The American Fly Fisher: the Journal of the American Museum of Flyfishing, just published an article by James D. Heckman on author and cartoonist H.M. Bateman. The London-based Bateman (1887-1970) was an avid angler, but he also satirized the upper class, with whom fly fishing was often associated in the 20th century. Thus, his favorite pastime was also a subject for his cartoons. Heckmans’s biographical sketch and the cartoons accompanying it (such as the one above) are worth a read. You can access it here: http://www.amff.org/h-m-bateman-cartoonist-extraordinaire-fisherman-life/ And you can learn more about Bateman (and purchase prints) at the website of H.M. Bateman Designs Ltd.
“When Day is Done”
If the day is done,
if birds sing no more,
if the wind has flagged tired,
then draw the veil of darkness thick upon me,
even as thou hast wrapt the earth with the coverlet of sleep
and tenderly closed the petals of the drooping lotus at dusk.
By Rabindranath Tagore, 1913 Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet.
Craftmanship online magazine recently published an article on a type of traditional Japanese fishing pole, known as Edo wazau, and its construction. Author Yukari Iwatani Kane takes the reader on a journey through their history. He also explores the current, diminishing state of the craft behind their construction. Explaining the poles origins, he writes:
The Edo-wazao is estimated to have started 228 years ago, by a samurai named Tosaku Matsumoto. All of today’s top masters trace their roots back to Tosaku. From the beginning, Edo-wazao were a luxury item for the wealthy, for whom fishing had been a popular pastime akin to polo or golf. While the working class used rough, homemade bamboo poles, nobility, kabuki masters, and prominent politicians used rods tailor-made to each season and fish species.
The article it titled, “Japan’s gorgeous, precarious fishing poles.” (Yes, “poles.” These are not fly rods). It is accompanied by the authors excellent photography. Follow the link, below, to read it.
Erin Block has written a book dedicated to the subjects of women and flytying. Titled By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women in Fly Tying, the book is published by Whitefish Press. Block previously wrote The View from Coal Creek, also available from Whitefish. She is also the Editor-at-Large of Trout Magazine and has published numerous articles.Marketers in the tackle industry and other areas of fly fishing and outdoor commerce pay increasing attention to women as consumers. Sometimes this is a good thing. Other times it is transparently trite and commercial. For instance, marketing a pink version of a production fly rod really just draws great attention to the supposed gulf between men and women and reifies our often inaccurate views of gender. That said, if a pink rod appeals to you–no matter your gendered identity–enjoy.
What many marketers and fly fishing enthusiasts forget is that women have been involved with fly fishing since its late medieval growth in popularity as a leisure activity in Europe. In fact, generations of writers and anglers attributed authorship of the “Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle”–the first major work devoted to fly fishing and printed in the English language –to a woman.
There is no clear evidence that Berners was the author of the Treatyse or even that she existed. It was first printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496, who included it in the The Boke of St. Albans. Berners (then spelled Barnes) was already identified as the supposed author of The Boke. So, she became the supposed author of the Treatyse as well. What really matters, however, is that generations of readers were content with the idea that a woman wrote the Treatyse, whether it is historical fact or not.
Other women–real ones–played important roles in fly fishing and other field sports in subsequent centuries. For instance, I wrote earlier about Megan Boyd and Kiss the Water, a recent film that honored her place in history as a master salmon flytier. Blocks discusses many other such figures. The reader who wants to look beyond pink rods to the real contributions that women have already been making to fly fishing and other outdoor activities should therefore read By a Thread. Clearly, I am eager to do so.
Just to drive my point home, I share a wonderful 1955 British Pathé video about fly fishing on Scotland’s River Tweed. Notice the flytier, who features so prominently.
I am one of many fly fishers who pays intimate attention to snow packs, water levels, air and water temperatures, and so on. Most people do so simply in order to identify the most effective times to wet their flies. However, I have a more general concern about the survival of the very river I love to fish. No doubt, many would consider me alarmist, but I am genuinely shocked by how low the water is in my favorite Montana river this summer. This, coupled with my realization that the river is being “discovered” by a mass of people approaching a “critical” number, has me pretty sad.
Of course, I am not alone with my concerns. A recent article in the June 16th edition of The Economist confirms this fact. When the editors of a financial news magazine based in England address Montana’s low water and its impact upon fish and fishing, you can be sure things are real. Read The Economist’s article for yourself.
On July 11, The University of Chicago Press publishes a book that will interest a wide variety of readers. The book is titled Backcasts: A Global History of Flyfishing & Conservation. It is edited by Sam Snyder, Bryon Borgelt, and Elizabeth Tobey. The 400 page book considers fish and fishing from overlapping recreational, cultural, and scientific perspectives.
The U of Chicago Press is publishing Backcasts exactly 40 years after they published Norman Maclean’s famous A River runs Through It and Other Stories. That publication was seminal, not only because of Maclean’s fine writing, but also because Chicago had never published a non-academic book before (though Maclean, a professor at Chicago, was an academic himself). Backcasts certainly qualifies as an academic book, but it should appeal to a much broader audience. The writing is accessible and the topics are wide-ranging. Just take a look at the table of contents (from U of Chicago Press’ publication webpage):
Foreword: Looking Downstream from A River
Jen Corrinne Brown
Introduction. A Historical View: Wading through the History of Angling’s Evolving Ethics
Part One: Historical Perspectives
1 Trout and Fly, Work and Play, in Medieval Europe
Richard C. Hoffmann
2 Piscatorial Protestants: Nineteenth-Century Angling and the New Christian Wilderness Ethic
3 The Fly Fishing Engineer: George T. Dunbar, Jr., and the Conservation Ethic in Antebellum America
Part Two: Geographies of Sport and Concern
4. Protecting a Northwest Icon: Fly Anglers and Their Efforts to Save Wild Steelhead
5 Conserving Ecology, Tradition, and History: Fly Fishing and Conservation in the Pocono and Catskill Mountains
6 From Serpents to Fly Fishers: Changing Attitudes in Blackfeet Country toward Fish and Fishing
7 Thymallus tricolor: The Michigan Grayling
Part Three: Native Trout and Globalization
8 “For Every Tail Taken, We Shall Put Ten Back”: Fly Fishing and Salmonid Conservation in Finland
9 Trout in South Africa: History, Economic Value, Environmental Impacts, and Management
10 Holy Trout: New Zealand and South Africa
11 A History of Angling, Fisheries Management, and Conservation in Japan
Part Four: Ethics and Practices of Conservation
12 For the Health of Water, Fish, and People: Women, Angling, and Conservation
Gretel Van Wieren
13 Crying in the Wilderness: Roderick Haig-Brown, Conservation, and Environmental Justice
14 The Origin, Decline, and Resurgence of Conservation as a Guiding Principle in the Federation of Fly Fishers
15 It Takes a River: Trout Unlimited and Coldwater Conservation
Conclusion. What the Future Holds: Conservation Challenges and the Future of Fly Fishing
Jack Williams and Austin Williams
Chris Wood, CEO, Trout Unlimited
Appendix. Research Resources: A List of Libraries, Museums, and Collections Covering Sporting History, Especially Fly Fishing
Readers of angling or other environmental literature will recognize the names of many contributors. My own name is among them. I am particularly pleased to be a contributor because editor Dr. Sam Snyder is a friend. Like me, he has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. His academic emphasis is upon the relationship between religion and the environment. In recent years, he has worked with several organizations protecting Alaska’s rivers. Sam’s co-editors are Dr. Bryon Borgelt, principal of St. Rose School in Perrysburg, Ohio and scholar of sport fishing and conservation, and Dr. Elizabeth Tobey, who has worked for the National Sporting Library & Museum and is an authority on field sports and religion. Of course, the cover artwork is by angler, author, and artist James Prosek.
I have yet to receive my complimentary copy of Backcasts, but having watched this book take shape, I am confident that it is going to represent a real contribution to existing literature and that it will be an entertaining and informative read, as well. Books published by university presses can be pretty expensive these days, but the hardcover version of Backcasts is currently priced at a reasonable $45.00. You can order it from the U of Chicago Press, from Amazon.com, and hopefully from local bookstores.
Last year, I wrote about the 2015 “Artist Series” Nottingham-style reels sold by PEETZ, which featured the work of artist Jason Henry Hunt. A descendant of the Kwagu’ł First Nation on Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Hunt is part of a large family recognized for their mastery of traditional art forms. PEETZ commissioned Hunt to carve 90 signed and numbered 5-inch Evolution reels (these reels feature a one-way drag system and are not the “knuckle busters” they may appear to be). The result was the beautiful “Circle of Life” reel.
PEETZ, based in BC, commissioned Hunt to carve their 2016 series as well. This year, Hunt’s design is called the “Orca, Salmon, & Moon.” According to PEETZ, it features “an Orca hunting salmon under a full moon.” As you will see below, it is simply stunning. Just as they did last year, PEETZ will donate a portion of the proceeds generated by the sale of these reels to the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Purchasers thus help support a Native American/First Nations artist, salmon recovery, and a venerable old company that still produces hand-made wooden reels. All three of these causes are immensely worthy of attention.
Of course, it is important to note that besides looking wonderful, PEETZ reels function perfectly. I have their 3.5 inch fly reel, which I enjoy very much. Most recently, I have spooled it with a 150-foot full sink level line and fixed it to LL Bean’s “Trolling Series” 6/7 weight fly rod. With this outfit, I troll streamers in a lake, behind a canoe. I normally fish dry flies there, but the trolling set-up is great to use when paddling from place-to-place or on those days that the trout simply cannot be coaxed to the surface. Incidentally, fishing flies this way is far from unique. For instance, a 2007 New York Times article describes the traditional practice of trolling for landlocked salmon in Maine. As for the PEETZ fly reel, when the center drag-adjustment screw is loosened, it is easy to unspool line. And the large arbor makes it easy to retrieve all that line once a fish is hooked.
As a kid growing up in Dillon and, later, Helena, Montana, I loved the nationally syndicated newspaper comic strips of Stan Lynde (1931-2013). Lynde’s best known characters were Rick O’Shay and Latigo. Both of them were “Old West” lawmen, hunters, and gunfighters (fishermen–not so much).
In his full-color Sunday comics, Lynde often addressed religious matters. Numerous times, Rick O’Shay and Latigo made clear that “nature” was their church–the place where they were closest to their Creator (which Rick referred to as his “Boss”).
Lynde, himself, was a Montanan. He grew up in Lodge Grass, on the Crow Indian Reservation, and later lived in Helena. I remember meeting him when I was pretty young, before my own family moved to Helena. While he may have preferred the mountains to a church, he was certainly a strong Christian in his later years. Perhaps my dad’s role as a Presbyterian pastor has something to do with my meeting the artist.
I suspect Lynde held many views I don’t share (his early portrayal of Native Americans is questionable, for instance). Still, his view of nature left an undeniable impression upon me. Time and again, when I am at our cabin, near a stream, or even just admiring the view of the mountains from home, I find myself remembering those old comics and agreeing with Lynde’s characters. Nature, the world-less-touched by humans, their greed, and their ignorance, is where I feel closest to my Creator.
I spent last weekend with a local friend, AJ Morris, fly fishing his favorite river in North Idaho. He has fished it for years and seems to know its every nuance. I have visited the river only a few times since moving to the region, myself, though I have enjoyed fishing there each time. Since fishing, for me, consists of more than catching trout, this means I have also enjoyed the beauty surrounding the river, the animals giving life to that beauty, the companionship of my friend, and so on.
My views are not unique. Archaeologists have confirmed that the river’s drainage has been inhabited for some 12,000 years. The Nez Perce or Nimiipuu, descendants of those ancient inhabitants, live there still. And I know that my Nez Perce friends find the area just as important to their lives as their ancestors did, despite profound changes brought by settlement, dam-building, and other damaging activities.
Author and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Hunt describes Northern Idaho, from a fly fisher’s perspective, in Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Rivers (The History Press, 2014). He writes:
From a fishing standpoint, northern Idaho is defined by the Clearwater River drainage. The Clearwater itself is a legendary steelhead river, even today, with all the impediments facing Idaho’s oceangoing rainbow trout. But all the rivers and streams that come together to form the Clearwater have a fishy legacy that rivals that of any system in the state.
Hunt is the Director of National Communications for Trout Unlimited, and his words ring true. In fact, these rivers and streams really rival those found in many other parts of the world, too. The same can be said of their beauty.
Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, was a Mexican poet and intellectual. He served in the Mexican diplomatic service, lectured at Cambridge and Harvard, and was awarded many prizes for his writings. While I do not support some of his later political stances, I find his poetry insightful and occasionally intoxicating. Here, I share a short poem, from a larger series of similar poems, first published in 1955. It is titled “Objetos” or “Objects.” In three lines, Pas captures our tendency to objectify the world around us, in our daily lives. And he indicates how powerful it is, when we break this tendency and recognize the vitality of our surroundings, human and otherwise. For me, fly fishing and spending time in “nature” (by which I mean “places-less-influenced-by-humans”) provides that break.
They live alongside us
we do not know them, they do not know us
But sometimes they speak with us.
(this translation from the Spanish is taken from Selected Poems, Eliot Weinberger ed. (New Directions, 1984), 6.