Angling Library Locator

August 20, 2014


This map was created by Brandon Simmons at the Trout School blog. The few libraries identified here that I have actually seen were well worth the visit.

Originally posted on Trout School:

For those of you as obsessed with Angling Libraries as I am, I have begun to compile a geographical reference- a treasure map, if you will. This is a Public Google Map which provides a pin for each institution I have found to house an Angling Book Collection.

Please let me know if I have omitted any sites you may be aware of. I have been fairly loose with my criteria (I would rather be inclusive to allow for a larger footprint).

I have visited only a handful of these places yet cherish the time spent within their majestic stacks. I welcome your input and any stories of your pilgrimages you care to share.

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A Little Piece of Home

August 9, 2014


My sister painted me a little 3 inch by 3 inch picture for my birthday. It is based upon a photograph I took recently, from the seat of a canoe. In the image, the viewer looks north toward the Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana, from the lake where my sisters and I share a cabin. The picture is a wonderful gift, though my photograph of it does not capture its nuances. Of course, there is a fly rod in the image.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths and Religion

August 4, 2014

CBS Evening News has done an On the Road segment, entitled “Legendary Fishing Rod Creator shares a Special Secret,” on Tom and Gerry Morgan, of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.  It is always interesting to see such stories in the mainstream media. In this particular case, the commentator, Steve Hartman, makes reference to the connection between religion and fly fishing that so many writers have claimed for so many centuries. Sadly, though, Hartman then describes a Tom Morgan rod as the “Holy Grail.” Of course, those who attribute deep meaning to fly fishing are inspired to do so by the experience, not the sometimes very expensive tackle. The commentator’s view reflects our society’s misplaced obsession with material wealth. No doubt, this obsession is often brought to the sport by certain tackle collectors and even by those who seem more concerned about what they look like on the stream than they are with the water and the life all around them. The inherent value of the living environment is so much greater that the merely symbolic value of our possessions.


July 18, 2014

In my university courses, I often ask students to look critically at writing–to consider that the strength of traditions based upon writing depends upon people reading their culture’s texts. And I point out to students that our libraries are filled with books that are never touched. Academic books that go unread are typically books that deal with obtuse, unimportant topics.  Books written for popular audiences that go unread are often books that are simply written poorly. Of course, these are the often same reasons that certain journals, magazines, and websites go unread as well.

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Personally, I only subscribe to one magazine: The Flyfish Journal. The articles published therein are generally interesting and very well-written. I also receive Trout magazine, as part of my membership in the conservation organization, Trout Unlimited. However, in the past, I did not look at the articles in Trout very carefully. There were even times when I put the magazine directly into the recycling bin without getting past the contents page. It was not a magazine to which I would have chosen to subscribe. Fortunately, this has changed. The current editorial staff members–Kirk Deeter, Samantha Carmichael, and Erin Block–have made some great decisions about what to publish (and it is great to see their work, too, especially the very talented Erin’s) .

I was particularly happy that I looked through the latest issue of Trout more carefully than I looked at previous editions. In the Summer 2014 issue, I found articles by two close fly fishing friends. “Bad Boyfriend”, by Mike Sepelak, is an immensely creative, metaphorical essay about the dangers of introducing others to the disease we call fly fishing. In my opinion, Mike is a truly gifted writer, and I am very happy each time I see a new piece of his in print.  It does not seem that long ago that he was telling me about the writing class he had just enrolled in at our town’s community college. Now, he could probably teach that class. “A Fly-Fishing Pilgrimage to Montana,” by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, is an autobiographical essay, in which Eric relates the reasons behind his visit to the Big Blackfoot River and other Montana haunts of writer Norman Maclean.  As someone with a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, Eric’s reflections upon the deeper meanings that many of us–past and present–ascribe to fly fishing have long intrigued me. Some years ago, I invited  him to speak to my students, in a college course on fishing literature. In turn, he invited me to speak to his congregation.  Of course, we have also fished together. So, I enjoy his company as much in person as I do in print.

Mike and Eric are two angling writers who should be read. Their unique perspectives upon fly fishing and the reasons we fish, as well as their writing skills, place them among those authors whose works should not simply gather dust on a shelf. Indeed, their works serve to strengthen the traditions associated with fly fishing, one of which is writing itself.

Taken by Fairies and Fishing

July 11, 2014

Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) wrote his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University on Celtic views of and practices associated with “fairies.” He later expanded his work and published it as The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Counties, in 1911. He was undoubtedly influenced by the romanticism that also influenced mentor and poet William Butler Yeats and so many other Irish and other Northern European intellectuals at the time.  This romanticism is very evident in The Fairy-Faith, manifested in a great number of biases both in the ethnography and its interpretation.  Evans-Wentz was also influenced by mysticism, as presented by the American philosopher and psychologist William James, another of his mentors. And yet, Evans-Wentz displays a remarkable desire to take seriously the Celtic views of and practices surrounding fairies, which were and are dismissed by so many. This desire led him to record an immense amount of information presented directly from informants of Celtic descent in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany. So, while we might set aside many of his interpretations, and while we must also treat the quotations of his informants (particularly those translated from Gaelic languages) with caution, there is much to be gleaned from The Fairy-Faith.  Moreover, it is simply a fascinating read, for those of us who love the green, misty, mountainous places that Evans-Wentz’s informants associated with fairies.

Evans-Wentz later went on to work on Tibetan Buddhism, popularizing its study among European and American academics. His work there, too, must be treated cautiously, as his attitudes toward Tibet and Buddhism were perhaps even more romantic than his attitude toward Celtic views and practices.  This is partly due to the fact that “Madame” Helena Blavatsky’s imaginative, Asian and Spiritualist influenced “Theosophy” was a significant part of his life.


While Evans-Wentz apparently spent a great deal of time on the banks of the Delaware River as a boy — even claiming to have had an “ecstatic” experience there — I do not know if there is direct evidence of him having been a fisherman, as his mentors Yeats and James certainly were. However, the Celtic informants whose voices are recorded in his first book, spoke often of fish in their broader discussions of fairies and other non-human persons that animated their landscapes. And it is these voices which interest me the  most.

Following, is a “testimony” about the fairies that Evans-Wentz  attributes to an anonymous “Peasant Seer” in County Sligo, Ireland:

Another time I was alone trout-fishing in nearly the same region when I heard a voice say, “It is — barefooted and fishing.” Then there came a whistle like music and a noise like the beating of a drum, and soon one of the gentry came and talked with me for half and hour. He said, “Your mother will die in eleven months, and do not let her die unanointed.” And she did die within eleven months. As he was going away he warned me, “You must be in the house before sunset. Do not delay! Do not delay! They can do nothing to you until I get back in the castle.” As I found out afterwards, he was going to take me, but hesitated because he did not want to leave my mother alone.


As it does for the informants met by Evans-Wentz over a  hundred years ago, going trout fishing or simply going to the places where trout are found, feels like a sort of boundary crossing to me. There is a sense, too, of being taken or, more precisely, not wanted to return back across the boundary.  Mind you, I am not one to draw a hard distinction between nature and culture or even so-called “super-nature.”  I am not speaking, then, of entering and wanting to remain in another reality.  Rather, fishing for me simply involves entering an area dominated by others–the fish, bears, birds, and perhaps even fairies, though I have yet to meet one of the latter (there are, however, many traditions among Indigenous Americans that involve little people and other human-like beings, both malevolent and kind).

Regardless, my thoughts are often focused upon the very animated world around me, when I am visiting trout streams and their environs.  I know that I am not alone in this.  As evidence, I present a picture of a fairy house made by my wife, at our cabin, while I was catching the sort of fish that you will see in the picture above. Perhaps my wife’s purely artistic creation of the fairy house will serve to propitiate any other-than-human beings, who might be responsible for my often feeling “taken” with fly fishing.


Accidental Waters

June 30, 2014

As in marriage, so in fishing; one’s choice is made by accident. One opens the door of a room; and there, for better or for worse, the lady sits. One sees a river from a train, a car, one halts to stretch one’s legs and is lost.

John Inglis Hall, Fishing a Highland Stream; a Love Affair with a River (Putnam and Co, 1960).


In Fishing a Highland Stream, John Inglis Hall writes of his love affair with the River Truim, a tributary of Scotland’s famous River Spey. If you have traveled between Perth and Inverness, you have probably seen this river. However, when Hall first began to fish the Truim in the 1940’s, its course was less widely known by the public.

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My own home waters remain more remote. But like Hall, I first came to them accidentally. My family chose to build a cabin on the banks of what is now my favorite trout lake and just over the ridge from my favorite river. Naturally, I grew familiar with these waters over time, and I have come to love them as much as Hall loved the River Truim.

I visited these waters last weekend, and I look forward to doing so again in a few days. Included here are a few pictures, which will explain my love.

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Photo 3


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Walton / Cotton Fishing Hut for sale

June 21, 2014


From the Trout School blog, comes news of Cotton’s and Walton’s fishing cottage being put on the market.

Originally posted on Trout School:

Walton Fishing Hut

Izaak Walton’s fabled fishing hut is for sale. Its hard to believe such an icon of our fishing heritage is on the market.

The hut was built in 1674,  20 years after the first publication of The Compleat Angler, and 2 years prior to the 5th edition which included Charles Cotton’s fly fishing chapters. The hut was built by both men and includes their initials over the entrance.

I am surprised the Houghton Club (on the Test) or the Anglers’ Club (in London) can’t pony up £450,000 (~$750,000) for the hallowed property and the 3km private river access to the Dove.

Link to the Real Estate listing- the pictures are worth viewing.

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The Long Weekend Past

June 18, 2014


Johnny has Gone for a Soldier

June 6, 2014

“Johnny has Gone for a Soldier” is a well-known folk song. It was sung during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Some speculate that it may have originated among Irish Jacobites — the 17th and 18th century supporters of King James II and VI and of monarchical succession.[1]

A.A. Bondy covers “Johnny has Gone for a Soldier” on the excellent 2013 collection of contemporary, reinterpreted Civil War era songs, Divided and United.

In this song, Bondy sings:

Sell your rod, sell your reel,
Sell your chain of silver.
Buy your love a sword of steel.
Johnny has gone for a soldier.

In earlier versions of the song, the words cited above differ. Following are the lyrics of the early Irish version, Siúil a Rún, by Clannad:

I’ll sell my rock, I’ll sell my reel,
I’ll sell my only spinning wheel.
To buy my love a sword of steel
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán.

In Clannad’s version, “rock” and “reel” refer to the distaff and spindle used in hand spinning. In Bondy’s Civil War era lyrics, “rod” might possibly refer to a distaff, which often takes the shape of a rod. However, spinning wheels had greatly improved and largely replaced the use of distaffs and spindles altogether by this time. Moreover, I can find no common historical evidence of the word “rod” being used interchangeably with “rock” or “distaff.”

I wonder, then, if the latter lyrics might refer to fishing tackle. By the time of the war, the split bamboo fly rod had been invented and the use of reels was common. Moreover, a fishing rod and reel was most certainly more valuable at the time than a spindle and, particularly, a distaff. Distaffs, after all, were usually very simply devices (at least those used predominantly in Western Europe and American were).

Regardless, hundreds of years after this song was first sung, it remains a moving one. And selling those things that are of the greatest monetary value to you, in order to arm yourself or a loved one is no small thing.  Sacrifices such as things are important to ponder, as we think back upon the even greater sacrifices made by soldiers at Normandy and elsewhere, 70 years ago today. In 17th century Ireland, England, and Scotland; in 18th and 19th century United States; in 1940’s Europe, Oceania, and Asia; and in far too many places in throughout the world right now, fishing tackle and even new clothing is a luxury that many cannot afford.[2]

[1] Numerous other posts describe the circumstances of the 17th century English speaking world. This is, after all, the world of Izaak Walton.

[2] Then again, there have been those soldiers who considered fishing tackle a fundamental necessity.  For instance, Charles K. Fox imagines the fate of  flyfishing soldiers before and after the battle of Gettysburg in This Wonderful World of Trout (1963). Charles Ritz describes the immense collection of tackle and guns brought to France during WWII by Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith (later Director of Central Intelligence) in A Flyfisher’s Life (1959).

John Montague’s “The Trout”

June 2, 2014

This morning, in my readings, I was reminded of poet John Montague. This inspired me to write a bit about him. Following, then, I share some biographical information about and a poem by Montague.

Montague is one of Ireland’s most respected, living poets. Montague was born to a Roman Catholic Irish immigrant father in New York, in 1929. A few years later, he was sent to live with his father’s relatives in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. His studies eventually brought him back to the US, for a brief time, before he returned to Europe and Ireland. In 1998, he was awarded the first “Ireland Chair of Poetry.” This professorial appointment is sponsored by Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast, and University College Dublin.

Montague’s “The Trout,” was first published in 1967’s A Chosen Light. The “Barrie Cooke” mentioned in the dedication is the well-known Irish artist, who passed just this year. Cooke was a passionate fly fisherman and friend of Montague’s.  You can find an online selection of Cooke’s paintings via Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery.

“The Trout”

for Barrie Cooke

Flat on the bank I parted
Rushes to ease my hands
In the water without a ripple
And tilt them slowly downstream
To where he lay, tendril-light,
In his fluid sensual dream.

Bodiless lord of creation,
I hung briefly above him
Savouring my own absence,
Senses expanding in the slow
Motion, the photographic calm
That grows before action.

As the curve of my hands
Swung under his body
He surged, with visible pleasure.
I was so preternaturally close
I could count every stipple
But still cast no shadow, until
The two palms crossed in a cage
Under the lightly pulsing gills.
Then (entering my own enlarged
Shape, which rode on the water)
I gripped. To this day I can
Taste his terror on my hands.


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