Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category

Growing interest in classic fly fishing, according to WSJ

October 6, 2020

I thought some of you may be interested in a Wall Street Journal Magazine article published today, Oct. 6, entitled “The Fly-Fishing Boom is Finally Here” (click the title to read). The piece is authored by Darrell Hartman. The subheading of the article is “A new generation of fly-fishing fans is turning toward the soulful history of the sport with sought-after vintage gear.” In reality, the article addresses more than gear, though many of us do tend to obsess over stuff.

Here is a quote from the article, addressing the growing popularity of fly-fishing, in general:

The sport is on the rise. In fact, it hasn’t been this ascendant in decades, industry experts say—not since the early ’90s, to be precise, when images of a young Brad Pitt casting for Montana trout in A River Runs Through It sent droves of neophytes to their nearest Orvis dealer.

Readers will recognize many venerable names in the article, both of fly fisher figures as well as tackle. Before reading, though, keep in mind that high-end gear, trips to exotic locations, and collectible books are not necessary to the enjoyment of this sport. Indeed, I suggest that our fascination with such things really represents a desire for a time when streams were less crowded, watersheds were less polluted, quiet time (away from electronic devices) was easier to find, and so on. So, enjoy the nostalgia, but remember that it cannot replace our need to protect nature and its denizens, including trout. Also remember that consumerism will do little to help our conservation efforts.

Thanks to Munsey Whebe, a humble maker of fine bamboo fly rods, and a guy who understand what’s important, for pointing out the article.

River Voice: Poems by Gary Metras

July 26, 2020

I have shared the poetry of Gary Metras before. His latest collection of poems is titled River Voice. Gary happens to own and run Adastra Press. Sadly, this book will be the press’ last publication. All of the books Gary releases-those he authored himself and others–are printed by letterpress and bound by hand. So, Gary is not only an artist with words, he is also an artist of ink, paper, and thread.

Like most people, I read a fair amount of digital texts. These range from articles I read for work, retrieved from my university’s library website, to books that my wife and I read for pleasure with each other, on a Kindle, in the evening. Yet, for me, there is no substitute for physical books. If there is a text that I know I may turn to again-and-again, or even which I would simply like to be reminded of, I typically by a hardback copy and put it on my shelf. Sometimes, I even buy a physical copy of a book I initially ready in digital form.

In a world were relationships to our fellow humans, to the animals, to the plants, and to the water are mediated through the glass of a car window, the glare of a computer screen, a phone to the ear, and so on, I value materiality. Without it, I think, we can forget how fragile the world around us is and how fragile we often are when faced directly with it.

So, a physical book–particularly a letter-press book like Gary’s that is manifestation of his hands and heart–is special. I suspect Gary feels much as I do. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have founded Adastra Press back in 1979. There is evidence of his appreciation for the material in his poems, as well. Consider the following, from River Voice.

A Strand of Partridge Feather

The pleasure of small tasks,
tying some trout flies,
reading some pages
of a friend’s new book of poems.
I pick up a pencil to mark
a line beautifully formed
and stuck to the knife-sharpened point,
a single strand of partridge feather
clinging to the graphite.
Some forces need be unseen,
the way words can by-pass
the mind and adhere the heart. Five flies, five poems.
Just enough.

When I read this poem, I can feel myself sitting at a desk, like the author. I can smell the incense cedar of the freshly sharpened pencil, I can feel the crispness of new books pages. Of course, I can see the scene that is the setting of the poem as well. But Gary reminds us the materiality is often more than what we can see.

This is one of the reasons I love books. I can see words just as well on a screen as I can on a leaf of paper. But, reading the former, I lack the touch, and smells, and sounds that remind me the words are written by a person like me. Thus, it is easier for me to enter into a relationship with the author when I read their words on a page. Admittedly, this relationship may be an imaginary one. After all, written words are a form of abstraction themselves.

Even in fly fishing, though so many authors have described it in nearly mystical terms (I’ll spare you the scholarly lecture on mysticism), there is a degree of abstraction–a distance–that prevents us from truly knowing the non-human world around us. I cannot know everything that the water carries from the places it previously traveled, I cannot know what the trout truly feels, and I cannot even be certain what the angler around the bend is thinking about. But I can feel their impact upon me. And I can see their vulnerabilities and their strengths. And that allows for a type of relationship I cannot achieve, when sitting sitting on my ass at home watching fishing videos on YouTube (honestly, this is not something I do).

The colophon of River Voice tells the reader that is was “letterpress printed from hand-set metal type,” in 100 copies signed and numbered by Gary Metras. “Printed sheets were gathered, collated, sewn and bound from July to October 2019 as the poet continued his fly-fishing quest for the perfect trout.” There is also an expended, trade version of the book, titled River Voice II, available through Amazon. I recommend it highly.

 

Quarantine, Hemingway Style

April 16, 2020

I have previously posted about Ernest Hemingway, who–love him or hate him–is impossible to ignore in the world of angling literature. If you didn’t know he wrote about fishing outside of “A Big Two-Hearted River” Parts I & II and The Old Man and the Sea, I recommend reading Hemingway on Fishing (The Lyons Press, 2000). This is a compilation of his angling writings collected and edited by Nick Lyons.

Town & Country published a short piece by journalist Lesley M.M. Blume recently about a quarantine endured by Hemingway’s small family in 1926. Blume adapted the essay, titled “Hemingway was once Quaratined with his Wife.. and Mistress,” from her 2016 bestselling book, Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises (Eamon Dolan/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt). There is no fishing in the piece I’m afraid, but it is an amusing read during this time when we’re all holed up, to one extent or another. I only hope your situtaion is better than Hemingway’s was and that you treat your partner far better.

If you need further entertainment, you might read Blume’s book or listen to an interview with her, just published on March 18. You can find it at the Hemingway Society’s One True Podcast. You might also enjoy the interview with Susan Beegal on Hemingway, blue water fishing, and taxidermy.

Stay safe and respect others.

Distance

March 25, 2020

I think most of us tend to enjoy some quiet, which is most easily found away from our human peers. Even Dame Juliana Berners, or whoever actually wrote the 15th century classic The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle, emphasized that solitude or “social distance” is an ideal part of fishing. This is the case, at least, for those of us who fish for meaning as well as game. She writes:

For when  you intend to go to your amusements in fishing, you will not want very many persons with you, who might inder youu in your pastime. And then you can serve God deveoutly by earnestly saying your customary prayers. And in so doing, you will eschew and avoid many vices, such as idleness, which is the pricipal cuase of inciting a man to many otehr vices, as it right well known. (Modernization of text by Sherman Kuhn, and published in John McDonold’s The Origins of Angling, 1957).

I hope that each of you are able to enjoy some time outdoors–away from your germ-carrying fellow humans–during these challenging days. If not, perhaps consider rereading The Treatyse or some other classic angling texts. Soon, I will post an updated recommended reading list, in hopes that it may be of help in this pursuit. As always, I welcome suggestions from readers.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this helpful guide to social distancing, from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department.

Image may contain: text

 

Paul Maclean, in Print

September 9, 2019
The image of Paul Maclean published that appeared with the Missoulian’s announcement of Maclean’s murder.

Today, in the Missoulian, Kim Briggeman dedicates the weekly “Missoula Rewound” column to tracing Paul Maclean’s life, as it appeared in the paper. The Missoulian, of course, is the local paper for Missoula, Montana, where Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs through It and Other Tales, and his brother Paul grew up. Briggeman’s article is titled “The rise and fall of a Missoula kid.”

In A River, Norman portrays his brother as an “artist” with a fly rod. He also portrays him as intelligent and caring, but far too attracted to gambling, drinking, and general risk-taking. The novella is largely autobiographical, but it does depart from the true story of Norman’s and Paul’s lives, at times. The novella’s implication that Paul would never leave Montana and that he died as a result of gambling debt’s are two of these departures. By citing news about the the two brothers, reported during their lives, Briggeman casts light upon these matters and many others. Fans of Norman’s literary work will enjoy the article.

Gierach on the almost religious devotion to bamboo

August 13, 2019

Most readers are probably familiar with Colorado author John Gierach. He has become one of angling’s most popular writers, in the years following the 1986 publication of his best known book Trout Bum (Pruett Publishing).

Gierach earned special affection from many bamboo rod fly fishers 1997, when he published Fishing Bamboo (Lyons Press). Since fiberglass and, later, graphite became standard rod-making materials, bamboo has become a niche material. Still, there are many contemporary makers of bamboo rods. And there are many older rods, having been produced for well over one hundred years now, in circulation. I sometime use some older rods myself.

Gierach recently published a new short essay on bamboo rods in the business news magazine Bloomberg. The essays is titled “The Quasi-Religious, Damn-Near-Irrational Appeal of Bamboo Fishing Rods” (August 8, 2019). You can find the article, accompanied by pictures of fine contemporary rods, here.

Book Recommendation: Moving Water, by Dave Hall

January 5, 2019

Many anglers are attracted to the aesthetic aspects of fly fishing. I refer not only to the spiritual or contemplative qualities of the pursuit, written about so often by Isaac Walton and others. Nor do I refer simply to the careful study or, in some cases, apprenticeship required for one to fish well–a phenomenon that is also written about extensively. Rather, I refer primarily to the sense of beauty, experienced visually and otherwise, in the places we fish. Sometimes, of course, this sense of beauty intersects with the spiritual. Indeed, over five centuries ago, the author of The Treatyse of Fyshingn wyth an Angle told us that smelling the flowers and listening to the melodies of the birds along the river bank, and even catching the occasional fish. is good for the “health of our body and soul.”

But this beauty is not easily conveyed in words or other images. Occasionally, however, someone succeeds in doing so.  For instance, I have previously written about my appreciation of friend Claudiu Presecan’s paintings. Today, I write about the work of Dave Hill, who lives in the Rocky Mountain West. Hall is a rare individual, who has been able to capture the beauty of the places we fish in brushstrokes as well as words. He shares both in his new book, Moving Water: an Artist’s Reflections on Fly Fishing, Friendship, and Family (Blaine Creek, 2019).

Moving Water is a hardbound book with dust-jacket, that includes both single-page and full-spread, color reproductions of Hall’s paintings. Many of these depict the Yellowstone area of the American West. Along with the paintings are autobiographical reflections upon Hall’s life.
Hall’s paintings are both ethereal and very realistic, at the same time. Thus, they convey the sense of beauty that I describe above. In the paintings, anyone familiar with the West, or similar landscapes in other parts of the world, will recognize their own experiences of such beauty immediately. Because the written narrative accompanying the pictures is rather poetic, the words complement the pictures perfectly, and they provide an understanding of who Hall is, how his family influenced him, what his friends and fellow anglers were like, and so on. As a result, the words, along with the familiarity conveyed by the paintings, almost make you feel as if you are reacquainting yourself with an old friend, in the shape of Hall.

Rather than share my own, inevitably poor photographs of Hall’s work, I share an image from the artist’s website. This painting is featured in the book, and it is titled “Dawn on the Henry’s Fork.” It is one of my favorites.

I urge you to visit the Dave Hall Landscape Art to see more paintings. And you should visit Dave Hall’s Moving Water to learn more about his book and to place an order. You can also order postcards, posters, and more.
Hall’s paintings really do capture the Montana and Idaho with which I am acquainted; I can almost smell the flowers and hear the melodies of the birds, as recommended by the Treatyse’s author, just by looking at Hall’s paintings. Take a look; you may feel the same.

A.A. Luce on “The Fisherman,” by W.B. Yeats.

October 27, 2018

Yeats in 1908. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn

Irish poet William Butler Yeats, winner of the 1923 Nobel prize in literature, published “The Fisherman” in 1919. In the poem, Yeats describes his past observation of a fly fisherman. In his memory, this man represents a simple life, free from the daily pressures most of us face. No doubt, Yeats faced serious pressures, indeed; when he wrote “The Fisherman,” he was already a successful poet and felt many demands upon his time and talents. And he had been deeply involved in Irish nationalism and would immerse himself in politics again, in the future.
I share the poem, below. Following it is commentary upon its meaning by A.A. Luce. Importantly, Luce was a philosopher and a fly fisher, himself.
“The Fisherman”
Although I can see him still—
The freckled man who goes
To a gray place on a hill
In gray Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies—
It’s long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I’d looked in the face
What I had hoped it would be
To write for my own race
And the reality:
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved—
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer—
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.
Maybe a twelve-month since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face
And gray Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark with froth,
And the down turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream—
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, “Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn.
A.A. Luce, as a professor at Trinity College Dublin, was a colleague and acquaintance of Yeats’. In his remarkable Fishing and Thinking (Swan Hill, 1959), he wonders why Yeats chose to write about an angler:
Why did he pitch on angling, of all occupations? Why did he idealize the angler? It could not have been an accident. He must have found something in his own angling that answered a felt need. Was it objectivity, the sense of control by the object? The artistic imagination is in special need of such control and values it. When one’s sense of reality is perturbed, and the line between the real and the imaginary wavers, and perhaps the point approaches when “nothing is but what is not”, a day on a river is wonderful cure. It takes us out of ourselves, and confronts us with the comforting blank wall of something not ourselves, and confronts us with the comforting blank wall of something not ourselves, to which our sensing, imagining, thinking and action must conform. The sanity of the angler’s outlook commends angling to the sick in mind.  …. The fresh air, the open spaces, the physical exercise, the nature of the occupation and the objectivity of the chase combine to make angling a sedative and a general tonic for the occupational dis-ease of the man of letters. (83)
I like Yeats’ poem, despite what feels to me like a bit of whining on its author’s part. I have faced my share of challenges, but my life is filled with blessings. One of them is the fact that I can fish regularly. As Luce suggests and perhaps as Yeats felt too, I find “the real” when I fish or otherwise spend time free from many of expectations and requirement placed upon me by those with whom I have very little meaningful connection. I was interested to hear a guest lecturer in my angling literature course say much the same thing this last week, and I wonder how many others feel the same. Regardless, I look forward to a good sleep and to experiencing reminders of what is “real’ tomorrow on the stream.
Addendum (11/5/18):  I found mention of Yeats in this essay on occult bookstores, published this morning, to be intriguing: “Reading the Occult,” by Neil Armstrong.

Missoula’s Paul Bunyan

October 8, 2018

Today’s Missoulian, the local newspaper of Missoula, Montana, features an article on legendary Montana fly fishing figure Norman Means, aka “Paul Bunyan.” Means is probably most widely  known as the creator of the “Bunyan Bug” fly, fished in Norman Macleans’ A River runs Through It. The article, by Kim Briggeman, is based upon the many mentions of Means in various editions of the Missoulian published during the last century.

For instance, Briggeman offers this quote from a 1928 article: “Norman is a believer in the use of Western Montana products. He makes all his own fishing tackle, and turns out a few fly rods for his friends. These rods have life and endurance, and they are peculiarly adapted to Montana streams because their maker puts them together knowing exactly the kind of water they will be used in.”

It’s a great article, for those interested in Montana’s early and often enigmatic fly tiers. Read it here: “Missoula Rewound: Bunyan fished, Means danced through the heart of the 20th Century.”

A Means tied Bunyan Bug and a Jack Boehme Balsa Bug. They sit on a 1989 edition of A River, featuring wood engraved illustrations by Barry Moser. Boehme was another renowned Missoula fly tier.

Hands-on Literary History

September 18, 2018

I have previously written that Washington State University, where I work, has a massive collection of rare angling  texts housed in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections department. The collection includes over 15,000 items and continues to grow. Last week, I took the Honors College students enrolled in my class, “Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Play in ‘Nature,'” to see some of the texts.

The students just read the Middle English essay “A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth and Angle” (late fifteenth c.),  and Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation (1653) is next on their list. So it is no small thing for them to see and handle an incunable copy of the Treatyse (as included in The Boke of St Albans) and a first and many other editions of The Complete Angler.

Following are a few pictures taken during our visit. I’m grateful to Dr. Trevor James Bond, Associate Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections, for welcoming the students to the collection. Dr. Bond is a passionate and engaging host.

Boke of St Albans, incunable.

 

First and other editions of The Compleat Angler (MASC holds 506 copies)

 

Dr. Bond engages students in discussion.

 

 

The shimmering quality of this hand-painted illustration in Freshwater Fishes, is due to the inclusion of ground fish scales in the paint.


%d bloggers like this: