disclaimer: It occurred to me only after posting this story that I should make sure that one thing is clear. The rod that is reviewed in the following post, though very similar to a tenkara rod – is not marketed by the manufacturer as a tenkara rod.
Yes – this is a cautionary tale and please heed the following warnings. If you are not interested in fun – do not read on. If you are not interested in beauty and grace – do not read on. Do not read any further if you have a dull mind filled with thoughts only of largesse and of grandiose things and of mankind’s attempt to shrink the universe, and to strip it of all its wonder and wildness to fit its own needs. If you are interested only in facts, dear Reader, then please stop reading now. For facts are cheap and easy to come by – but truths are another matter indeed. Truths lie in the interstices, in the implied spaces between the facts, and are harder to suss out. Somewhere under the rocks, in the benthic regions, covered with latin names and chitin, lies the beginning of truth. Often the truth is hidden from us until we start to turn over rocks. But sometimes it emerges like an angel, and sometimes it is eaten by a trout. In the interface between worlds – watery and terrestrial – that is where the fisherman finally confronts the truth. Some of us want to come to this meeting in a different way, in a less encumbered way. A new wind is blowing through the valley along the stream bottoms and it is a “gentle breeze” – it is the Soyokaze. If you choose to read on you may find yourself, like this author, swept along in that breeze never to return….
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the introduction. I haven’t had anything that I wanted to say lately – so I have a little pent-up wordiness. Recently and at long last I finally got out for some small stream fly fishing. And by small stream, I mean small stream in the Eastern sense. Here in my neck of the woods most small trout streams are also brushy, tight, and canopied. Those three words – brushy, tight, canopied – are not music to fly fishers’ or tenkara fishers’ ears. Some streams are even what you might call “tunneled”. That is so overhung with trees and rhododendron that it’s like fishing in a tunnel of verdure. Fly rods can be hard to handle in these places, unless you go to a very short fly rod. My small, brushy stream fly rod is a 7-ft 3wt. But with my recent tenkara obsession, I’ve attempted these types of streams with 9.5, 11 and 12′ tenkara rods. Let’s say that those experiences where a bit frustrating. It’s nearly impossible to get a cast out with those long rods on the types of streams I’m talking about (the 9.5 footer isn’t too bad). If you do get a cast out then, you get the tip stuck in the overhanging branches when you try to set the hook…it is trying.
A very short tenkara rod is what I wished for. But we all know what good wishing is, after all “If wishes and buts were cherries and nuts, it would be Christmas all year long.” Surprise, surprise – it is Christmas time. Sometimes wishes do come true (I’m wiping a small tear from the corner of my eye). My wishes have been granted in the form of the Daiwa Soyokaze 24SR 7-ft 8-inch tanago rod. What is a “tanago” rod? The term “tanago” is used to describe several species of small minnow-like fish in Japan. However tanago fishing, in the west, seems to be taking on a more generic meaning, something akin to “micro-fishing”. It is generally a bait fishing method utilizing tiny bait hooks and tiny floats.
But to my eyes this “tanago” rod is basically the same as any tenkara rod. I don’t know about the specifics of the rod’s design. But it is, in every noticeable way, a tenkara rod. The only notable difference that I can see is the handle, or lack thereof. Unlike the tenkara rods that I’ve used, the Soyokaze does not have cork or foam grip. Instead the “grip” is simply the widened, roughened, non-skid section of the rod-butt. I thought that this might be uncomfortable – but the rod is so light that I didn’t notice any problems at all with the small diameter handle. The TenkaraBum site, which sells the Soyokaze, has a more thorough and technical discussion of the Soyokaze’s design – HERE.
The Soyokaze is available in 4 lengths, 6’6” ($57), 7’8”($65), 9’0”($72) and 10’2”($82). All rods collapse to a mere 19” and weigh only 1.13, 1.38, 1.69 and 2.15 ounces respectively. As you can see in addition to their light weight, they are also pretty light on the wallet.
So how does it fish?
How does it fish? That’s the question isn’t it? Well – first a little digression. Many folks will tell you that a 7’8” tenkara rod is too short. You can’t keep very much line off of the water, tenkara-style, with a rod that short. You can’t cast very far with a rod that short. You have to get too close to the fish, it will require too much stealth, etc. Well – yeah. That may all be true, but on small brushy, canopied streams that is not a problem. On those small wild brookie streams, you have to get super close anyway because of their very nature. They’re too tight for long casts anyway. You have to be super stealthy anyway or you’ll spook those fish from a mile a way. So those complaints are not really valid for the places I’m talking about. I did consider trying the 9′ model, but I already have a 9’4” and an 11′ tenkara rod – so I figured I’d go smaller.
So what’s the verdict? I’ve been waiting to say this since the beginning of the review – I love it. I love this rod. I found it an absolute joy to fish with. It is so light – you hardly even notice it. It will cast a super-light line for very delicate presentations with ease. I used a TenkaraBum hi-viz hand-tied 7.5′ light weight tapered line with about 3′ of 5x tippet. The short rod and short line made casting among grabby shoreline rhododendrons and overhanging branches much more do-able, than with your typical tenkara rod. Fly fishing on these types of small brushy streams is never going to be easy. It requires a level of patience and concentration that I don’t always have. If you’re not willing to go slowly, pay attention to your surroundings and tread lightly you are going to be frustrated and unsuccessful – with any length rod. But with the 7’8” Soyokaze I found myself extricating the line and rod tip from overhanging branches much less frequently than usual. It still happens – but that’s small brushy stream fishing for you.
So what about the rod being too short? Unless you never mature beyond the self-centeredness of a child you realize that a happy, peaceful life is all about compromise. And so it is with fly fishing. You cannot have it all. You give up this to get that. And so, yes, the 7’8” rod is a compromise. But, for small brushy streams, it is a much better compromise than a longer rod, in my opinion. As streams move on downhill their nature often changes and then changes back. They speed up and slow down, widen and narrow. So even on small brushy streams there are occasionally nice, open pools that you could easily fish with a long 12′ tenkara rod. On these pools with the 7’8” rod I found myself at something of a disadvantage, compared to a longer rod. However, I could still fish these pools – and I could fish the other much tighter spots. So, in the end I found that the 7’8” rod opened up more of the stream to me than it closed down.
Ahh – but can you land big fish!? This is the question put to tenkara anglers the world over. Would I take the Soyokaze 7’8” rod to lake Erie for some lake-run steelies? No, of course not. But am I confident that it can handle 99.99% of the fish that I’d find on the streams that I’d use it on? Absolutely yes. Remember that on small streams, even big fish don’t have many places to run. There are not generally big heavy currents to plunge down – in short fighting big fish on small streams isn’t the same as fighting the same fish in a bigger river. On this trip I didn’t land any monsters, but I landed a couple of decent browns – the bigger running about 12 or 13” (as with many anglers I’m pretty bad at guesstimating the length of fish that I catch so take it with a grain of salt). I brought those bigger fish in with no trouble at all.
The cautionary bit. I told you that this was a cautionary tale – and so it is. After fishing with and falling in love with the Soyakase 24SR, I have found myself surfing on over to TenkaraBum’s Daiwa Tanago Rods page a little too often. I find myself wondering what the 6’6” would be like or what about the 9′ or 10’2” rods? I’m finding reasons to buy them all. After all they’re small. So the cautionary part is this – if you buy one Soyokaze you are going to want them all.
Disclosure: I originally borrowed the Soyokaze 24SR to test and review – but after a day of fishing with it I bought it outright from TenkaraBum.
I will add a word to the tenkara crowd though. Although these are not “tenkara” videos they would be very beneficial for the budding tenkara angler to watch. Most of what Jasper teaches in these videos regarding euro-nymphing techniques applies very well to tenkara. Jasper’s message may sound familiar to the tenkara enthusiast. He preaches the gospel of presentation and technique over fly selection. He keeps it simple. Don’t get me wrong – his fly selection is very specific and well reasoned – but it is fairly simple.
Any angler would benefit from watching these two videos, western-style and tenkara alike. After all a trout is a trout whether you’re using a reel or not.
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>
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.
Jeff Vande Zande
Whistling Shade Press, 2010
Threatened Species is a new collection of stories by Jeff Vande Zande. It brings together the novella Threatened Species along with five short stories. Since Casting Around is nominally a fly fishing blog let me say that most of these stories have some fly fishing action. However, two of the short stories are devoid of fly fishing content – but that can be easily forgiven. After all, there is more to life than fly fishing (or so I’ve been told). Don’t be mistaken, Threatened Species is a heavy collection. These stories are populated by people in pain, people suffering from loss, people making bad decisions in spite of knowing better, people haunted by their past – in other words, real people, people like you and me. And if you don’t see a little of yourself in Jeff Vande Zande’s characters then you’re either a saint or you’re deceiving yourself.
In the title novella, Threatened Species, we meet Ed Winters and his son Danny as they set off together on a camping and fishing road trip. It’s a bittersweet time for Ed because it will be the last two weeks that he’ll spend with Danny before Danny moves to France with his mother and his new step dad, John. I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t say too much, but Ed is not handling the impending departure of his son very well and the road trip becomes something more than he planned. Let me just say that I’m a sucker for a road trip story. There is just something exhilarating about loading up the car and hitting the highway (especially if there’s some camping and fishing gear involved). I find the freedom of being on the road, with no demands except to drive and blast some tunes, exciting, relaxing and therapeutic. However road trips are a very temporary escape – they come with their own sort of anxiety built in – that anxiety comes from the fact that road trips can’t last forever. It’s this anxiety and eventuality that makes a road trip the perfect setting for this particular story.
The narration of the title story alternates primarily between Ed’s and Danny’s points of view, and I think that it serves this story well. Being a novella, there has to be an economy of writing and using multiple points of view allows us to get more information from less action. We get to see the past and the present of the situation from more than one angle, thus making it more three dimensional. Also, seeing the story from a child’s as well as an adult’s viewpoint gives the story more depth and more tension. Incidentally it is the boy, Danny, who is the fly angler in the story – he is being taught to fly fish by his step dad. His dad, Ed Winters, is primarily a spin-fishing guy. So in a refreshing twist, fly fishing itself becomes a source of conflict in the story and thus not a perfect escape from the troubles of the world. This is true of the other stories in the book too – when the characters are fly fishing they are not allowed to achieve that perfect zen-like state of peace and harmony as it is often idealized in much writing. When these characters go fly fishing they take their lives along with them, troubles and all, just like it happens in real life.
Sometimes I’m happy with just a good yarn, but sometimes I want to read something more weighty, something that feels like it matters. These stories fit that bill. The author gives the careful reader much to discover just under the surface of the action– but it feels easy and natural and not at all overwrought. This passage from the title story is a good example of that:
The fire pit appeared in the headlights. No fire in it, but the twigs and small branches leaned against each other, tepee style. Kindling. He’d slid birch bark into some of the spaces, left others open. “The space is as important as the wood,” he told me four years ago. Mom had listened, shaking her head. “He’s too young for fires,” she’d said.
“A fire survives on fuel and space,” he explained. “Too much of either kills it. It’s a balancing game.”
All of the stories in this collection complement each other well. They have the common threads of theme and mood. These are tales of people that have suffered loss. They are tales of people, if not at rock bottom, then at least at a crossroads in their lives. The question is, which way will they go? At the end of these stories we’re not always sure. But, I think that we’re given hope that things may work out in the end. Will things be perfect for these characters? Will they get a story book ending? Probably not – but will they move forward? Do they have hope? I think so. A quote from the story, Mercury, sums up the themes of this collection well. The protagonist of the story, Branson, is suffering because of a troubled relationship with his backsliding son. As exhibited in his fishing, Branson, is reacting poorly, and in a self-defeating way, and he knows better. He’s not ready to move on, he still wants to suffer a little maybe, and he still wants to control things and to have things on his terms. But in the end, he’s still fishing. And as long as you’re still fishing, there’s still hope.
Earlier, around the upstream bend, he’d lost one of his favorite flies in some high branches. It was a pattern his son had tied. After losing it, Branson had sat on a fallen tree near the bank and picked flies from his day box and vest patch, dropping them one by one onto the river’s surface until they all were gone. Nearly one hundred. He watched each one for as long as he could until the distance dissolved them. Before dropping the last one, a big hex pattern for fishing downstate rivers in June, he smirked and tied it on his line. He’d been crash landing it into some of the best holes for the last half hour.
As a cool extra feature to this book review, the author, Jeff Vande Zande was kind enough to submit to a few questions of mine. This interview is presented below. Enjoy!
Many of your characters seem to be stuck in a place where they are doing the wrong thing over and over, but they can’t stop. Or they are headed down a path that they know is self-defeating, but they continue in the same direction. They seem to know the right thing to do but they can’t do it. I think that this is the basic challenge of being human, and I can see myself in these people. I may not have gone so far along the path as some of the characters though. I wonder if this is something that is born of personal experience? Or is it more of an exploration of where you might end up if you gave into impulse, what you might call a sort of “worst-case-scenario”?
Oddly enough, my personal experiences are generally pretty good. I had a great upbringing, great friends, went to college, great job, great wife and kids. I think I tend to make pretty good choices, too, for the most part. You should see my I.R.A. profits! If I ever go down in history for my writing, mine will not be one of those writer biographies that anyone would want to read. It’d be a yawn. I think of Hemingway or Byron or Plath or Kerouac . . . writers whose lives alone make for great reading. I mean, in the hands of a good biographer, I guess any life can be made interesting, but I think a biographer would have to work pretty hard to make my life seem racy or intriguing.
So, yes, I guess I do imagine characters in worst-case scenarios. I still do borrow from my life, though. Like, to write Ed Winter’s situation, I had to keep imagining myself in that situation. What if I was going to be separated from my son…what would that feel like? And, I think for many people, we struggle against ourselves. We often stand in our own way. Even though I said I have a pretty good life, I still have regrets every day. Like, I might help my son with his math homework and get really impatient with him…an impatience I don’t exhibit with my college students. Why is that? How is it that I can be patient with people who are practically strangers to me, but I can’t be nearly as patient with my own son? These are often my regrets at night as I lie in bed. I replay scenes from the day and think about how I would do them differently. The fortunate thing is that we usually have the next day to try again. That’s the situation most of my characters find themselves in. They need to see how they are getting in their own way…and then see the next day as an opportunity to try again. Isn’t that they way it is for most of us?
I see the ideas of “loss and brokenness” as some of the threads that tie these stories together. These are stories of loss; loss through death and and loss through broken relationships. The characters are broken by their losses and they are in the midst of crises. At the end of the stories we are not sure which direction the characters will go. Is this a reflection of a belief that change is hard to affect and that maybe fundamental change is nearly impossible – and that loss can affect us in ways that we can’t recover from? Or is it more of a way to allow the reader to bring more of himself to the story by not providing all the details in a neatly wrapped-up ending? Or maybe some combination?
Really good question. I’ve been told more than a few times that I write depressing stories. I guess I don’t totally buy that. I like to believe that I write human stories. I guess I do write subtle endings, but I like to believe that they point, more often than not, to some sense of hope. The hope might be subtle, but I think that’s truthful. I think Threatened Species ends in hope. I mean, sure, Ed isn’t going to get his old life back, but the life that the last chapter hints at . . . I find hope there. And, yes, I think the reader does bring something to the end of the story. I try not to write them so that they are totally ambiguous, but I do want the reader to be engaged in the “what ifs” of that character’s future life. Some, like “Breakdown” are pretty bleak, but others like “NUFOINFO” suggest hope. More than anything, I want the stories to be a truthful reflection of life – especially lives in crisis. Some losses we recover from, or begin to recover from…or recreate ourselves from. Others we don’t recover from. That’s life, right? In the end, what we are left with (hopefully) is another day to keep trying. Fiction – solid literary fiction – should reflect the truth of the human condition, and the truth that I’ve seen has little to do with neatly wrapped-up endings. But, with luck, we get wiser. We live better and make better choices…or we don’t. Like, tonight, I’m going to help my kid with his math, and I’m going to try to be patient. If I fail, I’m going to try again tomorrow. Half of improving as a human being is recognizing what we’re doing wrong and trying to grow from it. Maybe we spend too much time trying to avoid our flaws rather than growing from them.
I can’t help but to think about how fly-fishing brings out some of the same behaviors in us that your characters exhibit in their lives. Specifically I’m thinking about the irrational way that we fly anglers sometimes cling to things that aren’t working – and have no real hope of working. Occasionally, I’ve found myself floating flies over the same fish for way longer than I’d like to admit (hours). Or flogging the water with a dry-fly when I know it’s next to hopeless. We fly fishers are guilty of repeating the same actions over and over and expecting different results. If I’m not mistaken this kind of behavior has actually been used as a definition of insanity. Did you consider this idea when writing the fly fishing related stories in this collection?
I think writers often write about fly fishing because the act is so metaphorical. I mean, it’s ridiculous really to think that we can imitate life (fly tying) in order to capture life (fly fishing). And yet, it often works…sometimes with spectacular results. Fly fishing also reminds us that life is about loss, loneliness, and misplaced efforts. It’s also about finding the healing in life. I have to believe that many of us go to the river for something more than just fish. It’s an elixir, a healing, and a commune with nature (something that modern life usually doesn’t provide). We rediscover ourselves on rivers. We discover that the act of fly fishing is a source of beauty and mystery that we need to stay grounded – like my main character in “Writing on the Wall”. Also, though, it’s very easy to romanticize fly fishing. Often we go to the river thinking it’s going to heal us, and we end up standing alone, with a rod of graphite in our hands, in an indifferent current . . . sometimes with our problems weighing heavier on us rather than lighter. In the end, it’s just fishing. It’s nothing . . . and it’s everything. Sorry, I’m getting all mystical.
I think fly fishing is great to write about too because of the words and phrases: hatches, reading the water, tippet, back casting, roll casting, blue-winged olives (I mean, when else do you get to write about an olive with blue wings…it’s freaking poetry!). Brook trout, rainbows, cutthroat . . . I mean, what a great collection of words! Writers love words, and fly fishing opens up so many fun words to write with.
And now for something really personal. If I were to come fly fishing in your neck of the woods, when should I come and where should I fish?
Michigan is a great state for fly fishing. For the hatches, come in May and June. If you want big fish, look for the Hex hatch and be ready to stay up until two in the morning to catch those lunker browns. I say this out of rumor more than experience.
For myself, my fishing technique is pretty counter-intuitive. I fish in the day, I use dry flies only, and I’m usually off the water by the time it’s dark. I also tend to avoid “hatch season”. That probably explains why I usually only catch six to eight inch brookies. But, I love those brookies. I love watching that dry fly go under.
As to my favorite waters. I’m a big fan of the Mason Tract on the South Branch of Michigan’s Au Sable river system. More often than not, however, you’ll usually find me on the North Branch because my in-laws own a cabin there. It’s grown on me although, with all the cabins, I often feel like I’m fishing in people’s front yards. I also really like the Pigeon River. It sees a little less traffic than some of Michigan’s better-known rivers. Honestly, like any fisherman, I’m not much for a crowded river.
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