While I certainly enjoy my tackle, I really dislike the commercialized aspects of fly fishing, and I don’t normally plug gear. I have to make a quick exception today, however. I’m one of those people who will go almost anywhere to find a trout stream, and I will go almost anywhere on the stream to find the trout. This leads to a lot of climbing, scrambling, and all too often, falling. Thus, I have become a fan of Patagonia’s River Crampons. In my experience, they are easy to take on and off, very secure and light when attached. Most important, I find them very effective in clinging to rock. Like a lot of quality outdoor products, however, the River Crampons are not realistically priced for those who would use them most; people who are addicted to fly fishing and other outdoor pursuits are not typically big earners — earning, after all, can cut into fishing. Currently, though, Patagonia is clearing out their first generation of River Crampons to make room for a new, “ultralight“ version. The original Crampons are nearly half off at the Patagonia website.
January can be cold and dry, but it can also be a very wet month, a month of heavy rain or quick thaw and freshet-guarded rivers. February is more dependable…. And February is likely to have splendid days of bright sun after frost, with the first faint feelings of spring in the them, for the sap is rising in the maples again and the willow shoots are scarlet with it and the alders and fruit trees budded with it.
February is a good month too because Washington was born on the twenty-second, and that means that my brother-in-law Buck Elmore will probably be able to take time out and come up to try for a fish.
Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps, 1946.
Unlike Haig-Brown’s brother-in-law, I had to work on what is now Presidents’ Day. However, I did some exploring with my wife and daughter yesterday– a sort of Sunday drive–and I surely agree with Haig-Brown’s
assessment of February. It is a solidly winter month; the evidence of this is everywhere. Yet, the month is also pregnant with the feeling that spring is just around the corner.
Once again, it is that time of year when fans of Robert Burns celebrate Scotland’s most famous bard. My love of his writing springs not only from his writing talent, but from his ability to speak as one close to the land, the people who toil upon it, that animals, and even the plants.
In “Nature’s Law,” Burns acknowledges the inspiration that the world-less-cultivated provides him. More directly, though, he honors life. Specifically, he honors life (with no small amount of pride) as it is shared with and manifested in his twins, just born to him and his future wife, Jean Armour.
“Nature’s Law. A Poem Humbly Inscribed to G.H. Esq., ” 1786.
Let other heroes boast their scars,
The marks of sturt and strife:
And other poets sing of wars,
The plagues of human life;
Shame fa’ the fun; wi’ sword and gun
To slap mankind like lumber!
I sing his name, and nobler fame,
Wha multiplies our number.
Great Nature spoke, with air benign,
‘Go on, ye human race!
‘This lower world I you resign;
‘Be fruitful and increase.
‘The liquid fire of strong desire
‘I’ve pour’d it in each bosom;
‘Here, on this hand, does Mankind stand,
‘And there, is Beauty’s blossom.’
The Hero of these artless strains,
A lowly bard was he,
Who sung his rhymes in Coila’s plains,
With meikle mirth an’ glee;
Kind Nature’s care had given his share
Large, of the flaming current;
And, all devout, he never sought
To stem the sacred torrent.
He felt the powerful, high behest
Thrill, vital, thro’ and thro’;
And sought a correspondent breast,
To give obedience due;
Propitious Powers screen’d the young flow’rs,
From mildews of abortion;
And lo! the Bard – a great reward -
Has got a double portion!
Auld cantie Coil may count the day,
As annual it returns,
The third of Libra’s equal sway,
That gave another Burns,
With future rhymes, an’ other times,
To emulate his sire;
To sing auld Coil in nobler style,
With more poetic fire.
Ye Powers of peace, and peaceful song,
Look down with gracious eyes;
And bless auld Coila, large and long,
With multiplying joys.
Lang may she stand to prop the land,
The flow’r of ancient nations;
And Burnses spring, her fame to sing,
To endless generations!
Having relocated to the area where the Palouse and Rocky Mountains meet in Idaho, my mind has been as filled with fish and fly fishing as ever. But even with my thoughts wandering toward the rivers, I have been unpacking boxes and getting acquainted with a new university. This week, as time allows, I’ll get to know the angling collections housed among Washington State University’s Rare Books and Special Collections. And soon enough, I’ll reacquaint myself with Idaho’s fish. Eventually, I’ll even write a few posts about it.
Fishing, of course, can be described in terms of Buber’s worldview. Those who focus on the catch as the ultimate goal and who see the fish or the river as something to be mastered would be described in I-It terms; however, the mainstream of American fly fishing writers subscribe to a completely different perception: I-Thou. Fly fishing, for these practitioners, is a method for creating connections of various sorts.
Mark Browning, in Haunted by Water: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (1998). Browning refers to philosopher Martin Buber’s (pictured) brilliant Ich und Du (1923) or, in translation, I and Thou (1937).
It is well known that the character of Peter Pan was first created by J.M. Barrie, in the stories he told to the young Llewelyn Davies boys. In fact, the four boys, with whom Barrie had a special relationship, helped inspire the character. Barrie eventually immortalized Pan (and thus the Davies boys) in his 1904 stage play and 1911 novel, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.
After the deaths of the Davies boys’ parents, Barrie became their guardian. Among other things, Davies took the boys salmon fishing, which was a favorite pastime of his. Such trips included the provision of fly fishing instructors and gillies.
My daughter is a great fan of Peter Pan’s. She is very familiar with fly fishing, as well. However, at this point, she is much more interested in the sartorial possibilities of fly tying materials than she is in actual fishing flies. In the picture above (notice the Peter Pan inspired clothes), she procures some peacock for Captain Hook’s hat. Unsurprisingly, given her interest in Pan, she claims that she does not want to grow up. That’s fine by me, but I hope she grows just enough to handle a rod.
To me, a large part of fishing and hunting is aesthetic. A diminutive fly rod, neatly done, with a tiny grip to match and a plain reel seat is a joy to look at and carry, as is a short, slender, light-weight shotgun or rifle. As long as I am not chancing a crippling shot, I’ll take the lightweight every time. The portability and beauty of the equipment are a great part of the game. Bear in mind that when I speak of fly fishing, I’m talking about the average everyday trouting, with a little bluegill and bass fishing thrown in; steelhead and salt-water fishing are not included. So, for my fishing, diminutive rods are entirely adequate.
Ed Shenk, Fly Rod Trouting, 1989.
As a younger person in Montana, the biggest fly fishing influences upon me were Eastern writers. As their books happened to be on the shelves at our cabin, I read short rod advocates like Arnold Gingrich. When I later moved to Central Pennsylvania, and started fishing many of the streams cherished by those writers, I found that I enjoyed short rods myself. Eventually, I came upon “a diminutive fly rod, neatly done, with a tiny grip to match and a plain reel seat” built by Ed Shenk himself. I have really enjoyed fishing this 5′ 2″ fiberglass rod, but I fear it caught its last brook trout (or any other trout) this past weekend. It’s not suited to the waters I’ll be fishing after my return West, and, as a once piece-rod, it is not travel friendly. So, I guess it goes to the rear of the closet or to the sale page. Either way, it’s been nice fishing with you (your rod, that is), Ed.
A fly fishing friend of mine, who also happens to be a graduate student in my department, recently won a poetry contest sponsored by Loop Tackle. His award was a new Cross S1 6 weight rod. This is no small prize for a fly fishing graduate student, living on a tight budget (in fact, it would be no small prize for anyone). Congratulations to scholar, poet, and fly fisherman Stan Thayne. You can read his poem below (notice that he worked a bit of advertising in there; smart man, Stan):
At 4 AM something is biting,
tugging at the line
of my brain,
dragging me out of bed,
and netting me
into the car and on down
releasing me into the Haw
choose a cork
for bass, then
thread the line through
the guides of my Loop
opti creek, wishing
I were in Montana
or at least a little further
on the Davidson
casting for trout.
I’ll take what I can get.
The Haw is muddy this morning,
with that faint smell
so unlike western
Mist is rising off the water.
into the warm cool
and begin casting.
I catch several
large bream and toss
them back and tie
on a bigger fly
and move downstream
into smoother water,
along the surface
to get under
the branches that hang
and almost touch
One strikes and
I set the hook
but he goes airborne
his head furiously
from side to side
That was a big fish.
I’m trembling as
I retrieve my line and
Time’s short and
But the river goes with me,
the channels of
Sitting at my desk at work I feel
the spray coming off a cast,
the frigid bite of river morning air,
the feel of wet cork in my hands,
the weight of line rolling out,
the satisfaction of a perfect cast:
loop, roll, settle, and strike:
connecting me to something
that is alive.
My stream of consciousness
is swimming with trout.