June 11, 2015

I’m sure the lake must have a name in the language of the Kootenai (Ktunaxa/Ksanka), upon whose historic territory it rests. The lake is just beyond the edge of a huge valley, through which the Big Blackfoot River runs. No doubt, it has names in other Indigenous languages too, as the path laid by the Blackfoot River was well travelled by Native Americans of several nations. In English, however, the lake is named for a long-passed miner, Charles Cooper.

I have no idea when the lake was given Cooper’s  name, though the area, still sparsely populated, was first settled permanently by whites around the same time that the Kootenai and others were being restricted to their shrinking reservations. In fact, the nearest town, Ovando, was named for a local settler who left his work at the Flathead Indian Reservation, after being spooked by the so-called “Nez Perce War” of 1877 (Margaret Ronan, Girl from the Gulches; The Story of Mary Ronan, 2003, 177),  Incidentally, this was a war that the New York Times said was “on our part [the whites], … in its origin and motive nothing short of a gigantic blunder and a crime” (“A Lesson from the Nez Perces,” Oct. 15, 1877).

I would like to know the name that the Kootenai gave to the lake. I will ask a speaker of the language about it someday, though I suspect the name is forgotten. As it is, I simply think of the lake as “home,” for my sisters and I share a cabin there.


Norman Maclean Literary Festival

May 29, 2015


This summer, there will be a celebration of Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, and his literary work.  The celebration, “In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean, a Literary Festival,” will take place in and around Seeley Lake. Montana, where the Maclean family still has a family cabin. Of course, this area is one of the settings in A River Runs Through It, along with the nearby Big Blackfoot River and the towns of Missoula and Helena.

The festival is sponsored by the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper, the Clearwater Resource Council, the Seeley Lake Community Foundation, and the Seeley Lake Historical Society. It begins with an evening reception on July 10 and runs through July 14. There will be daily presentations at the well-known Double Arrow Ranch, and numerous activities related to Maclean’s fishing and writing pursuits.

Seeley Lake is a beautiful community in the Seeley Swan Valley, between the Mission and Swan Mountains. It lies along Highway 83, in Missoula County. Because my sisters and I share a cabin in the area (about which I have written numerous times) and because it lies along the route to another family property in Glacier National Park, I have spent a fair amount of time there through the years. I recommend a visit, and there will be no better time for a contemplative angler to check out the area than during this festival. You can learn more at the festival website. And if you happen to attend, give me a shout.

Angling Gifts from Magyarország

May 25, 2015

While in Magyarország/Hungary, my wife and daughter and I took the ferry across the Danube River one morning to Visegrád to meet Ákos Szmutni. Ákos is the owner of Stickman Rods and the author of a beautiful hard-bound, Hungarian language instructional book on fly fishing. The 2009 text, which totals over 400 pages with color photos, is simply titled Legyező-Horgászat (Fly Fishing). 

My wife and daughter drove up to the Cloud Castle above Visegrád, a favorite place to visit, while I spent time with my fellow angler. We cast several Stickman Rods and shared thoughts about fly fishing, Central Europe, and life. Afterward, Ákos kindly gave me a copy of his book. It is pictured below, with a benchmade Hungarian knife, some flies tied “in hand” by Hungarian fly fisher and friend Levente Kovács, and an Association of Hungarian Flyfishers Badge.



The Lower and Upper Castles (13th c.) of Visegrád, as seen from the ferry below. I admire the Upper or “Cloud Castle” often because it can be seen from the home of friends in Nagymaros, the town across the river. You can see far better pictures at the Visegrád website.

Call Us Ishmael

May 16, 2015

I write this post late at night, in a boat, at sea. The boat is my brother-in-law’s. He, his sister–my wife, and all their family are from Central Europe. A love of of large waters and all things maritime runs in her family. In her father’s house is proudly displayed an old, official document honoring her great grandfather, a sea captain, for rescuing an Imperial vessel in the Adriatic Sea. Her father, himself, built his own sailboat, after the collapse of Communism, and races it very successfully. And a few years ago, after deciding the Danube River was too small for him and/or his boat, her brother rented a slip in Croatia, and now captains his own boat on the Adriatic.





Personally, I prefer mountains and clear running streams to massive rivers, lakes that cannot be seen across, and oceans or seas. And in many other ways, we inhabit the world rather differently, aside from the fact that we all love my wife and young daughter immensely. In fact, when visiting Central Europe, I now sometimes leave the family to go fly fishing for trout in Transylvania with Romanian friends. Or, I fish more locally for trout or asp with Hungarian friends.

During our current visit, my wife, and daughter, and I have joined  my brother-in-law and his wife for a trip to Croatia and a few days on their boat. My in-laws, as usual, are kind and generous hosts, and it is amazing to see Dalmatia from the sea instead of from the road.

Zadar, Croatia

Zadar, Croatia

As it happens, I have been reading Herman Melville’s 1851 whaling epic Moby-Dick or, The Whale. I read the fist pages during my late-night train ride to Romania to fly fish, and I have continued to read the book after rejoining family. In those first pages, I came across a long passage of Melville’s that has led me to recognize that I have another love in common with my in-laws, besides that for my wife and daughter. We all love water. Whether that water is small or large, running or still, sweet or saline, we love water. Indeed, in Melville’s words, we see the “key to it all” in “rivers and oceans.” Following is that long passage containing those words.

Here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill- side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine- tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd’s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd’s eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee- deep among Tiger- lilies— what is the one charm wanting?— Water there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

Fly fishing for Amberjacks in the Adriatic Sea

Fly fishing for Amberjacks in the Adriatic Sea

1st International Trout Congress

April 27, 2015

A friend alerted me to a very interesting conference taking place this summer. It will bring together scientific and cultural perspectives upon trout, and it will seek to unite those who have these perspectives to form an established “congress.” The conference is titled The World of Trout. The conference website states, “As a congress, the aim is to assemble an international body for a series of structured lectures and discussions on the relationship between trout and humans.” It also says, “As a celebration, it seeks to infuse the congress with art, literature, angling lore, and special events that promise to make the event both instructional and entertaining.” Perhaps I will see some of you there.

UPDATE: The Trout Congress has been postponed for one year. You can find details at the congress website. Please consider attending in 2016.


Anticipation and Preparation

April 21, 2015


Work has keep me a bit busier than usual, of late. As a consequence, I have been fishing with a dwindling supply of flies. Soon, however, I will be returning to Central Europe to visit my wife’s family.  While there , I will fish for asp in the Danube and maybe look for a few trout in a stream near a relative’s home. I will also return to Transylvania to visit a couple of friends and to fish for trout and graylings. So, out of necessity, I am finally back at the vice. Next up…  comparaduns. The graylings loved them last time.


With friends in Transylvania.




My Fall 2015 “Religion, Sport, and Water” University Course

April 13, 2015


“Fog Makes the Small River Smaller,” by Gary Metras

April 12, 2015
Fishing on Letort

Fly fishing the LeTort Spring Run, PA, 2006. Photo by John Bechtel III.

There is nothing quite like greeting the day from the bank of a river still covered in fog. Such a moment becomes essentially magical, when it occurs in a place that remains more the dominion of animals than of man. Massachusetts writer and angler Gary Metras captures this magic in his poem, “Fog Makes the Small River Smaller.” It is included in his collection titled Two Bloods: Fly Fishing Poems, published by Split Oak Press in 2010. I am glad to have been directed toward the book, and I strongly recommend it. While I use the term “magic” to describe the feeling captured in the following poem, it is a sort of magic that arises from the very real, but complex and hardly known physical world around us. If you can relate to this earthy magic, then Mr.Metras’ writings will appeal to you. And know that he has published many texts, besides the one cited here.

Fog makes the small river smaller.
Sunrise has little effect–
Strands of white weave

through the overwhelming gray.
A fly fisher stands in the flow
a few feet from shore.

He dresses his line with
the misty wall surrounding him.
A slight splash upstream. Another.

Deer, not bear. He smiles, thinking:
If the air were clear as the water,
this would be a postcard and a story.

Then he imagines his legs as delicate
as a deer’s testing unseen rocks
for the slip that means

breakage, that means breath of coyote
on the tensed neck hair. All that
for a few sips of the new morning.

Another splash. A twig cracks.
Then, silence except the soft spill of river.
He ties on something dark and woolly,

strips line from the reel, throws it
into the air, into the wall of fog,
a sliver of green line slicing the bloodless gray.

It fall out there, beyond sight,
with hardly a sound.
He strips more line, hauls it back

over his head, pauses without thought,
and casts arm and line and fly
into the unknown.

The “Hugh Glass” Fly

March 23, 2015

I have some grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) fur, and I’d like to tie a few nice flies for the person who gave it to me. I had thought about tying some Adams dry flies, using the lighter under fur for dubbing and the guard hairs for tails. Obviously, the grizzly hackle normally used on Adams flies would  fit the theme nicely. I would love to hear some other suggestions, however.

I might also tie a variation of the “black bear red but” salmon fly. I’ll call it the “Hugh Glass.” This name comes to mind because I am reading Missoula, Montana author and diplomat Michael Punke’s The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. In the book, Punke describes the mauling of Glass by a grizzly on the Grand River, in present-day South Dakota, and the events that followed. Glass’s companions left him for dead after his encounter with the bear, and they took his prized rifle with them. The badly wounded Glass famously crawled approximately 100 miles to the Cheyenne River. He then floated downstream to Fort Kiowa, on the Missouri. After recovering physically, he set out after those who had abandoned him.


New Discovery of Early Fishing Text by Monk

March 13, 2015

Word has been circulating of an early angling text discovered by Maggs Bros. Ltd. of London. The text takes the form of notes bound in the back of a prayer book belonging to a Benedictine monk in Austria. The notes possibly date to 1450’s or 1460’s. The purpose of the notes are not clear, but they contain information on artificial flies and fishing. If the attributed dates are correct, the notes predate “The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle.”

As mentioned in the Game Fisher’s Diary episode below, the notes are similar to the text identified as Tegernseer Angel- und Fishbucklein, dating to approximately 1500. This latter text was probably created as a guide to fishers employed by Benedictine monks of Tegernsee Abbey, in Bavaria, to procure meat. You can learn more about the newly discovered text by watching linked video; it features a visit by Rae Borras to Maggs, where he discusses the text with Jonathan Reilly. The text, by the way, will cost you in the neighborhood of £125,000. (currently $184,264.22) to purchase.


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