The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, MT, currently features a special exhibit titled “Hooked: Fishing in Montana.” The exhibit is located in their hallway gallery and will run until early 2018. Items displayed in the survey of all sorts of fishing practices range from a mid-nineteenth century Nez Perce dugout canoe to fly fishing tackle. Among the latter are numerous items associated with Norman Maclean, author of beloved A River Runs Through It and other Stories (Chicago, 1976). These include a Granger “Champion” bamboo rod fished by Norman, as well as a Leonard rod fished by his father, the Reverend John Maclean. Anyone passionate about the history of what we now call Montana and, of course, anyone passionate about the history of fly fishing, will enjoy the exhibit.In general, the MHS Museum is excellent. Fishing aside, the museum is worth a visit for the exhibit of Charlie Russell (1864-1926) artwork, alone. Another exhibit “Neither Empty nor Unknown: Montana at the Time of Lewis and Clark” is also very well done. Notably, the representation of Indigenous peoples, coordinated with tribal representatives, is prominent.
Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category
Online magazine The Montana Mint published a list of recommended books about Montana recently. The post is titled “The Greatest Books Ever Written About Montana.” The claim implied in this title is quite a stretch, but they do recommend some wonderful books. Some of these I recommend to you, in turn.
Of course, you are already familiar with Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (1976). Maclean fans might also enjoy Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western World (1980), in which the author is nearly as poetic about the Montana landscape as Maclean. The Montana Mint lists several other Doig titles, as well.
Another worthwhile read is A.B. Guthrie, Jr’s The Big Sky (1947). This classic novel is a deeply engaging and sometimes disturbing fictional account of the mountain men, set during the first half of the 1800s. It left quite an impression upon me, as a young man. Its 1949 sequel, The Way West, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
For a Native American perspective upon the sort of Indian/white interactions described by Guthrie, read James Welch’s Fools Crow (1986). Welch was a Gros Ventre/Blackfeet author, who remains a looming figure in Native American literature. In Fools Crow, he tells the story of a fictionalized Piikani Blackfoot man. The story culminates with the 1870 Bear Creek (Marias River) Massacre, during which the US Army murdered approximately 200 Piikanis. Fools Crow does not mesh perfectly with Blackfoot oral histories, but it is a compelling book that certainly conveys Native emotions about such devastating events as that which occurred in 1870.
For the full list of books recommended by The Montana Mint, see their post.
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.
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 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,
the shapes of creeks and rivers.
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).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.
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.
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.
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.
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.