cycles. It is up to us to imagine how we might do the same. He talks a lot about his children – and about how they can be wonderful and surprising if they are allowed to be. But again it is not any sort of parenting manual.
I come from a family that has some history with foraging and hunting and fishing. My father and his father and grandfather before him were foragers. They didn’t call it that of course. But they hunted mushrooms and picked berries and wild greens. They were gardeners too. And hunters and anglers. None of this was any sort of attempt to get closer to nature – it’s just the way it was for them. I have continued some of these things – I try not to miss raspberry season – and I like to fish. But I have gotten away from some of the others. Partly because the ever creeping suburban sprawl has wiped out any nearby foraging locations, except for a few berry patches. But also just because of neglect. After reading this book I am recharged to try and do a better job. This season, we’ll get the raspberries for sure, I’ll look for some of those wild greens, and maybe mushrooms. And the thing that I have never done with my kids – which I will definitely do this year is a big ole bluegill fry. If you have never caught a mess of sunfish, filleted them, breaded them with cornmeal breading, and fried them up – then you haven’t tasted heaven. In my book there isn’t much better than that. We used to do it when I was a kid – but I somehow let it slip away. This book reminded me that I owe it to my kids to let them go catch there own delicious meal. We fish but we always let them go. This summer we’re keeping some.
So to wrap it up, I enjoyed this book. I am a dad, and I have a history of fishing, hunting and foraging, so this book clicked with me. It may not click with everybody – after all there is no accounting for taste – but if you are a parent and you share some of that history then I think you’ll enjoy it.
you can get the book here: Patagonia Books – Closer to the Ground
find out more about Dylan Tomine here: http://www.dylantomine.com/
Disclosure: I contacted Patagonia Books for a review copy of this book – which I received free of charge – other than that, no compensation was given for this review.
Wisdom of the Guides: Rocky Mountain Trout Guides Talk Fly Fishing
by Paul Arnold
Frank Amato Publications, 1998
In the introduction to this slim volume the author, Paul Arnold, says
It is perhaps best that this book be put together by an average fisherman like me. I am in awe of the knowledge and skill of guides. I hope that my respect and admiration- as well as their knowledge and skill- show through in these pages.
Well, Paul, that respect and admiration show through as well as the subjects’ knowledge, skill and personalities. It’s easy as an aspiring angler, or maybe worse as an “experienced angler” to have certain false ideas. These notions are often closely held and prized. Maybe even clung to like life rafts in an ocean of uncertainty.
Arguments er discussions with other anglers in person and on forums rarely change one’s mind on these points. All that you have to do to see this is suggest that your tippet knot (the Orvis knot) is better than theirs (clinch knot) and you’d think that you said their children are ugly. We all build a fly fishing world based on our experiences. We fish – things happen, we file away our perception of what happened. We add another brick to the wall of our fly fishing home. The problem is that many of us – myself included – just don’t have the breadth and depth of experience on the water to properly file these anecdotes. I may not have the ability to see the outliers from the norm. That ability of course comes with experience. Fishing guides have that experience and that ability. After all they probably fish as much in a year as many of us do in five or ten.
This book may change your mind on a few points. Maybe not, but it’s hard to argue with the kinds of folks in this book. Maybe with one of them – but not with all of them. The guides interviewed may not agree on everything, and there certainly are some differences based on the types of water that they fish, but you’ll find a great deal of agreement. It makes you take notice. You may not want to listen to the advice of that blowhard on the fly fishing forum, but you might want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.
To some extent we all hear what we want to hear. I don’t want to give away too much, but as a guy that fishes tenkara a lot I came away nodding my head and think “Yep. These guys are supporting my tenkara habit.” What I mean is that the idea of simplicity and presentation over fly selection seemed to come up quite a bit. Keep your fly selection simple, focus on your presentation instead of changing flies over and over. But there is plenty of other good advice here.
The interviewees include; Gary LaFontaine, Craig Matthews, Johnny Gomez, Thomas J. Knopick and John W. Flick, Jennifer Ollson, Larry Tullis, Mike Lawson, Charlie Gilman, Al Troth and Paul Roos. Undoubtedly there are names that you recognize on that list, plus some that you may not. There are lifetimes worth of experience on that list. Mr. Arnold asks each guide the same basic questions – though the conversation will vary from person to person depending on the answers given. Even though the same questions are being asked, the personalities of the interviewees really come through in their answers.
In short, if you’re looking for something to read this off-season, and you wouldn’t mind some good advice from some very experienced anglers, then this book should fit the bill for you and you’ll come away a more knowledgeable angler.
Disclosure: I was given this book for review but was not otherwise compensated in any way
Just finished reading the Chasing Wild Trout!: A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing Small Streams eBook by Ben Smith of the Arizona Wanderings blog (azwanderings.com). And the quick of it is this – Ben has created a nice primer for the beginning fly angler. Is this book for everyone? No it is not – but that is not the intention. Chasing Wild Trout is just what it says it is. It is a beginner’s guide to fly fishing small streams.
Personally, I think that this approach is a great way to go. It can be easy to go overboard with an introductory book on fly fishing. There are so many types of water fished and types of fish targeted by fly fishers, that as a result the techniques and gear are seemingly unlimited. To the beginner it can be overwhelming. Rather than a scatter shot approach that attempts to cover it all, Ben Smith has taken a very focused approach. He has decided to tackle the subject of small stream trout fly fishing.
I think that he has succeeded. I don’t mean to imply that this fairly slim volume (slim if it were an actual book, instead of an eBook), encompasses the fullness of small stream fly angling – of course it doesn’t. What it does though is get the beginning angler on the right path to a past time that can take a lifetime to master. The way that Mr. Smith does this is to take a simple, even humble approach. Rather than “expertising” on the subject and claiming that his way is the only way – Smith presents the information in a more relaxed way. It is akin to a friend taking you under their wing and saying “There are a million ways to do this thing – rather than show you all of them I’m going to show you my way. Is it the only way? No. But it is a way that works for me.”
In a fly angling world filled with a seemingly endless variety of gear, fly shops full of gadgets, bins full of flies, magazines (and websites) filled with how-to articles it can be hard to see an easy path. The beginner can suffer paralysis by analysis. Especially if they don’t have a friend or mentor to show them the way. And that is where this ebook comes in. The rank beginner can pick it up, read it, apply the simple message and get off on the good foot toward being a successful angler. It won’t tell you everything there is to know – but it will give you a good system for fishing small streams for trout.
Here’s a peek at the Table of Contents:
Section 1: Where to Begin (Fly Rod, Reel, Line)
Section2: Other Gear
Section 3: Small Stream Flies
Section 4: How to Fish a Small Stream
Section 5: Stream Etiquette
Section 6: Casting and Knots
Section 7: Resources
Section 8: Printable Checklist
Disclaimer: I requested and received a review file of this ebook. I was in no way compensated for this review.
Holding Lies: A Novel
by John Larison
Skyhorse Publishing, 2011
Holding Lies is the new novel from John Larison. Larison has written another well recieved novel, Northwest of Normal and a how-to book, The Complete Steelheader: Successful Fly-fishing Tactics.
According to the dust jacket, Holding Lies is a mystery. Classifying this book as a mystery, does not do it justice in my opinion. Sure, there has been a death, presumably a murder of steelhead guide Justin Morell, and the perpetrator is unknown. But this death and its investigation are not the real story, only a backdrop. I bring this up, because if you’re looking for a true mystery novel, one where the main character tracks down clues, follows leads and solves the mystery, then this is not the book for you. However, if you are looking for a literate novel that explores the relationships between parents and children, men and women, new-comers and old-timers, river and fish, guide and client, the new style flyfisher and the old-school, use and conservation, all set against the backdrop of steelheading in the Northwest, then this book will fit the bill.
In addition to being a published steelheading author, Larison is a former fishing guide – and it shows. Larison’s intimacy with the technical details of steelheading and guiding shines throughout this novel. In addition, well-rendered, specific locational and historical details about the Ipsyniho River (albeit a fictional river) and its surroundings, serve to paint a fully realized environment and a legitimate sense of place.
“They’re on the far-side seam,” Hank answered. “You can make the cast. Sweep deeper into the D-loop, and come over the top. Let the rod do the work.”
The fish always chose that ledge over the run’s other holding lies. The migration route up the river, the fish’s path of least resistance, delivered them right to its protective lee. In the early years, or his early years, the late sixties, before the headwaters were logged, the tributaries damned, the hatchery built, fish would be scattered all through this run they called Governor. The biggest fish would often sit on that ledge, the smaller ones dispersing to other lies in the pool. He’d even caught them in the knee-deep bucket on the other side, before silt from the new road filled it in. Back then forty thousand native steelhead spawned in the watershed…These days the young guides were relieved when eight thousand natives returned.
With setting well-staged, Larison, brings us a believable leading man, Hank Hazelton. Hank is a 59 year old steelhead guide on the fictional Ipsyniho River in Oregon. He is a man poised. Poised between the old guard and the new, between the river and the users, between freedom and the need for relationships. At the beginning of the book we find Hank anxiously awaiting the arrival of his estranged daughter Annie. As Hank is forced to explore and reevaluate his relationship with his daughter, he also finds himself reevaluating his relationship to the Ipsyniho, it’s environment and its denizens. And it is in these relationships that the real story lies. On the surface of Holding Lies, we watch as Hank struggles to find a way to reinvent his relationship to his daughter. But just below the surface we see the struggle of our modern world trying to reinvent a relationship to the natural world. Larison does this in an artful way and Holding Lies makes for a thoughtful, compelling read, pick it up and see for yourself.
A few additional excerpts:
They Found their first steelhead in the fifth run, a wild six-pounder that rose to Hank’s dry fly five times before finding the hook. He brought it quickly to the shallows and unpinned it, and Annie hovered over his shoulder as he let it go. Even now forty-five years after landing first one, the experience brought a rushing sense of euphoria: an intoxicating cocktail of gratitude, hope, and faith rewarded – and the indelible reality of one little resolution in this world so dead-set against them.
And for a moment, anything was possible. “I love you Annie.”
“What is it about steelhead?” she asked, maybe without hearing him. She had asked this question before, her first day after arriving.
“They’re the sun,” he said. “Everything in this valley orbits them. Always has.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. There must be something,” she continued, “something about them that made this life of yours – of Caroline’s and Danny’s and everybody else’s around here – orbit them, as you say.”
Hank rinsed the slime from his hands. “The river is washing the land’s nutrients downstream to the ocean; steelhead and other anadromous fish are the vehicle that returns those nutrients to the headwaters. Without them, the land withers and eventually dies.”
She considered this, staring at the passing water, so calm here compared to above. “But why are drawn to them? I get they play some important role in the watershed. That makes sense, but so do trees and I don’t see you climbing a big fir tree every morning.” She wasn’t hiding the bite of these questions.
It wasn’t like this great error of his life had occurred in the capsule of a single moment, some apex scene where the bright sun disappears over the dark horizon and that’s it. His great error was in fact a million little errors that had assembled slowly and imperceptibly, accumulating like a glacier’s ice pack and measured like one too: not in days or even years, but in decades. What was life but a disorienting progression of fragmented ambiguities that resisted any attempts at ordering – until viewed through the fictionalizing lens of hindsight? Then, and only then, could sense be made of it. And by then, what was the point? Nothing could be amended.
Life wasn’t like a river, no matter how many stupid pop songs said that it was. A river could be known, its channel could be learned, so that even on the foggiest predawn morning, a person could ick the right line, one move at at ime. No metaphor could capture or illuminate life’s chaotic unknowns, its swift determinism, its painful irrevocability. No, life was a precarious balancing act between enjoying the time yuo had left and surviving the mistakes you couldn’t quite identify. Of this much, hank was sure./p>
A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them
by Martin Donovan
Departure Publishing, May 2011
I won’t keep you in suspense – I loved this book. I know, maybe as a reviewer I should be a little more reserved about it, but I found this book a delightful read. Yes – I just used the word delightful. My daughter will sometimes watch television with this look where her head tilts to the side and she gets this little smile on her lips. It looks likes she’s transported and blissful (we’re not huge T.V. fans and we don’t let this happen too often). Well that is how I must have looked while reading this book. Although, maybe that look isn’t so charming on a 40-yr old man as it is on a pig-tailed girl, nonetheless…
Keeper, is a collection of stories by river keeper Martin Donovan. Martin Donovan has worked on the rivers for over two decades, first as an apprentice on the Itchen and then a full time keeper on the Test. Although there are a few departures, the stories are primarily concerned with the rivers, the fish that live in them and the folks that mess about on the banks with fly rods in their hands, and of course the men that oversee this all, the riverkeepers. In Mr. Donovan’s words:
This book started when someone asked me how I became a riverkeeper. Since that’s not a question that I could possibly answer in a few sentences, I decided to start jotting things down. During that process, it became clear that my love of the chalkstreams and the fish were subconsciously developed at an early age.
What follows is a collection of stories and events from my childhood days of exploring and fishing the River Test, a few odd jobs that influenced my perspective on life, and twenty-five wonderful years of cutting weeds, chasing poachers, tending fish and guiding anglers.
Donovan brings us up to speed pretty quickly, there are about 20 pages concerning his early years, ending with a description of an ill-fated, death-defying voyage across the English Channel en route to Gibraltar, as a yacht-rigger under the command of an inept captain. The captain took the yacht on a land-hugging, hop-scotching trip along the southern coast of England from Hamble to Falmouth and finally across the Channel. After revealing that “he was still learning the ropes of the navigating side of things”, the captain set off, as Donovan says “into the teeth of a howling gale, knowing full well that as soon as we lost sight of land we were well and truly in the shit.” I won’t spoil the ending of this trip for you.
The chapter serves as a sort of linchpin holding together the two halves of Donovan’s life. It’s a wonderfully literary tale to use as a metaphorical launching point for his adult life and for this book. A young man sets sail under dubious conditions, he’s unprepared, he’s in unfamiliar waters, his life is in the hands of somebody else…it’s pretty good stuff. It’s handled deftly too, without any heavy-handed exposition needlessly pointing out the well-crafted metaphor (he leaves heavy-handed pointing to clumsy reviewers like myself.) Although that particular story is not about rivers and fishing, it is representative of the craftsmanship and subtle literary touch that follows in the rest of the book.
The rest of the book, with few exceptions sticks pretty close to the banks of the river. The stories are presented roughly chronologically, but not strictly so. It is not a memoir in the sense that you’ll have a clear picture of the full timeline of Martin Donovan’s life as a riverkeeper after reading it. It’s not “And then this happened and then this happened, and then this…” What you get is more of a photo album of snapshots of life as a riverkeeper. There are snapshots of the rivers, of the fish, of the guests, of the hard work, of the riverkeepers.
Being a book by an English riverkeeper and being set primarily on the banks of English chalkstreams you might expect Keeper to be a tweedy sort of book, reserved and stodgy. It is not that sort of book. The story of his “interview” and first meeting with renowned keeper and eventual mentor, Ron Holloway is funny and exemplary. After posting a letter to Mr. Holloway, riverkeeper on the Martyr Worthy beat of the Itchen, Donovan gets a call at eight in the morning from Holloway, inviting him to a meeting.
After taking down a few directions, I was bombing down the M27 feeling excited, nervous and indeed slightly confused. Within five days of writing a letter to the Avon Advertiser, I was on my way to meet a famous riverkeeper of a premier beat on a world renowned chalkstream.
As I drew closer to our meeting point, I reflected back on the evening prior and cursed that last pint of Guinness and the chicken madras. I wished I had washed before jumping into the car; I looked like a scarecrow, I felt half-pissed, and smelt like a curry house.
The rest of the journey was spent with the windows wide open, a pathetic attempt to disperse my pungent aroma while my Dad’s advice rang in my ears, “It’s all about creating a good first impression.” It was with nervous apprehension that I parked the car and walked down to the bridge for my meeting.
If you asked any schoolchild to draw what they thought a riverkeeper looked like, each drawing would bear an uncanny resemblance to Ron Holloway…As he came towards me I can vividly remember thinking, blimey he looks worse than I do!
I immediately liked him.
He shook my hand firmly and welcomed me to Martyr Worthy. I got a definite whiff of both alcohol and curry, although I presumed it was my own breath rebounding off his rather large frame.
“Had a bloody good curry in Arlseford last night,” he said with a bloody good curry smile that I would recognize anywhere.
“Tad too much to drink, too, a bit delicate this morning,”
I almost loved this bloke and we’d only said hello.
Keeper is filled with interesting and likeable characters. And though I’m sure that there are plenty of snobby jerks (gentry, celebrities, business tycoons, etc.) that come to fish the chalkstreams, he doesn’t spend much time complaining about or discussing these sorts. There are a few funny stories at the expense of those types but he doesn’t linger on it. Mostly Donovan’s happy to keep it good natured, and he’s more interested in talking about the people and guests that he likes rather than focusing on those that he doesn’t.
I cut my fly fishing teeth on the limestone streams of Pennsylvania and have always imagined that I’ve got some fly fishing connection to the chalkstreams of England. Though this connection is tenuous at best, it surely had something to do with my enjoyment of the book. It gave me a point of reference. I can think about walking along the banks of Pennsylvania’s Big Spring, LeTort and Falling Spring when I read about the Itchen and the Test. I can’t help but wonder what these streams would be like if they were in the hands of riverkeepers like their counterparts in England. Of course this fantasy never gets too far along because if they were like those streams in England I’d very likely never have a chance to fish them. But the connection to English rivers and to this book is not predicated only on a familiarity with limestone streams and spring creeks. As American fly fishers our lineage is, of course, primarily rooted in the British Isles. And so any fly angler with a taste for history will feel that connection while reading this book.
To the point of fly fishing history, I want to be careful not to misrepresent this book. This book most certainly is not a book about fly fishing history, the history of English chalkstreams, or riverkeepers. Bits of that history come though in the telling, but this is a essentially a personal book about one man’s experiences as a riverkeeper.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a memoir where Martin Donovan gives us a full accounting of his life as a riverkeeper. It is collection of stories that gives us a glimpse into that life. These vignettes seem to be carefully chosen and crafted. A passage in the chapter entitled “A Fisherman’s Seat” neatly reflects Donovan’s writing style and this book.
My newfound conclusion is that the sit-on furniture, whether a chair in the front room or a seat on the riverbank, is absolutely fundamental to enjoying a good sit-down.
Building a seat next to the river is not quite as simple as you might first imagine. The construction of the seat is easy enough, especially with the mastery of intricate chainsaw joinery…
The real essence of a good seat is in the positioning. It might only take me a half an hour to build a seat from start to finish, but before the first nail has been driven, I will have studied the proposed area of construction from every conceivable angle. I will have viewed the jobsite from across the river, from upstream, from downstream, and occasionally from a tree limb to gain aerial perspective. Too close to the water, not enough room to get the mower past, directly opposite a good salmon lay, wrong backdrop, sun in the eyes – there are many things to consider, any of which if wrongly chosen will render the seat useless.
Well, Martin Donovan has done a good job and he’s considered the angles. The riverside seat that he’s constructed for us is positioned just so, and it affords us a good view of the river and its denizens, piscatorial and human alike. The seat and the backdrop is perfect for a good sit-down and a good read.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise for this review. However, I was supplied with this book by the publisher.
Beyond Catch & Release: Exploring the Future of Fly Fishing
by Paul Guernsey
Skyhorse Publishing, May 2011
The author of Beyond Catch and Release, Paul Guernsey, sets the tone of this book from the very outset, with the first paragraph in the preface:
Fly Fishing is one of the most fulfilling ways of experiencing nature; it is one of the few activities that allows us to interact with the natural world as a participant rather than as a mere tourist. Because of this, people who fly fish belong to a privileged and extremely fortunate community. But with the privilege of angling and of belonging comes an important individual responsibility–the responsibility of each of us to be as good a fisherman or woman as we possibly can.
You can be sure that when he uses the term “good”, the author doesn’t mean just being able to catch fish. He is referring to the ethics of fly fishing, which spans topics ranging from our treatment of the resources such as the fish, and the waterways, to our interactions with other anglers, such as stream-side etiquette and eduction. This is a book with a point and a purpose. Guernsey believes that the fly fishing community needs to carefully “refine and redefine some of our beliefs, habits and attitudes in order to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s world.”
As a jumping off point for his thesis, Mr. Guernsey uses the rules set forth in “A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle”, which was published in 1496 as part of the larger volume The Book of St. Albans. The authorship of the treatise is unknown but is popularly attributed to the English prioress Dame Juliana Berners. The author of the Treatise sets forth a very useable ethical framework for the modern fly angler, which Guernsey modernizes and distills as below:
- Be considerate of other anglers, landowners, and the general public.
- Respect your quarry.
- Do what you can to protect fish and fish habitat.
- Take precautions for the sake of your own health and safety.
- Help and teach others.
- Enjoy your time outdoors.
Guernsey builds upon these simple rules and lays an ethical groundwork for the modern fly fisher. In several of the early chapters he explores the tradition and history of fishing in America and recounts some of the history leading to fishing regulations, bag limits and eventually to catch and release (C&R). Guernsey wants us fly anglers to think about C&R. He states that “catch and release has become such a reflexive action that we hardly think about it at all anymore. Most of us barely give a thought to why we return living fish to the the water. But the reason is important.”
After giving some interesting history on C&R Guernsey goes on to summarize by stating, “To further abbreviate a lengthy and complicated history, catch-and-release angling came about and caught on because it was a practical and effective fisheries management tool, and for no other reason.” The book goes on to cover the topics of how to handle and release fish, how to treat the waterways and fellow anglers, how to behave with guides, the problem of non-native species and what the future might hold for fly fishing.
One particularly interesting anecdote illuminated potentially disastrous problems created by stocking over wild fish. This episode was originally related by English author Harry Plunket-Greene in his 1924 book about the Bourne River, Where The Bright Waters Meet. Plunket-Greene tells how stocked two-year old hatchery trout out-competed larger fish for food resources and eliminated the large spawning-age natives in the course of a single season.
Guernsey points out that the future of sport fishing and C&R fly fishing are not automatically safe. In addition to environmental and habitat related issues that threaten recreational fishing there are issues of access and perhaps even the potential for a ban on C&R fishing altogether. Such a ban has been enacted in Switzerland already.
Though it strikes most fly anglers as bizarre, many animal rights advocates – along with plenty of people who don’t subscribe to the rest of the animal rights philosophy or agenda – find catching and releasing fish to be more, rather than less, morally objectionable than hooking and cooking the same fish. According to their argument, the fish killer is merely trying to feed himself or his family, which to them is understandable, if not excusable, while the C&R angler is tormenting a living creature for his own amusement, which they view as indefensible.
Whether this type of argument will ever gain traction in the United States I can’t predict. But one thing is certain, fewer anglers and fewer fly anglers means less people that will care to argue and educate against it.
In Beyond Catch and Release Paul Guernsey attempts to cover a lot of ground – and does a pretty good job of it. The book suffers a little from the broad scope though when it fails to get into details. For instance I think that the book could be stronger if more specific data were included to back up the discussions of C&R, barbless hooks, felt-sole waders and the like.
I can’t say that this is a book for everyone. It has more in common with a text book than it does with a book by say John Gierach or Ted Leeson. The prose is clear and concise and and utilitarian. Which is appropriate for this book, and its purpose, I think. As I read this book I found myself wondering a bit about who the target audience is, or maybe more specifically who the target audience should be. I think that most fly anglers would benefit from reading this book. Though, many well read thoughtful anglers will not find much that is totally new in its pages. However, it is good to be reminded of the the ideas presented in this book; firstly so that we continue to practice these ideas ourselves and secondly and perhaps more importantly so that we can pass them on to the future generation. The best audience for this book though is new anglers or those that instruct or deal with new anglers. This book would be an ideal book to put in the hands of all new anglers and would make an excellent companion to a how-to type book.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise for this review. However, I was supplied with this book by the publisher.
No Shortage of Good Days
By John Gierach
Simon and Schuster, May 2011
The name John Gierach is probably familiar to most fly fishing readers. And I bet most of you have probably read at least a book or two by the well known trout bum and author. If you have, then this new book will feel comfortable and familiar to you. If you have not, then this book is as good a jumping in point as any. No Shortage of Good Days consists of twenty short chapters and comes in at just over 200 pages. Typical of a Gierach book, each chapter is a separate vignette without any over-arching theme except for the obvious fly fishing commonality. This can be a good thing or a bad thing (or no thing at all). Personally I have mixed feelings about this format. It is nice if you don’t have big blocks of reading time. You can pick this book up read a chapter or two, put it down for a few days, or weeks, pick it up again and you won’t be lost. On the other hand I find that this kind of book is not very compelling. I don’t feel the urgent need to read on after I finish a chapter. I can read a chapter and be content to let it sit for a while.
The chapters deal mostly with trout fishing, but there are a few forays into salmon, steelhead and saltwater. The subject matter is, in general, pretty mundane stuff. That is not meant as a criticism however, quite to the contrary. The ability to write about the everyday, average fishing trip and somehow make it interesting is where Gierach’s sneaky genius lies. He can take the type of trip that we all have and delicately transform it into something worth reading. He is able to put words to the partially formed thoughts in my own head and leave me nodding in recognition. We’ve all had moments like this one described below.
…I involuntarily visualized a trout stream I’d fished two years earlier high up in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. I could clearly see a size 16 parachute dry fly drifting perfectly down an idyllic pool below a small waterfall. (Accurately recalling an entire day of fishing is like trying to put smoke back down a chimney, so you settle on these specific moments.) When a fifteen-inch cutthroat calmly ate the fly, I realized that I had driven six blocks in a trance and had missed my turn.
Gierach is a master of a certain literary slight of hand. He writes about fly fishing as if he knows on the one hand that it is a frivolous activity with no real meaning in a modern catch and release context, but on the other hand it’s as good an activity as any to dedicate your life to. My favorite chapter in the book deals with this idea. In this chapter, called Firewood, Gierach describes a long, cold winter where the firewood he needs to heat his house is in short supply and he spends much of his time checking for wood that has been thinned from the forest (for fire prevention) and dumped along the road. It just happens that there is a small trout stream, with small trout often rising to tiny midges, in the vicinity of the wood piles. So he takes along the fishing gear when he goes to check for wood.
So this became an almost daily routine for the next week and a half. I didn’t always find a fresh load of wood and rising trout on the same day, but as luck would have it, I always found one or the other.
The important search for life-sustaining (or at least plumbing sustaining) firewood and the apparently frivolous activity of fly-fishing for small, midge-sipping trout are somehow equally important. If you have the fly fishing bug, then you probably have a sense of this yourself. This feeling that fly fishing is both meaningless and all important. Or maybe more specifically that fly fishing is what it is – that the entire meaning of fly fishing lies within the act itself, only in doing it do you understand it. Or maybe, zen koans aside, it is just your preferred form of escapism.
It’s not that you could – or would – spend the rest of your days standing in cold water swatting deer flies, it’s just that the detritus of daily life has been piling up while you were gone, and by contrast traveling and fishing seem so, you know…uncomplicated.
When you cannot get yourself on the water, which for many of us is all too often, then reading a book like No Shortage of Good Days is a good substitute – a good way to lose yourself in cold water and trout and for a while ignore the “detritus of daily life”.