One of these days ….

March 3, 2018

One of these days, in the middle of a salmon fly batch, I’m going to try out one of Norman Means’ famous “Bunyan Bugs.” If they worked almost 100 years ago, they should work now.


Pflueger 1394, Jack Boehme “Balsa Bug,” Norman Means’ “Bunyan Bug.”

Shrinking Salmon

March 1, 2018

All fly fishers have seen the old black-and-white photos of long-gone anglers, displaying the giant salmon they just caught. KUOW, a radio station serving western Washington and Southern British Columbia, has produced a news story that helps explain why we rarely see salmon of that size today. It came to my attention through the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Department of Environmental Protection. You can read or listen to the story at the following link.

International Handwriting Day

January 23, 2018

Today is International Handwriting Day. Like many such holidays, I suspect it was created by marketers. Of course, the marketers’ greatest innovation of the modern era must be “disposability.” As manufacturers were able to produce cheaper products from less durable materials, the sellers of these products convinced consumers that the less expensive versions were “convenient.” This was because consumers could simply discard the products after a short period of time and then purchase brand new ones. Sure, these disposable products were a bit cheaper for the consumer, but their replacement costs would soon outstrip the costs of higher quality versions.

One of the most common of these “convenient” products is the disposable pen. In my world–academia–these are everywhere. You can find used pens on desks, on classroom floors, and obviously in the garbage.  This adds up to a lot of discarded plastic that will never be recycled.

On International Pen Day, you might consider switching to a refillable pen or even a good old-fashioned wood-cased pencil (biodegradable wood and recyclable tin erasure ferrule). Kaweco, a German company, offers quality fountain, ballpoint, and roller ball pens, as well as mechanical pencils, at affordable prices. The popular Kaweco “Sport” fountain pen–a small, durable “pocket” pen– has been around for over one hundred years.  A new one will run you twenty to twenty-five dollars, and it will last a long, long time. If you use a felt-tip highlighter pen, consider switching to a highlighter pencil. The one pictured below is a “Wood Note” pencil from the Japanese pencil-maker Kita-boshi. You can find many other highlighter pencils online.

If you are like me, you care about the impact that you have upon the earth and it’s inhabitants. You want that impact to be positive. Avoiding disposable products and using longer-lasting and/or biodegradable products is an easy way of at least making your impact less negative. A nice pen might even motivate you to improve your handwriting, create a poem, send a letter to someone you love, or do some other thing that will impact others positively.


Noodler’s “El Lawrence” ink and Kaweco “Sport” fountain pens.


Kita-boshi pencils and Kaweco Skyline Sport.


December 29, 2017

Most of us have friends, who have found themselves in dark places. Sometimes the reasons our friends are in such situations are obvious–the reasons are “environmental,” psychologists might say. Other times, our friends are lost for more complex reasons. Occasionally, we can still identify some causes–grief, trauma, mental illness, or a combination of these and other things.

Regardless, we want to help our friends find their way out of the darkness. Sometimes, a gift of money or even just emotional support can provide our friends the nudge they need to find the right direction. But other times, especially in the more complex cases, we just don’t know what to offer. And when we finally find something, we aren’t sure if it will be of use.

Time spent out-of-doors is what often gets me through the rough patches in life. Such time helps me reorient, to find my bearings, and to continue on through the difficult terrain waiting for me at work, home, or wherever. Not surprisingly then, when friends are disoriented and depressed, I often suggest they spend some time away from their busy lives. In many cases I suggest they go fly fishing.

In the great semi-autobiographical novella, A River Runs through It, we find author Norman Maclean struggling throughout the story to help his brother, Paul. Paul Maclean is troubled by an apparent gambling addiction and perhaps by alcoholism. At one point, Norman discusses this problem with his father. Readers will recall that the father, John, is a Presbyterian minister in Missoula, Montana. Like his sons, he is also a flyfisher. Indeed, he taught his two sons to fish. The following passage describes the discussion between Norman and his father. Norman, of course, is the narrator.

He went to the door and looked out and when he came back he didn’t ask me any questions. He tried to tell me. He spoke in the abstract, but he had spent his life fitting abstractions to listeners so that listeners would have no trouble fitting his abstractions to the particulars of their lives.

“You are too young to help anybody and I am too old,” he said. “By help I don’t mean a courtesy like serving chokecherry jelly or giving money.”

“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.

“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, “Sorry, we are just out of that part.”

I told him, “You make it too tough. Help doesn’t have to be anything that big.”

He asked me, “Do you think your mother helps him by buttering his rolls?”

“She might,” I told him. “In fact, yes, I think she does.”

“Do you think you help him?” he asked me.

“I try to,” I said. “My trouble is I don’t know him. In fact, on of my troubles is that I don’t even know whether he needs help. I don’t know, that’s my trouble.”

“That should have been my text,” my father said. “We are willing to help, Lord, but what if anything is needed?

“I still know how to fish,” he concluded. “Tomorrow we will go fishing with him.”

(Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 81-82).

So, Norman and the Rev. John Maclean give “parts of themselves” to John and go fishing. They give their time, their passion, and their love as family members and fishermen. In the story, Norman indicates that this fishing trip was meaningful to all. Perhaps it was helpful, too. However, it was not so helpful that Paul was able find a path away from his troubles. In the story, he is beaten to death at Lolo Hot Springs. In real life, he met a similar end in Chicago.

I recently lost a friend. Her passing was a shock to all, especially to her family. Still, many of us knew she was struggling, and we offered those parts of ourselves that we thought might help. Admittedly, my friend and I never fished, though we certainly discussed it. Of course, I did offer other parts of myself–pieces of my life and practices that allow me to live successfully from day-to-day. I had hoped these offerings might help reorient my friend and find strength through her new connections in nature. Unfortunately, the reasons for her struggles were many and complex. And the help that I and other friends offered was not enough. As John Maclean says above, of all the parts of our lives we can offer to others, sometimes we just  “do not have the part that is needed.”

Rest easy now, Matoyaaki.


STS 908/3

December 8, 2017


November 27, 2017

“The Trout” and old Peetz “Reel Time” clock.

The items in the picture above usually sit on a shelf above my desk, at home. The reel on the left and the flasher in the background feature designs by Native artist Jason Henry Hunt. Hunt, a Kwaguilth descendant, collaborates with Peetz Fishing & Outdoors to produce their “Artist Series” of products. Hunt’s hand-carved 5-inch reel, called The Hunter, is particularly nice. Peetz offers laser-engraved versions of Hunt’s designs as more affordable alternatives to the hand-carved reels.

“The Hunter.” Photo from Peetz website.

The native fish of the the northwestern United States and western Canada are particularly important to many Tribes or First Nations. Therefore, some of the Tribes are actively involved in fisheries rehabilitation and conservation. Many Nonnatives simply consider tribal members as competitors for the same fish; they don’t understand the roles that Tribes play in ensuring the fish are there in the first place. Nor do they understand the sacred value the fish have for most tribal members. Peetz does understand these things. If you do too, you might look into ways that you can help support Native crafts-persons like Hunt or otherwise acknowledge the First Nations in the region, who help protect the waters we now share and the denizens therein.

The Reel in Black: Abel’s Johnny Cash Limited Edition

November 1, 2017

Abel has released a Johnny Cash themed “Super Series” fly reel. It is available in 5/6 and 7/8 sizes, which make it useful for fly fishers pursuing trout, steelhead, bonefish, and more. However, because the reel costs a minimum of $1,355.00, I suspect that most of the 250 reels made will sit on shelves.

Johnny Cash was a champion of the downtrodden. Some of his most popular songs focused on cotton pickers, prison inmates, and alcoholics. He devoted an entire album, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964) to Native Americans, helping to draw mainstream attention to the growing Native American civil rights movement. Despite experiencing a significant backlash for his advocacy, Cash became a major figure in American popular culture. I remember watching him on TV, sprawled on the floor of my grandma’s house in Dillon, Montana. Despite his somewhat dark past and what many considered to be radical views, people like my grandmother enjoyed watching and listening to him.

It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the cost of the reel memorializing him is so high. It is not a reel for the masses–the people about whom Cash sang.  Still, it’s a beauty, and Abel’s products are always high quality. So, do go ahead and take a look. And if you are one of the few who ends up owning one, I hope you use it. It always saddens me a bit when beautiful pieces of utilitarian art do not get put to work. I’m pretty sure that the Man in Black felt the same.


Repost: Ichabod Crane and the Angler

October 30, 2017
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).

M.W. Reynolds: “Shooting, Fly Fishing, Motorcycles, Apparel”

September 26, 2017

I was recently in Denver, Colorado for a conference. While there, I took the opportunity to visit the M.W. Reynolds store at 1616 Stout Street.  On it’s storefront window, M.W. Reynolds proclaims that it specializes in “Shooting, Fly Fishing, Motorcycles, and Apparel.” Behind the glass sits an early Norton Commando motorcycle. Inside the store is a 1960s Moto Morini and two Triumph motorcycles. Of course, there is also fly fishing tackle and a lot of other merchandise.

The fly fishing tackle includes a wide selection of graphite, fiberglass, and bamboo rods. Among the latter, you can find examples from such notable makers as D.L. Whitehead, Tim Zietak, and Gary Lacey. The store also sells a variety of reels, including beautiful s-handle reels from Bellinger and Saracione. To round thing out, the classic-minded angler can find vests and bags from Filson. Importantly, though, the store also sells plenty of more affordable fly fishing equipment. For instance, they stock Fenwick and Redington glass rods and entry-level Loop and Redington reels.

Amidst tables and racks of bags, motorcycling and sporting clothing, and grooming supplies, there is  large collection sporting books. These range from texts like Jim Corbet’s classic The Maneaters of Kumaon to Graydon Hilyard’s Bogdan, devoted to Stanley Bogdan’s masterpiece fly reels.

The staff are relaxed and very accommodating. If you are expecting them to be a bit stuffy, based upon the high-end nature of the merchandise they sell, you are completely wrong. So, if you are in Denver, be sure to visit the store. For those who enjoy contemporary classic tackle, it is a must. You can also find M.W. Reynolds online.

Public Access and the Threat of Theft

September 6, 2017

It often amazes me that I have easy access to such texts as a first edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653). In my mind, holding a book like this is a genuine privilege. 

When exercising this privilege, I sometimes wonder about the history of The Compleat Angler and other angling books. Who held them before I did? Who read them? And how did these texts influence their readers?

Title page. The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Izaak Walton, 1653, London: Maxey. Manuscripts, Archives, & Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

These special books are housed in Washington State University Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections. Specifically, The Compleat Angler and other angling texts are part of The Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Collection.  Assoc. Dean Dr. Trevor James Bond and the rest of the MASC librarians and staff do a great job of of caring for and protecting the texts. They also do a great job of balancing these duties with the need to make them accessible to the public. This is no small feat.

Cover. The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Izaak Walton, 1653, London: Maxey. Manuscripts, Archives, & Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

As it happens, WSU was the victim of the most prolific book thief in US history, Stephen Blumberg. Blumberg lived in Iowa but traveled throughout North America targeting various collections of rare and fine books, especially at universities. He used stealth, disguise, and incredible ingenuity to steal at least 23,000 books and manuscripts. He stole a huge number of these from WSU. After their theft was discovered, WSU Police Officer Steve Huntsberry played an active role in searching for the thief. Ultimately, Blumberg was betrayed by a friend to the FBI. At the time, in 1990, the collection of books and manuscripts discovered in Blumberg’s home was valued at approximately twenty million dollars. Below, you can see a short video of Huntsberry describing the case as well as some footage of Blumberg’s illicit collection.

Blumberg was eventually sentenced to spend four years in prison and to pay a large fine. In the meantime, WSU’s  main library was expanded to include the “Holland Addition.” MASC is now located in this new area, which happens to be a genuinely beautiful setting. Here, the rare books and manuscripts are protected not only by the librarians’ watchful eyes, but also by state-of-the-art security designed to deal with both human and environmental threats.

Fly fishers and other practitioners of field sports usually think of “public access” as having to do with the land. But it also relates to the cultural history of our activities and to historical understandings of why outdoor recreation is important. At WSU, you can access this information. If you find yourself in the area, I urge you to do so. And if you live elsewhere, you should see what you can find in your local libraries. You might be surprised.

For more information on Blumberg, look for Steve Huntsberry’s “The Legacy Thief: The Hunt for Stephen Blumberg,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 10, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 181-183. I also recommend Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (Holt, 1999), which includes a chapter on Blumberg.



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