John Betts’ handwritten Legacy

June 8, 2018

John Betts of Colorado has authored several, beautiful books devoted to angling topics. His 1980 publication, Synthetic Flies, first brought him wide attention. Even Sports Illustrated  highlighted the fly tying innovations represented in Synthetic Flies. In 1981, SI published an article on Betts, authored by Robert Boyle, titled “Gotcha! Hook, Line, and Lingerie”  Since then, Betts has written about making split wood fly rods (note, bamboo, used in split cane rods, is a grass), hand-building fly reels, and more.

What I admire most about Betts’ work is that his creativity extends beyond the topics of his books to the creation of the books themselves. He hand writes, rather than types, and personally illustrates each book. Moreover, the meanings of his words run much, much deeper than subjects at hand. Indeed, he writes poetically about tackle construction and other matters. In recent years, Betts has worked with editor and publisher Michael Hackney, of Reel Lines Press and The Eclectic Angler (and initially in association with The Whitefish Press), to make his books–old and new–available. I purchased a copy of the latest Betts book, Patterns.

Hackney writes of Betts’ texts, on the Reel Lines Press web page, that “each book is a work of art unto itself.” This is certainly true of this newest book. The content, writing, drawing, and paintings are wonderful. It is soft covered, and only 200 copies will be produced. Even if you do not need a new fly tying book, which (on the surface) is primarily what Patterns is, you owe it to yourself to examine a Betts book. No doubt, he has already written about a topic that will appeal to you.

Betts describes his creative process, including his use of a Rotring pen.

 

Betts discusses Frederic Halford and other historical tyers, in Patterns.

 

An example of Betts’ tying instructions, in Patterns.

Home Again

June 1, 2018

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Fly Fishing Royalty

May 24, 2018

It is well-known that fly fishing has a place in the traditions of Britain’s Royal Family. This is, in part, due to fact that tackle manufacturer Hardy has long publicized their Royal Warrants. Hardy, which dates back to 1872, has held four warrants from British Royal Family members over the years. Currently, it holds a warrant from Charles, Prince of Wales, who is now one of only three Royal Family members who can issue them. Anyone who uses Hardy tackle is familiar with the emblem of this warrant, below. Hardy also uses a castle logo, though this has to do with their being based in the Northumberland town of Alnwick and their proximity to the famous Alnwick castle.

Lately, many eyes have been focused upon Britain’s Royal family, due to the marriage of Prince Harry to American Meghan Markle. Personally, I have little interest in such things, as what some might call a salaried proletariat and despiser of celebrity culture, but I do obviously have an interest in fly fishing history. Here, then, I share a bit of information about the current princes’ interest in the activity.

At this link to the photography of Leslie Donald, you can view some great pictures of Prince Charles teaching his son Harry to cast. In one photograph, Harry has clearly hooked his father with a fly. Any fly fishing parent, royal or not, can relate to this.

It turns out, though, that the ‘official companion’ to Princes William and Harry (and personal assistant to Charles) also had a hand in boys’ angling education. Below, you can see this woman, Alexandra Shân ‘Tiggy’ Pettifers (formerly Legge-Bourke) wading across the River Dee in Wales with the two boys. Tiggy has described her love of fishing with the Royal Family and practicing other field sports. In fact, after leaving royal service, she became a fly fishing guide. She now runs a bed and breakfast, featuring trout and salmon fishing on the River Usk, in Wales, called Ty’r Chanter.  She was born to a rather high-class family herself, and the B&B is located near her family estate, Glanusk Park. She is also a fund-raiser for the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which is dedicated to the preservation of wild Atlantic salmon.  She seems to focus her attention, as a guide, on teaching kids and women to fly fish.

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‘Friends for life: the princes in the River Dee with Tiggy’ Photo: Reuters

Dogs and Night

May 16, 2018

Jim Harrison, “Friends,” In Search of Small Gods” (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), 74.

University Angling Literature Honors Course

April 25, 2018

Next year, I am happily offering my course on angling literature and culture again. I look forward to sharing some thoughts, as the students and I move through some great texts and discussions together. It’s a great pleasure to teach this course here at Washington State University, where we have a huge collection of fishing and other field sports literature.

Lokensgard Honors '18

A Legend Passes

April 18, 2018

I wrote previously about Dr. Dan Klein, in my ‘Art, Friendship, and Dan Klein’s Flies‘ post of 2016. Dr. Klein was a legendary Montana fly tyer and the father of my oldest friend. His tying fame extended well beyond the banks of his beloved Henry’s Fork.  Essays about him even appeared in Esquire Magazine and, more recently, in Joe Beelart’s book, “Howells: The Bamboo Fly Rods & Fly Fishing History of Gary H. Howells” (Whitefish Press).

Sadly, Dr. Klein has passed. His obituary, written by his loving daughter, Janet, appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle today. Those who read it, will see that Dr. Klein lived a full and admirable life, and that fly fishing featured heavily.

One of these days ….

March 3, 2018

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

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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.

http://kuow.org/post/why-don-t-you-see-people-sized-salmon-anymore

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.

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

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Kita-boshi pencils and Kaweco Skyline Sport.

Help

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.

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