Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category

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

Book Announcement: Backcasts: A Global History of Flyfishing & Conservation

June 30, 2016

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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

Acknowledgments

Introduction. A Historical View: Wading through the History of Angling’s Evolving Ethics
Samuel Snyder

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
Brent Lane
3 The Fly Fishing Engineer: George T. Dunbar, Jr., and the Conservation Ethic in Antebellum America
Greg O’Brien

Part Two: Geographies of Sport and Concern
4. Protecting a Northwest Icon: Fly Anglers and Their Efforts to Save Wild Steelhead
Jack Berryman
5 Conserving Ecology, Tradition, and History: Fly Fishing and Conservation in the Pocono and Catskill Mountains
Matthew Bruen
6 From Serpents to Fly Fishers: Changing Attitudes in Blackfeet Country toward Fish and Fishing
Ken Lokensgard
7 Thymallus tricolor: The Michigan Grayling
Bryon Borgelt

Part Three: Native Trout and Globalization
8 “For Every Tail Taken, We Shall Put Ten Back”: Fly Fishing and Salmonid Conservation in Finland
Mikko Saikku
9 Trout in South Africa: History, Economic Value, Environmental Impacts, and Management
Dean Impson
10 Holy Trout: New Zealand and South Africa
Malcolm Draper
11 A History of Angling, Fisheries Management, and Conservation in Japan
Masanori Horiuchi

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
Arn Keeling
14 The Origin, Decline, and Resurgence of Conservation as a Guiding Principle in the Federation of Fly Fishers
Rick Williams
15 It Takes a River: Trout Unlimited and Coldwater Conservation
John Ross

Conclusion. What the Future Holds: Conservation Challenges and the Future of Fly Fishing
Jack Williams and Austin Williams

Epilogue
Chris Wood, CEO, Trout Unlimited

Appendix. Research Resources: A List of Libraries, Museums, and Collections Covering Sporting History, Especially Fly Fishing
Contributors
Index

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.

April 28, 2016

The following poem is by John Stoddart, published by his daughter Anna. She included it in he 1899 collection, Angling Songs, with a Memoir.

Stoddart

A PICTURE.

We listen by the waters blue to voices that we love;
Sweet flowers are twinkling at our side, and willow leaves above;
Before us feeds the fearless trout, emerging from the calm,
And bleats behind the fleecy ewe upon its wandering lamb.

Delicious musings fill the heart, and images of bliss;
Ah! that all pictures of the past were innocent as this,–
That life were like a summer trance beneath a willow wide,
Or the ramble of an angler lone along the river-side.

Book Binder, Fly Fisher

April 4, 2016

A former student sent me a Pittsburg Post-Gazette article today, about S.A. Neff, Jr. Mr. Neff is an avid fly fisher, and he is well-known for his custom bindings of angling texts. His work has been exhibited at the American Museum of Fly Fishing and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with antiquarian books will know there is a long history of collectors having favorite texts rebound with high quality covers. Of course, there are also those angling authors, who had certain of their own editions bound in unusually high-quality, hand-worked boards. I have seen Neff’s work before, but I did not know anything about the craftsman himself.

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The article sent by my student is titled, “Fish or make books? S.A. Neff Jr. of Sewickley does both (April 3, 2016). Its author, Marylynne Pitz, provides a bit of information about Neff, but describes his book binding and angling texts collection in greater detail. Of his complementary passions–book binding and fly fishing–Pitz writes:

The same hand-eye coordination required in trout fishing has served the 78-year-old well in pursuing his piscatorial passion. Hand-tying a fly takes skill and patience. Creating a leather-bound book or a drop-back box that holds letters requires artistry, craft and a microscopic level of attention to detail.

Pitz also notes there is a documentary about Mr. Neff and announces an upcoming showing (see picture). The film is The Bibliophile as Bookbinder–The Angling Bindings of S.A. Neff, Jr. (2014). I have not seen the film, but I look forward to doing so, now that it is on my horizon. In the meantime, you can read more about Mr. Neff in the Spring 2000 issue of the The American Fly fisher: Journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing (26, 2: 2-11) and in the January 14 issue of Sports Illustrated. In the former, you will find numerous pictures of his work.

 

The International Trout Congress

March 24, 2016

Last year, I posted information about the first meeting of the International Trout Congress. That meeting had to be postponed, but it is now scheduled for October of this year. Called The World of Trout, the meeting will take place on October 2 through 6 of 2016, in Bozeman, Montana. Following is a description of the meeting from their website (featuring their logo):

trout-congress_no-bg_final_forwebNative trout are found in a variety of habitats in North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. While no trout species were native to the southern hemisphere, trout have been widely introduced, and are now resident throughout its temperate zones as well. This dichotomy of native northerner and exotic southerner provides just one example of the rich fabric that The World of Trout will explore during this 5-day event, bringing together some of the world’s leading thinkers to synthesize knowledge about the species and discuss its future across the globe. At the same time, trout are the passion of non-scientists who spend time angling for them, writing about them and capturing them on canvas and on film. Probably no other species have been written about, painted and photographed more than trout. As technology has changed, trout in the blogosphere, in film festivals, and now captured on social media has allowed everyone to be part of the trout conversation. The World of Trout is organized both as a congress and a celebration.

As a congress, the aim is to assemble an international body for a series of structured lectures and discussions on the relationship between trout and humans. The World of Trout will focus its discussions on themes that include the diversity and role of trout worldwide, conservation issues, and trout in the literature, in the arts, and in the classroom. One unique feature of The World of Trout is “Trout Conversations” where discussions around a “place” that brings together all of the conference themes will be explored. There will be a number of these discussions throughout the event. A partial list of themes to be explored through invited papers, workshops, and informal gatherings included [sic]:

The rich diversity of trout
Trout in the literature…..then and now
What do trout teach us about ourselves?
The role of trout in outdoor and indoor classrooms
Conservation challenges to protecting trout
The economic benefit of trout in communities worldwide
Trout on canvas and in film – expanding artistic expression through multiple media
The role of trout in social and ecological communities
The future of trout in the next 100 years
Developing an international network for trout conservation

The International Trout Congress has issued a “Call for Sessions.” Proposals are due on April 1. Submit yours here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Donne on the Lures of Love in Difficult Times

March 2, 2016

John Donne was a gifted poet and reluctant religious figure. Donne was born in London, to Roman Catholic parents, in 1572. His family suffered directly from the Church of England’s repression of Catholics. Donne, himself, converted to Anglicanism, and subsequently received financial support for his poetry and even served in Parliament.  He became an Anglican priest, at the insistence of King James I. He died n 1631, just as James’ son and successor, Charles I, was experienced increasing resistance from religious and political dissenters, especially the Puritans and other Calvinist Protestants. Charles, of course, was beheaded in 1649, by the then Anglican dominated Parliament.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

Donne lived a full life; he was well-educated, he travelled extensively, and he served in the navy. No doubt, these and other experiences, and the forced self-examination of his religious stance, contributed to the quality of his poetry. He is perhaps best known for his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. “The Bait” is an earlier poem and is written in response to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (1599).

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham's 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham’s 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Donne was clearly a respected author in his lifetime, though his fame was no doubt helped along by Isaac Walton. Most of us know Walton as the author of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation (1653). However, he also published a biography of Donne in 1640. Moreover, Walton later included “The Bait” in The Complete Angler. In this text, his character Viator says he loves Donne’s verses “because they allude to rivers, and fish, and fishing.”  Following is “The  Bait.”

The Bait

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there th’enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou darken’st both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.

7th Annual Hemingway Festival

February 10, 2016

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As most of his readers know, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Ernest Hemingway lived in Ketchum, Idaho, just prior to his 1961 death. He visited the Ketchum area over the course of many years, before moving there. In Idaho, he skied, fly fished, hunted birds, and wrote. It is appropriate, then, that the Creative Writing Program at the University of Idaho in Moscow sponsors the Hemingway Review journal, which  “specializes in researched scholarship on the work and life of Ernest Hemingway.” UI also holds an annual festival to honor the literary legacy of Ernest Hemingway, as well as the recipient of the Hemingway/PEN award.

This year, the Hemingway Festival will take place from March 2 to March 5. You can purchase tickets here. If you happen to attend, look me up. Living in Moscow (though working in WA), being obsessed with fly fishing, and having read and taught Hemingway’s work, I will be there.

EH 4074P  Ernest Hemingway in Idaho, not dated. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway in Idaho, not dated. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Jim Harrison’s Calling

January 2, 2016

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Dean Kuipers, published on December 18, author and angler Jim Harrison (about whom I have written here) describes  being “called” to writing when he was 19-years-old:

I was out on the roof at night in the summer, stars, the Milky Way, and I got just absorbed into poetry,” Harrison recalls. “I thought it was actually my calling that night. And then, when my dad and my sister got killed [in a car accident] a couple years later, I realized that even though I was married there couldn’t be any higher obligation on earth. Because if people you love die what are you going to do?

As uneven and often rough as his writing can be, in my opinion, Harrison has taken his obligation as a writer more seriously than most. This is especially the case with his poetry. Judging by his talk with Kuipers, his new collection of poems, Dead Man’s Float (2016) will be no exception. You can order it directly from the publisher, Copper Canyon Press. And for more of the interview with an unusually introspective Harrison, read “Jim Harrison on spirits, bad poetry and the wonder of nature.”

Possibility

December 8, 2015

In preparing for the Honors class I teach today, I was rereading Mark Browning’s Haunted by Waters: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (Ohio University Press, 1998). Reading a work for a second or third time almost always reveals new passages of significance.  Today, I came across the following:

Ultimately, it seems, the best answer to the question why humans feel compelled to fish is that they fish in order to ask the question. Fishing is, by its nature, an uncertain and interrogatory endeavor, By engaging in this endeavor–or in writing, composing, painting, or any of a hundred other pursuits–the angler moves out of the realm of the known an into a creative realm of questions. (131).

This passage has significance to my class because we are exploring the reasons why there is such a large body of English-language literature devoted to angling and why so much of that literature has a religious theme.

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Some rods I shared with my students today.

Many authors of angling literature fished for food. Yet, even Dame Juliana Berners, the ostensive nun and author of the 15th c. A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle, suggests there is much more to angling than catching fish. For the angler who fails to procure her or his dinner with an artificial fly, Berners identifies several other benefits to trying:

And yet as the least he hath his holsome walke and mery at his ease, sweet ayre of the sweet sauour of the medow floures that maketh him hungry. He heareth the melodious armony of foules. He seeth the yonge swans, herons, duckes, cootes, and many other foules with their broodes, whyche me semeth better then all the noyse of houndes, the blastes of hornes, & the scry of foules, that hu[n]ters, faukeners, & foulers ca[n] make. And if the angler take fyshe: surely then is there no ma[n] meryer then he is in his spirite.

Browning, and other authors too, imply that a primary benefit of fishing is the sense of possibility that is part of each angling trip. This is the same sense of possibility that every reader feels when she or he begins a new book or rereads an old one. This is the sense of possibility that is represented by every blank page before the writer, every blank canvas before the artist, and so on. Most important, it the sense of possibility–of mystery even–that every religious person confronts through ritual and that some of us find in fly fishing.[1]

[1] Here I am thinking of Rudolf Otto’s concept of Mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Fiddles, Fly rods, and Fall

November 11, 2015

I was able to spend a few days at our cabin last week. I passed part of the time there reading A Thousand Mornings of Music: The Journal of an Obsession with the Violin (Crown Publishers, 1970),  by Arnold Gingrich. Of course, I spent time enjoying my family and fly fishing, as well.

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I have long been a fan of Gingrich’s writings, especially of The Well Tempered Angler (Alfred A. Knopf, 1965). In A Thousand Mornings of Music Gingrich writes about a passion that paralleled his interest in all things fly fishing–a passion for violins, which he playfully calls “fiddles” throughout the book. If you have read his angling books or Toys of a Lifetime (Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), you know that he had the tendencies of a collector. In A Thousand Mornings he describes those tendencies, as they were directed toward violins over a period of several years. At the end of that period (and at the end of the book) he had acquired violins made by some of the most respected luthiers in history. Among them was one made by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona (now a of part of northern Italy), in 1672. Gingrich named this violin “The Gudgeon,” after its second owner.

Gingrich’s Stradivarius was played for a period by Hungarian born virtuosa, Erna Rubinstein. Gingrich, himself, during his tenure as a collector, renewed his own studies of violin playing. For a time, he even spent early morning at the Rembert Wurlitzer offices,  playing celebrated, rare violins that passed through the company’s hands.

Gingrich

It is no surprise that Gingrich loved both violins and bamboo fly rods. Many people have made comparisons between them, emphasizing the care that must be exercised in forming both, the importance of varnish, and so on. Indeed, I know more than one fly fisher, who collects violins. That said, the work done by luthiers is certainly much more extensive than that done by any fly rod maker.

I recently came across a video that shows a French luthier, Dominique Nicosia, engaged in his craft. The video was made by Baptiste Buob and filmed at the Musée de la lutherie et de l’archèterie françaises de Mirecourt. No doubt, Gingrich would have loved such films. Yet, I hope that neither music nor his interest in instruments would have kept him away from the beauty that we find while fly fishing, a beauty that far exceeds that produced by of any violinist, luthier, or rod maker.

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