Yale acquires Haslinger Breviary

January 17, 2017

Recently, the American Museum of Fly Fishing  offered an update on the Haslinger Breviary, noting that it had been purchased by Yale University. This devotional book, which contains material on fly fishing dating to between 1452 and 1462, was first publicized last year by Magg Bros. Ltd of London. I wrote about it when it was in their possession.

Maggs Bros., Ltd

Maggs Bros., Ltd

The Breviary was later analyzed and discussed in great detail by experts Richard C. Hoffman and Peter Kidd. They published their work in the spring 2016 issue of The American Fly Fisher: Journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing (wherein you will find the dates identified above). Hoffman is known in angling literature circles for his amazing book, Fisher’s Craft and Lettered Art: Tracts on Fishing from the End of the Middle Ages, and other writings.

Now that the book is owned by Yale, it will housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which reopened this last fall after renovations. The fact that this singular text has been acquired by a university rather than a private collector, is wonderful news.

The Shape of the Voyage

December 6, 2016

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Cover Art by Russell Chatham, from 1989’s The Theory & Practice of Rivers and New Poems (Clark City Press).

Jim Harrison (1937-2016), of whom I have written before, published The Theory and Practice of Rivers (Winn Books) in 1986. He included the poem of the same name in a later collection, as well. Here, I offer an excerpt from that lengthy poem–the first two stanzas. They appeal to me on this wintry December day that provokes the same sort of self-reflection found in Harrison’s poem.

The Theory and Practice of Rivers

The rivers of my life:
moving looms of light,
anchored beneath the log
at night I can see the moon
up through the water
as shattered milk, the nudge
of fishes, belly and back
in turn grating against log
and bottom; and letting go, the current
lifts me up and out
into the dark, gathering motion,
drifting into an eddy
with a sideways swirl,
the sandbar cooler than the air:
to speak it clearly,
how the water goes
is how the earth is shaped.

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage, how it pushed
outward in every direction
until it stopped:
roots of plants and trees,
certain coral heads,
photos of splintered lightning,
blood vessels,
the shapes of creeks and rivers.

 

 

PEETZ Fly Reel, featuring Kwagu’ł Art

November 30, 2016
I have written previously about the PEETZ reel company, located in British Columbia, and their collaboration with First Nations Kwagu’ł artist, Jason Henry Hunt (see “Kwagu’ł Hand-Carved Reel from PEETZ” and “More First Nations Artistry from PEETZ”). PEETZ makes traditional Nottingham style reels, so named for their association with Nottingham, England reel makers of the late 1800s and early 1900s. These reels are used in many styles of fishing, though PEETZ makes two that are specifically marketed to fly fishers.
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Not long ago, I received an early edition of a new 3.5 inch fly reel, engraved with the traditional coastal image of a trout designed by Hunt. This is my second 3.5 inch PEETZ fly reel. I am very happy with both reels and with the service I’ve received from PEETZ. The reels balance several of my bamboo and fiberglass fly rods well, and I also use one with an LL Bean “Trolling Series” fly rod.
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Father, Daughter, PEETZ.

I am attracted to the aesthetic of these reels, but I am also very happy with their performance. Made in BC from brass and sustainably harvested mahogany, they are as solid as can be. The 3.5 inch reel has plenty of room for backing, and the large arbor makes retrieving that backing and the fly line easy. The check helps prevent overspooling.
For me, the simple pressure drag system is usually adequate. For those occasions when more drag is needed, there is plenty of exposed spool to palm. You can also exert drag by pressing the line guard against the spool. This is a practice that the inventor of this type of line guide, Charles Henry Cook (pen name John Bickerdyke), recommended in his 1898 book Practical Letters to Young Sea Fishers.

Many anglers, including myself, had found that it was more pleasant to check the reel by pressing the wire line guard than by placing a finger on the circumference of the reel. Captain Barton has gone a step further. In the Andaman Islands the fish ran so strongly and wildly, that the ordinary check was of little use, the reel frequently overran, and his line was broken. He tried placing his finger on the rim of the reel, with the same result as it if had been place in a piece of red hot iron. This was when fishing for the cavalla. He then  worked out a very simply and effective brake. To the  upper crossbar of the Bickerdyke guard, he sewed on the end of a piece of webbing about 8in. or 9in. length, and a trifle less width than the crossbar.  The  other end of the webbing was whipped on to the rod above the reel, the webbing being kept fairly taught. The rod thus fitted is held with the hand above the webbing. When a check is required, the hand is slid down over the webbing, pressure on which causes the guard to press against the rim of the reel as strongly or lightly as the angler may wish. Letters, 311.

In short, I love these reels, and every interaction with the people at PEETZ has been very positive. I am particularly happy to promote First Nations art, with the acquisition of this latest reel. The Kwagu’ł and other First Nations of Canada and the US have been fishing for salmonids for centuries, and their respect for these fish is integral to their cultures. The PEETZ Artist Series reels serve as a reminder that we should all cultivate more respect for the non-human inhabitants of our environment.  And not only does PEETZ recognize First Nations cultures, they also help support the conservation efforts of  the Pacific Salmon Foundation. For all these reasons, I recommend looking into PEETZ reels.

Art, Friendship, and Dan Klein’s Flies

November 15, 2016

Dr. Dan Klein is a legendary Montana fly tier. A story that carries his legend transpired decades ago, but he was well known even before then. The story is recounted by Geoffrey Norman in a March 1982 Esquire article titled “The Sporting Art of Tying Flies.” In the article, Norman mentions numerous fly tiers of fame, but states that, of the flies he owns, he values Dr. Klein’s the most. He continues:

Klein’s hopper is what people in the trade call “imitative,” as opposed to “suggestive.” That is to say, it looks exactly like a grasshopper, right down to the eyes and antennae. The things are eerie, and they catch fish. Klein ties them from unorthodox materials–surgical tubing and things like that–but they are not sneered at by insiders. To the contrary, they are prized, and prized very highly. One of the best rodmakers in the country traded Klein a cane rod, made to Klein’s specifications, for five of those hoppers. If you cold persuade him to take your order, he would charge you a thousand dollars or more for building a rod like that. When they decided to trade, Klein and the rodmaker asked other fly-fishermen to establish the terms. Three celebrated anglers studied the problem and then calculated what was fair. 132.

The rodmaker mentioned by Norman is the late Gary Howells. His bamboo rods remain among the most acclaimed and obviously cost much more now than they did in 1982 (I see several listed for sale online at prices between two and three thousand dollars). The famous trade is recounted in greater detail by Joseph Beelart, Jr., in his 2013 biography of Howells, titled “Howells: The Bamboo Fly Rods & Fly Fishing History of Gary H. Howells” (Whitefish Press).

Klein's Hopper

Klein’s Hopper

Dr. Klein achieved his renown when he lived in Idaho and fished the Henry’s Fork regularly. In 1976, he and his family moved to Helena, Montana. His youngest daughter began second grade that year a bit late. I joined that same class just days earlier, having recently moved with my family from Dillon, Montana. We have been close friends ever since, sharing similar paths in life, personal views, and so on.

Dr. Klein’s daughter blessed me recently with the gift of a hopper tied by her father. The personal connection–a connection I do not have with the other collectible Montana flies I own, such as those tied by the amazing Jack Boehme–makes the fly particularly special. Like Norman, however, and like Howells and many others,  I also view the hopper as a genuine work of art. And I happen to believe we need more art in our lives right now, and the beauty art so often conveys, no matter how small and mundane that art may seem.

Dr. Klein and his flies, in Beelart's book.

Dr. Klein and his flies, as pictured in Beelart’s book.

Advice from Walton

November 14, 2016

Isaac Walton wrote and published The Compleat Angler in an England that bears some resemblance to the contemporary United States. The nation–and other parts of Great Britain–were ripped apart by division between what some might view as populists and somewhat more liberal (religiously, at least) “establishment” parties. In mid-seventeenth century England, this division was manifested in the bloody English Civil Wars.

For all its turmoil, America is not at war internally, but the division is great. Therefore, we might find useful wisdom in Walton’s work (obviously, an obsessed fly fisher such as myself would think so). To that end, I offer the following words from Walton to those who blindly support “ostentatious” leaders (and there are many of them). The spelling, style, and punctuation are Walton’s.

I would rather prove myself to be a Gentleman, by being learned and humble, valiant and inoffensive, virtuous and communicable, than by any fond ostentation of riches; or (wanting
these Vertues my self) boast that these were in my ancestors.

Isaac Walton, The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation, 1st ed. (1653) 13.

Author and Cartoonist H.M. Bateman

September 30, 2016
The Last Trout. From The Tattler. Copyright H.M. Bateman Designs, www.hmbateman.com.

The Last Trout. From The Tattler. Copyright H.M. Bateman Designs, http://www.hmbateman.com.

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.

End-of-Day

August 29, 2016
Night at the Cabin

The Evening Scene, at the Cabin

 

“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.

Samurais, Fishing Poles, and The Loss of Tradition

August 18, 2016

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.

Japan’s gorgeous, precarious fishing poles

Book Announcement: By a Thread: A Retrospective on Women and Fly Tying

August 2, 2016

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.

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Dust jacket image from Whitefish Press website.

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.

KL

Worrying, in Good Company

July 27, 2016

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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.


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