Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category

The Lochsa, Again.

April 21, 2014

And Alan, whose muscles are not yet really strong enough to handle a fly rod, perched on a rock with the landing net. Little boy in summer, I thought, watching the ripples of water all about him and the dense screen of leaves on the trees behind him. But he was more than that, a creature of choice, putting a deliberate trust in me to hook a fish and make work for the net that he still finds the most exciting part of going fishing.

Roderick Haig-Brown, Measure of the Year: Reflections on Home, Family, and a Life Fully Lived (1950).


I drove with my daughter to Missoula the other day, so that we could spend some time with her grandfather on Easter weekend. I asked her if she would like to fish a bit on the return trip, and she said she would.  Instead of returning over Lookout Pass, then, we went over Lolo Pass and drove along the Lochsa River.  As I’ve indicated before, the Lochsa has a lot of significance to me.  Perhaps it will for my daughter some day, as well.

After finding a spot on the river that was accessible to a four-year-old, we fished.  I had not thought to bring her own, short rod. The 8.5 foot one I had with me was a bit much for her.  So, we tied a fly and leader to a long branch, still green and flexible.  She carefully cast the fly into the water, again and again, for a good while before getting anxious to leave.  Not surprisingly, she didn’t catch a fish.  I was happy to see how enthusiastic she was, though.  While on the river, she was a “creature of choice,” to borrow the words with which Roderick Haig-Brown describes his son in the epigraph above.  My daughter and I have summer just ahead of us, and she’ll have many more opportunities to catch a fish with her father during the coming months..

Recommended Reading

April 7, 2014

Fly Fish Journal


When I was looking through The Flyfish Journal that arrived in the mail last week, I came across a pleasant surprise. As I neared the end of the magazine, thinking how I really needed to be in bed, I came across a piece written by a friend, Mike Sepelak. The next day, I realized there were two more pieces by him in the same issue.

Until recently, Mike and I were nearly neighbors (by semi-rural/small town standards, at least). We have fly fished together quite a bit, in saltwater, warmwater, and coldwater. All along, I have followed his writing. You can, too, by looking at his website, Mike’s Gone Fishin’ … Again. There, you will find some great essays. I know Mike has put a lot of work into them, but I also know that choice words come easier to him than they do to many.

It’s very gratifying to see Mike’s writing in print. I have urged him to put together a collection of essays for publication as a book someday, and I continue to hope he does so. Read an essay such as “Shattered,” and  you will understand why. Few people can write something so emotional, yet so well crafted at the same time.

Meanwhile, pick up Volume Five, Issue Three of The Flyfish Journal. It’s a great publication, and it’s all the better with Mike’s work in it.


Burkheimer, Peak, and Gingrich

March 25, 2014

Filson recently released a promotional video featuring graphite rod maker Kerry Burkheimer. Filson sells C. F. Burkheimer fly rods, and Burkheimer wears Filson’s gear in the video.

I love my Filson “strap vest,” but I have never handled a Burkheimer rod. His rods are popular around here, and I have spoken to people who love them and to people who do not. One thing that interests me, personally, about Burkheimer rods is their pedigree. Burkheimer was mentored by Russ Peak — probably the most revered maker of fiberglass rods. His rods thus have an interesting connection to the past.

My favorite angling author, Arnold Gingrich, wrote of Peak that, “I regard his glass rods, and  the best makers’ bamboos, as fully equal examples of the rodmaker’s craft” (The Joys of Trout, 1973). This is high praise. Gingrich, the founding editor of Esquire magazine, had the money, intelligence, and experience to be a true connoisseur of bamboo rods.

Posted below is Filson’s video. No matter whether your are interested in Filson gear and Burkheimer rods or not, the video is worth watching.  It allows one to imagine what stepping back into  Peak’s workshop might have been like, though Burkheimer is no doubt his own man.

Presidents’ Day

February 17, 2014

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.


IMG-20140202-00440   IMG-20140216-00467

Getting Settled

January 20, 2014

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.


The flagstones in our mid-century modern house were reportedly taken from the Clearwater River.

Mark Browning on Martin Buber

December 5, 2013


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).

Peter Pan, Fly Fishing, and the Girl Who Won’t Grow Up.

November 21, 2013

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.


November 18, 2013

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 Fishing Poet

November 11, 2013

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):

Loop Consciousness

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
the road,
releasing me into the Haw

I scan
my flybox,
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
or Watauga
or Oconaluftee
casting for trout.

I’ll take what I can get.

The Haw is muddy this morning,
running high
with that faint smell
of gunsmoke
so unlike western
Mist is rising off the water.
I wade
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,
casting low
along the surface
to get under
the branches that hang
down along
the bank
and almost touch
the water.

One strikes and
I set the hook
but he goes airborne
immediately tossing
his head furiously
from side to side
and throws
my fly.

That was a big fish.

I’m trembling as
I retrieve my line and
cast again.

Time’s short and
I’m forced
to abandon
the river,
still trembling;

But the river goes with me,
flowing along
the channels of
my consciousness.

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.

Ichabod Crane and the Angler

November 2, 2013
Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

At this time of year, Washington Irving’s well-known “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is often brought to mind. This, of course, is the classic tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his romantic rivalry with Brom Bones to gain the affections of Katrina Van Tassel, and his terrifying encounter with the Headless Horseman. It was originally part of a much larger collection of works by Irving, titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published in 1819 and 1820. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has subsequently been published many times as a solitary work.

The person who actually reads “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in the Sketchbook, will find that it is preceded by a reminiscence entitled “The Angler.”  Here, Irving shows a very clear familiarity with fly fishing and angling literature.  He first describes his initiatory fly fishing trip “along a mountain brook among the Highlands of the Hudson.”  He admits to fishing poorly at the time and finding more pleasure in setting aside the rod and reading “old Izaak” Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Later, he also mentions reading the famous “Tretyse of fishing with an Angle” (Irving’s spelling), as well.

Irving goes on to narrate his later encounter with an old, retired mariner and expert fly fisherman in England. He writes:

I could not but remark the gallant manner in which he stumped from one part of the brook to another, waving his rod in the air to keep the line from dragging on the ground or catching among the bushes, and the adroitness with which he would throw his fly to any particular place, sometimes skimming it lightly along a little rapid, sometimes casting it into one of those dark holes made by a twisted root or overhanging bank in which large trout are apt to lurk.

In the text, Irving accompanies the old seaman home to learn more about fishing and to simply hear about the man’s fascinating life. He notes that “the old angler” kept a book on fishing, the Bible, an “odd volume or two of voyages, a nautical almanac,” and a song book as his library. Irving is explicit in showing his respect for the old man and states that his interest in fly fishing in theory, if not in practice, is renewed. Like Walton before him, he romanticizes all fisherpersons–particularly those in England–as individuals who understand the less-cultivated world of “nature” and who benefit spiritually and otherwise from such understanding:

The sweetness and serenity of Nature and the quiet watchfulness of the sport gradually bring on pleasant fits of musing, which are now and then agreeable interrupted by the song of a bird, the distant whistle of the peasant, or perhaps the vagary of some fish leaping out of the still water and skimming transiently about its glassy surface.

It is worth noting that Irving admits nature is a bit more tame in early nineteenth century England than it is in America. Indeed, his description of the Hudson Highlands is markedly less positive than his description of the English countryside.

Regardless, it is a curious thing that Irving’s recollection of “The Angler” is followed by his tale of the very nervous Ichabod Crane, who is is greatly afraid of so many things rightly and wrongly associated with nature. In Irving’s world, it is likely that Crane would have met a more certain and happy end, if he had been a fisherman, at peace in the woods during his ride home from unsuccessfully wooing Ms. Van Tassel. In fact, in Irving’s world, a more peaceful Crane might have been more successful in his wooing, in the first place (and perhaps it was the demeanor supposedly achieved through fly fishing that made Irving the rumored object of affection to the likes of the widowed Mary W Shelley and others).


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