Balsa Bug (top), tied by Jack Boehme (approx. 1885-1956); Bunyan Bug, tied by Norman “Paul Bunyan” Means (approx. 1899-1986); “Bunyan Bug” woodcut print by Barry Moser (1940-present), from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, 1989 Pennyroyal Press edition.
Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category
In 1889, Anna M. Stodddart published a loving memoir of her father, Thomas Tod Stoddart (1810-1880), along with a collection of verses written by him (some of which were previously published). Most of these verses have to do with fishing. Thomas Stoddart was licensed to practice law, but he seems to have spent most of his life writing and engaged in fishing and fishing related activities. He was particularly involved in conservation. Living in Kelso, Scotland, the Rivers Tweed and Teviot received most of his attention. Besides his writer daughter, he had two other children-both boys.
To illustrate how seriously the senior Stoddart took his identity as an angler, daughter Anna writes:
My father called one day on Henry Glassford Bell, and the genial Sheriff hailed him with the very natural question, “Well, Tom, and what are you doing now?” With a moment’s resentment, my father brought his friend to his bearings. “Doing? Man, I’m an angler.”
I can relate to Thomas Stoddart, as he responds to Bell. If my own daughter were ever to write a memoir about me after my death, she might very well include a similar story, to illustrate just how passionate about fly fishing I was. She could not describe me as a poet, however; in that way I am different from Thomas Stoddart. Thus, due in part to my own lack of talent, I include two of the “songs” written by Thomas and published by Anna in Angling Songs, with a Memoir.
THE FAIRY ANGLER
‘Twas a bland summer’s eve, when the forest I trod;
The dew-gems were starring the flowers of the sod,
And “faire mistress moone,” as she rose from the sea,
Shed apart the green leaves of each shadowing tree.
I passed by a brook, where her silvers lay flung,
Among knolls of wild fern it witchingly sung,
While a long fairy angler with glimmering hand
From the odorous banks waved her delicate wand.
In silence I watched, as with eager intent
O’er the moon-silvered water she gracefully bent,
And plied with green rush-rod, new torn from its bed,
Her line of the thorn-spider’s mystical thread.
A pannier of moss-leaves her shoulder’s bedecked,
The nest of some bird, with the night winds had wrecked,
Slung round with a tendril of ivy so gay,
And a belt of stream flowers bound her woodland array.
No snow-flake e’er dropped from its cloud on the brook
So gently impelled as her moth-plumaged hood;
The pearl-sided parlet and minnow obeyed
The magical beck of that wandering maid.
And aye as her rush-rod she waved o’er the rill,
Sweet words floated round her, I treasure them still,
Tho’ like a bright moon-cloud resolved in the air,
Passed from me, regretted, the vision so faire.
Through sun-bright lakes,
Round islets gay,
The river takes
It western way,
And the water-chime
Soft zephyrs time
Each gladsome summer day.
The starry trout,
Fair to behold,
One fin of gold;
At root of tree
His haunt you may see,
Rude rock or crevice old.
And hither dart
The salmon grey,
From the deep heart
Of some sea bay;
And herling wild
To hold autumnal play.
Oh! ’tis a stream
Most fair to see,
As in a dream
And our hearts are woo’d
To a kind of sweet mood
By its wondrous witchery.
Thomas Frederic Salter was a London hatmaker. He fished as a child with his father and remained a devoted angler as an adult. Apparently, his health prevented him from fishing regularly in his later years. He therefore turned his attention toward writing several books having to do with fishing, each of which went through several editions. The first was The Angler’s Guide, or Complete London Angler in the Thames, Lea, and other Waters twenty miles round London, which was published in 1814. Interestingly, he dedicated it to “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York,” whom, he says, “occasionally enjoys the amusement of Angling” (vii). At the time, the duchess was the beloved Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia. An independent woman, she lived separately from her husband, apparently preferring the company of her many pets and other animals.
In his guide, Salter speaks highly of fly fishing, describing it as “gentlemanly and pleasant,” if also “difficult to learn” (82-83). In all, he dedicates five chapters of the book to the practice. Had I been Salter’s editor, I might have pointed it out that the sport must also be “ladylike” (or something to that effect), since the Duchess, so highly praised in Salter’s, dedication, was an angler.
Interestingly, Salter also includes a poem by a “Mr. Cracknell,” entitled “The Female Angler” (103). Two stanzas follow.
From town I walk’d to take the air,
Shun smoke and noise of coaches;
I saw a lovely damsel fair,
Angling for Dace and Roaches.
Close by a brook, with line and hook,
Which curiously was baited,
Attentively the maid did look,
While for a bite she waited.
Looking back as readers, and not editors, we should commend Salter for acknowledging so clearly that field sports are not only or best practiced by men. While many authors of Salter’s time and before paid homage to the legendary Juliana Berners, O.S.B., supposed author of the 15th century Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle , few of them seemed to consider that there may have been many other figures like her. Admittedly, there seems to be a hint of romance in the poem Slater includes in his book; there is an implication that the “female angler” shares in the simple purity of nature or the rural area free from “smoke and noise.”
Yet, Salter tells us that “The Female Angler” was inspired by a very real friend of Cracknell’s. Also, as its subtitle indicates, Salter’s book focuses upon fishing in urban and suburban London (in later editions, the subtitle changes). Thus, he does not see to see the divide between nature and culture as being so bold as many others did and do. This makes him a rare figure in his time — one worth reading. While the Guide is mostly a technical manual and guidebook to certain fishing locations, there is, as I have indicated here, some material that truly stands out.
I leave you with a stanza from another poem, “The Angler’s Morning Walk,” apparently written by Salter himself (x).
From sweet repose I early rose
To fish, and take the air;
I look’d around, saw good abound,
Then why should Man despair.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
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.
 Numerous other posts describe the circumstances of the 17th century English speaking world. This is, after all, the world of Izaak Walton.
 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).
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.
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.
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..
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.