Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing Literature’ Category

Ed Shenk, East and West

August 31, 2018

Last weekend, I visited a few small streams with my dog and a favorite rod. The rod is my 5’2″ 4 wt glass rod built by the legendary angler, author, and fly tier Ed Shenk. I bought the rod when I lived in Central Pennsylvania, and I have not used it much since returning to the West. Last week, I found that it was well-suited to some of the little streams that hold native cutthroat trout near my home. Of course, while fishing, I got the thinking about Pennsylvania, the short rods that Shenk favors, the body of angling literature produced by Shenk and his Pennsylvania peers, and more.

Since then, I have noticed that the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association will be honoring Shenk during their annual fund-raising dinner this year. They will be honoring the late Lefty Kreh as well.  If you are in the area, you might consider attending in order to help support the PFFMA preserve the legacies of Shenk, Vincent Marinaro, Charlie Fox, and so many other famous anglers from the region.

Another year, another Angling Literature Syllabus

August 20, 2018

Following is this semester’s syllabus for my angling literature course. Suggestions are always welcome (as are visitors).

 

Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Play in “Nature”

HONORS 380.3, Fall 2018
Class Time: TU,TH 9:10 AM-10:25 PM
Class Location: Todd Hall 324
Professor: Ken Lokensgard
Office: Plateau Center for Native American Programs, Cleveland 23A
Phone: 509-335-1055
E-mail: kenneth.lokensgard@wsu.edu
Office Hours: TU,TH 10:30 AM-12:00 PM and by appointment.

Depiction of Juliana Berners. Lithograph by William Nicholson, 1898.

 DESCRIPTION AND GOALS OF COURSE

 This course is an introduction to the literary history, religious significance, and socio-cultural impact of fishing.  Students will read historically and culturally important texts ranging from those written in Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, and in contemporary North America.  All of these texts emphasize a relationship between religious experience, fishing, and the environment.  We will explore this relationship, considering the cultural settings of each text while also learning about the overlapping aesthetic, ritual, and ecological dimensions ascribed to fishing—particularly fly fishing—by some of the most notable writers and intellectuals in European and Euro-American history.  For comparisons’ sake, we will briefly examine religion and fishing in cultures outside of the European and North American literary worlds, as well.  In addition to fishing literature, students will read relevant theoretical texts on religious experience, conservation, ecology, “play,” and “nature.”

As a whole, this course will serve as a focused study of the role that the extra-human environment and religious practice play in European, North American, and other cultural contexts.  Thus, the course will introduce students to literature and ways of thinking that can be applied to any implicitly or explicitly religious phenomena that are practiced in so-called “natural” places.  Moreover, the course will introduce students to the often religious significance that conservation and other ecologically informed practices play in the lives of many contemporary people.

This course is both reading and writing intensive.  Most of the readings, however, were originally written for a popular audience.  Also, the writing assignments will allow the student to incorporate his or her own, carefully examined reactions to these readings in his or her papers and essays.  Therefore, this class is intended to be entertaining and engaging.  Yet, it is designed for the student who is willing to consider religion within its broadest contours, who can devote concerted time to readings, and who is willing to engage in regular and thoughtful writing.  If you are not such a student, then, this course is not designed for you.

The following table identifies specific learning goals (“LG”) to be achieved by the student:

  At the end of this course, students should be able to: This objective will be evaluated primarily by: Assignments and Activities  advancing students toward these learning goals:
LG1 Demonstrate a firm command of the theories used to explain the social significance of play. Classroom discussions, reaction papers, and essay exams. Readings and discussion of important anthropological, philosophical, and religious studies theories (weeks 2, 5, 9, 12).
LG2 Think critically about the concept of “nature” and its construction in Euro-American thought. Classroom discussions, reaction papers, and essay exams. Readings and discussions of anthropological literature, the views of angling authors, and reflections upon Euro-American ontology (weeks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 15).
LG3 Analyze the religious significance that many people ascribe to activities that take place outside the confines of “conventional” religion. Classroom discussions and final paper.  Readings about and discussions of  ritual, religious experience, and “religion” (weeks 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).

Please note that Washington State University is committed to maintaining a safe environment for its faculty, staff, and students. Safety is the responsibility of every member of the campus community and individuals should know the appropriate actions to take when an emergency arises. In support of our commitment to the safety of the campus community the University has developed a Campus Safety Plan, http://safetyplan.wsu.edu. It is highly recommended that you visit this web site as well as the University emergency management web site at http://oem.wsu.edu/ to become familiar with the information provided.

ASSIGNED READINGS and OTHER RESOURCES

Required Books:

Walton, Izaak and Charles Cotton, ed. Marjorie Swann, The Compleat Angler (New York: Oxford University Press, USA: World’s Classics, 2014).
Maclean, Norman, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Duncan, David James, The River Why (New York: Back Bay Books, 2016)

Other readings are listed in the tentative schedule and will be accessible online, via the course’s Blackboard site. These readings include excerpts from the following:

Luce, A.A., Fishing and Thinking (Shrewsbury, UK: Swan Hill Press, 2002).
Snyder, Sam, Borgelt, Bryon, Tobey, Elizabeth, Backcasts: A Global History of Fly Fishing and Conservation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2016).

Films, Guest Lectures, and other activities will serve as important resources. 

The films are listed in the tentative schedule, below. Informal guest lectures will be delivered by regional artists, authors, and anglers at dates to be announced.  Each guest will address the aesthetic and “spiritual” dimensions of fly fishing, from his or her perspective as a craftsperson or author. We will also visit the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections reading room to examine exceptionally rare editions of texts read or discussed in class, which are part of the Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Collection. Among these texts are several first and other 17th c. editions of The Compleat Angler.

Please note this course is designed to help students develop their critical reading and writing skills. Specific methods of critical reading and writing will be discussed in class at opportune times.  You are also strongly encouraged to make use of the instructor’s office hours and of the Undergraduate Writing Center in Smith CUE 303.

REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING

Four three-page critical reaction papers will be submitted throughout the semester. Papers should be written in a 12 point font with 1 inch margins.  Each of these papers is worth 5 percent of your total grade (5 points each).  There will be two exams, which will include short answer and essay questions.  Each exam is worth 20 percent of the total course grade (20 points each).  Toward the end of the semester, a twelve-page paper, analyzing the treatment of religion in at least three of the assigned readings, or in three texts dealing with other “outdoor” practices sometimes characterized as religious (I will provide a bibliography), must be submitted.  This paper is worth 30 percent of your total grade (30 points). Ten points are reserved for attendance.  Attendance will be taken randomly 10 times during the semester; an unexcused absence during any of these days will result in the loss of one point.  See the tentative schedule, below, for due dates and exam dates.

An accumulated 93 or more total points for the course will result in a final “A” grade (“A+” and “D-“ letter grades are not awarded at WSU).

90-92pts = A-

87-89 pts = B+

83-86 pts = B

80-82 pts = B-

77-79 pts = C+

73-76 pts = C

70-72 pts = C-

67-69 pts = D+

60-66 pts = D

0-59 pts = F

Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. If you have a disability and need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please either visit or call the Access Center (Washington Building 217; 509-335-3417) to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor. All accommodations MUST be approved through the Access Center.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY and EXPECTATIONS

Academic integrity is absolutely required in this course. Any student caught cheating, in any way, will fail the course and be reported to the Office of Student Standards and Accountability. Cheating is defined by Washington State Academic Code ((WAC 504-26-010 (3).) It is strongly suggested that you read and understand the definitions.

In this writing intensive course, you should be particularly mindful of avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined in WAC 504-26-010 (3i) as follows:

Plagiarism is presenting the information, ideas, or phrasing of another person as the student’s own work without proper acknowledgment of the source. This includes submitting a commercially prepared paper or research project or submitting for academic credit any work done by someone else. The term “plagiarism” includes, but is not limited to, the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment. It also includes the unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.

All written assignments must be submitted by 11:59 pm on the day they are due. To do this, upload your paper as a document file in the “assignments” section of the course’s Blackboard site. The title of your file should be “HONORS 380.3 Paper #–your first and last name” (e.g., HONORS 380.3 Paper 1–Juliana Berners).  Please put your name on the first page of the document itself, as well.  Late assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements are made or if a documentable emergency occurs.

Midterm Exam Date: Oct. 2.

Final Exam Date and Time: Thursday, Dec. 13, 10:10 am – 12:10 pm.

TENTATIVE WEEKLY SCHEDULE

 Week 1: August 21 and 23.

Academic Integrity, the Academic Study of Religion, and Religion as a Lived, Social Phenomenon.

Readings: Snyder, “Wading through the History of Angling’s Evolving Ethics” (online).

Film: Prosek, The Complete Angler.

Week 2: August 28 and 30.

Water, Humanity, and Other-Than-Human Worlds.

Readings: Turner, “Liminality and Communitas,” (online); Harvey, “Signs of Life and Personhood” (online).

Week 3: September 4 and 6.

Ancient and Medieval European Fishing, Monasticism, Sustenance, and Leisure.

Readings: Hoffman, “Trout and Fly, Work and Play, in Medieval Europe (online); Berners, “The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle” (online); James, excerpt from “Mysticism” (online).

Paper 1 Due Sept. 4.

Week 4: September 11 and 13.

King Arthur’s Knights, Celtic and Anglo Saxon Fishing, and England.

Readings: Walton, The Compleat Angler (Part I, ch’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 16, 21).

Visit to MASC.

Week 5: September 18 and 20.

The Enlightenment, Play, and the Escape to Nature.

Readings: Cotton, The Compleat Angler (Part II, letters, “Retirement,” skim ch’s 5-12).

Week 6: September 25 and 27.

The Americas, Natural Law, and Romanticism.

Readings: Seecombe, “Business and Diversion” (online).

Paper 2 Due Sept. 25.

Week 7: October 2 and 4.

Midterm Exam (Oct. 2).

No class Sept. 4.

Week 8: October 9 and 11.

The Americas, Romanticism v. Reality.

Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River” (online).

Week 9: October 16 and 18.

Fishing, Religion, and Relationship.

Readings: Luce, ch’s 1-6, Fishing and Thinking (online

Paper 3 Due Oct. 16.

Week 10: October 23 and 25.

Fishing, Relationship, and Ethics.

Readings: Luce, ch’s 7-12, Fishing and Thinking (online).

Week 11: October 30 and November 1.

Lived Religion, Map, and Territory.

Readings: Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

Week 12: November 6 and 8.

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, and Ecology.

Readings:  Duncan, The River Why.

Paper 4 Due.

Week 13: November 13 and 15.

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism,and Ecology.

Readings: Duncan, The River Why;

Week 14: November 20 and 22.

Native American and other Religious Views of Water, Fish, and Fishing.

Readings: Lokensgard, “From Serpents to Fly Fishers: Changing Attitudes in Blackfeet Country toward Fish and Fishing” (online).

No class Nov. 20 and 22. 

Week 15: November 27and 29.

 No class: Thanksgiving Break       

Week 16: December 4 and 6.

Religion, “Nature,” and the Environment.

Film: A River runs Through It.

Analytic Paper Due: December 7 by 11:59 PM.

 Final Exam Date and Time: Thursday, Dec. 13, 10:10 am – 12:10 pm.

 

Copyright 2018 Kenneth H. Lokensgard

Halford’s Flies

August 9, 2018

I was just looking through a few personal pictures of antiquarian angling books, hoping to find some lost files I need for a publication. I did not find them, but I did come across these pictures I took of the deluxe edition of Frederick Halford‘s 1897 Dry Fly Entomology (London: John Bale & Sons for Vinton & Co.,). I am sharing a few pages, below. The flies on the plates are actual flies attached directly to the pages.

 

 

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.

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.

img_2721

Pflueger 1394, Jack Boehme “Balsa Bug,” Norman Means’ “Bunyan Bug.”

Repost: Ichabod Crane and the Angler

October 30, 2017
Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Painting of Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

At this time of year, Washington Irving’s well-known “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is often brought to mind. This, of course, is the classic tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his romantic rivalry with Brom Bones to gain the affections of Katrina Van Tassel, and his terrifying encounter with the Headless Horseman. It was originally part of a much larger collection of works by Irving, titled The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published in 1819 and 1820. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has subsequently been published many times as a solitary work.

The person who actually reads “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in the Sketchbook, will find that it is preceded by a reminiscence entitled “The Angler.”  Here, Irving shows a very clear familiarity with fly fishing and angling literature.  He first describes his initiatory fly fishing trip “along a mountain brook among the Highlands of the Hudson.”  He admits to fishing poorly at the time and finding more pleasure in setting aside the rod and reading “old Izaak” Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Later, he also mentions reading the famous “Tretyse of fishing with an Angle” (Irving’s spelling), as well.

Irving goes on to narrate his later encounter with an old, retired mariner and expert fly fisherman in England. He writes:

I could not but remark the gallant manner in which he stumped from one part of the brook to another, waving his rod in the air to keep the line from dragging on the ground or catching among the bushes, and the adroitness with which he would throw his fly to any particular place, sometimes skimming it lightly along a little rapid, sometimes casting it into one of those dark holes made by a twisted root or overhanging bank in which large trout are apt to lurk.

In the text, Irving accompanies the old seaman home to learn more about fishing and to simply hear about the man’s fascinating life. He notes that “the old angler” kept a book on fishing, the Bible, an “odd volume or two of voyages, a nautical almanac,” and a song book as his library. Irving is explicit in showing his respect for the old man and states that his interest in fly fishing in theory, if not in practice, is renewed. Like Walton before him, he romanticizes all fisherpersons–particularly those in England–as individuals who understand the less-cultivated world of “nature” and who benefit spiritually and otherwise from such understanding:

The sweetness and serenity of Nature and the quiet watchfulness of the sport gradually bring on pleasant fits of musing, which are now and then agreeable interrupted by the song of a bird, the distant whistle of the peasant, or perhaps the vagary of some fish leaping out of the still water and skimming transiently about its glassy surface.

It is worth noting that Irving admits nature is a bit more tame in early nineteenth century England than it is in America. Indeed, his description of the Hudson Highlands is markedly less positive than his description of the English countryside.

Regardless, it is a curious thing that Irving’s recollection of “The Angler” is followed by his tale of the very nervous Ichabod Crane, who is is greatly afraid of so many things rightly and wrongly associated with nature. In Irving’s world, it is likely that Crane would have met a more certain and happy end, if he had been a fisherman, at peace in the woods during his ride home from unsuccessfully wooing Ms. Van Tassel. In fact, in Irving’s world, a more peaceful Crane might have been more successful in his wooing, in the first place (and perhaps it was the demeanor supposedly achieved through fly fishing that made Irving the rumored object of affection to the likes of the widowed Mary W Shelley and others).

Public Access and the Threat of Theft

September 6, 2017

It often amazes me that I have easy access to such texts as a first edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653). In my mind, holding a book like this is a genuine privilege. 

When exercising this privilege, I sometimes wonder about the history of The Compleat Angler and other angling books. Who held them before I did? Who read them? And how did these texts influence their readers?

Title page. The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Izaak Walton, 1653, London: Maxey. Manuscripts, Archives, & Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

These special books are housed in Washington State University Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections. Specifically, The Compleat Angler and other angling texts are part of The Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Collection.  Assoc. Dean Dr. Trevor James Bond and the rest of the MASC librarians and staff do a great job of of caring for and protecting the texts. They also do a great job of balancing these duties with the need to make them accessible to the public. This is no small feat.

Cover. The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Izaak Walton, 1653, London: Maxey. Manuscripts, Archives, & Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

As it happens, WSU was the victim of the most prolific book thief in US history, Stephen Blumberg. Blumberg lived in Iowa but traveled throughout North America targeting various collections of rare and fine books, especially at universities. He used stealth, disguise, and incredible ingenuity to steal at least 23,000 books and manuscripts. He stole a huge number of these from WSU. After their theft was discovered, WSU Police Officer Steve Huntsberry played an active role in searching for the thief. Ultimately, Blumberg was betrayed by a friend to the FBI. At the time, in 1990, the collection of books and manuscripts discovered in Blumberg’s home was valued at approximately twenty million dollars. Below, you can see a short video of Huntsberry describing the case as well as some footage of Blumberg’s illicit collection.

Blumberg was eventually sentenced to spend four years in prison and to pay a large fine. In the meantime, WSU’s  main library was expanded to include the “Holland Addition.” MASC is now located in this new area, which happens to be a genuinely beautiful setting. Here, the rare books and manuscripts are protected not only by the librarians’ watchful eyes, but also by state-of-the-art security designed to deal with both human and environmental threats.

Fly fishers and other practitioners of field sports usually think of “public access” as having to do with the land. But it also relates to the cultural history of our activities and to historical understandings of why outdoor recreation is important. At WSU, you can access this information. If you find yourself in the area, I urge you to do so. And if you live elsewhere, you should see what you can find in your local libraries. You might be surprised.

For more information on Blumberg, look for Steve Huntsberry’s “The Legacy Thief: The Hunt for Stephen Blumberg,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 10, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 181-183. I also recommend Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (Holt, 1999), which includes a chapter on Blumberg.

 

 

Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

August 18, 2017

This following essay is written by guest Jed Feffer, who is a mutual friend of North Carolina bamboo rodmaker Munsey Wheby. Jed is a retired teacher, and  he has been fly fishing for nearly 20 years. Like me, Jed often feels a strong sense of connection, while fishing.  “It can give me a heightened sense of the small details around me,” Jed writes.  It’s my pleasure to share his great piece. Both the writing and the pictures are his.

 

Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

Driving up over Eden Mountain Road is a joy.   There is the cooling of the air, and at the peak a stained barn, stately and dark.   The bark of the bordering maple trees are like the barn wood.  The inhabitants have built on the wall, and by the border trees statuaries of stone.  These are pillars of varying sizes and shapes, that add a fanciful touch to Eden Mountain Road, and the neighboring woods.  Someday, I will stop there to gaze over the southerly view, where the mountains, hills and farm fields fan out.

Usually, I am in a hurry to the town of Eden Mills, then farther to Belvidere Center, where the North Branch of the Lamoille begins its sparkling descent to the Lamoille.  Today, I pay more attention to the northerly view.  I consult my map, and find the peak to the north is Belvidere Mountain.  The Long Trail winds its way to its peak and beyond.  I note its closeness to our home in Greensboro.  It would be an easy day hike.  I think how brilliantly alive the trees would be in the fall, and how bracing the air with the sweet smells of leaf dryness and decay.

Below and out of sight is Lake Eden, the source of the Gihon River, and beyond that the bog that gives rise to the North Branch.  I remember the loss of a large Brown in the pool off Bog Road.  I was using a weighted stonefly nymph, and as it swept into the current I felt the snag of a rock.  Pulling up on the rod tip the snag began to move across the pool.  I was tight to a large fish.  As I drew it to the lip of my net I could see its mottled back and hooked jaw.  The net sent it shooting behind a rock wedged against the riffles.  It only took the pressure of the water and the stone to pry loose the hook.

That loss I note whenever I pass by Bog Road south into Belvidere Center, and then downstream to Back Road.  The section of the North Branch paralleling Back Road is one of its prettiest.  Back Road runs on the other side of the river from Route 109.  But Back Road carries with it a peaceful sway that Route 109 cannot possess.

It is a dirt road with curves and shadows, and houses set  along its length, and even a single covered bridge.  My first stop is where the road veers to the woods.   Across the way is the prettiest white house and barn you can imagine.  Rarely is anyone home, yet the house is clearly furnished, and the lawn  always trimmed.   The house is newly painted, and the other out buildings are well spaced.  Today, while walking back from fishing, I notice the screened in porch, and the shaded kitchen with table and appliances.  You know, a home away from home for a weary fisherman.

I have not forgotten fishing on the North Branch, but the details surrounding water, roadway, mountain, and house are all part of it.  They are at least half of the reason for going.

Today, it has just passed 1:00 p.m.  I have already eaten half my lunch under a blue spruce near the Eden General Store.  I’ve passed the upstream spots I’ve previously fished, and the others that I have ignored for lack of easy access.  I like stopping by the white house and its garage.   The road’s sway beckons the fisherman out of his car, and into the woods bordering the stream.

Today, I string up a 3 weight fly rod with a 4 weight line.  I am going to wet wade because the air is 75 degrees.  I tie on a small muddler minnow to my leader.  It’s been so long since I used a muddler minnow.  It has a cleanly cut deer hair head and a thin body of tinsel.  As a teen-ager I used them to catch brook trout.  All the stones in the North Branch must have sculpins darting amongst them.  The muddler minnow is a good sculpin imitation.

Bamboo and Nickle Silver: the Tools of the Trade

I’ve spotted a couple of nice runs that should have fish in them.  I wade over to a deep run, but multiple casts of the muddler yield no strikes.  I notice that in this fast run the muddler doesn’t have the weight to achieve any depth, and it swims only a few inches below the surface.   Midday fish are likely hiding down close to the rocks.

Inspection of the bottom reveals many caddis homes, one large stonefly nymph, and many mayfly nymphs.  I decide to nymph with split shot, a yellow plastic “indicator” and a gray and brown pheasant tail nymph, highlighted by a gold bead.  This is a good imitation of the nymphs on the underside of the  rock.  I swing my line upstream, so the nymph sweeps into the run.  This I do a half-dozen times without a strike, so I adjust the indicator to achieve more depth when the nymph hits the run.  I cast further upstream to give the nymph more time to gain depth.

Then it happens, a fish is on before my brain is aware of it.  My hand knows it, as the fish peels line out of the old Hardy reel.  This fish fights hard for its size and puts a good bend in the cane rod.  In a few minutes, I have a gold bellied trout to net.  It has big irregular spotting on its back.  I notice its eye has that subtle awareness of its surroundings.  I hold him in the water to release him.  He quickly clears my hand with a friskiness that speaks health and vigor.

I make my way downstream appraising the depth of the water, and adjusting the leader length accordingly.  Water depth is constantly changing in a stream, and for my nymph rig to be effective I have to change the distance of the indicator to the nymph.  The indicator keeps my nymph moving in a straight line as it flows with the current.  Separating the indicator further from the nymph allows it to move at a greater depth.

Now I am in water inches deep, and I get strong, rapid slashes at the nymph.  The fish are hungry and they are spotting the nymph quickly and grabbing it.

As I fish these riffles I notice the tall, red barked Hemlocks that shade the river, and the light, new green growth of their leaves.  The bank is thick with birch and beech trees.  There’s a bench above the river bordered by pink and purple lupines.

I’ve brought in 3 fish so far.  The last one jumped suddenly in the riffles.  I’ve also lost four or more fish to insecure hook sets.  Still, the action is frequent and surprising.  These fish are holding in small water among the rocks.  They are getting the shelter and aerated water they need.

The Eye of Awareness

I’m so immersed in the fishing I fail to grasp how my nymph gets caught on the back of my shirt.  When these things happen in fishing they prove all but overwhelming.  I see the direction the hook has taken, but tugging on the hook only creates a tear in the material.

I decide finally to take off my shirt.  Standing bare chested I try and find a way to remove the hook.  It’s too late.  All my tugging has broken the hook and my pheasant tail nymph can no longer be used.  I don’t have another one like it.

Fishermen are inclined to invest supernatural powers to flies.  When they are working they exert magical power.  I have placed my trust more in this fly than is warranted, and my confidence drops.

I try any number of other nymph varieties: a beaded black nymph, a hare’s ear with green irridescent sides, and a brass beaded pheasant tail.  None produce like the dull brown and gray nymph.  I attribute this to “Fisherman’s Magic”; the desire that imbues a fly with magical enchantment.  A logical explanation is that the little nymph is like all the common mayfly nymphs that cling to river rocks.  These are the nymphs the trout know and expect.  Enough of reasonable conclusions.  Better to have a talisman, a lucky rabbit’s foot, an enchanted trout fly.

As I work my way downstream a boy emerges by the shore on his bicycle.  “Catch anything”? he asks.

“Yeah,” I call back, “3 and lost 4 or 5.”

“If you caught them, where are they?” he asks incredulously.

“Oh, I let them go.”

“My dad makes me do that.”  He adds sorrowfully.

He continues to ask me more questions about the fly, about the rod, the leader and tippet.  I satisfy most of his questions, and he pushes his bike up some steps to a dirt path and disappears.

I realize by now that I am getting tired.  I am slipping more on the rocks.  I find myself less patient with the surrounding flow of the water, and I am getting hungry.  It is really time to leave, but as the light wanes I imagine the large browns moving from their hiding places, and assuming evening feeding lanes.  How can I go home now, just as the biggest fish of all are beginning to stir?

I walk up the stairs, down the path to Back Road, and to my car across from the white house.  I will drive down to another spot.  I find one about a half mile down the road.  After getting out of my car, I can see a large, shaded pool.  I find a way to the river, careful to take my wading staff.

I approach the slow, dark pool and see the faint rings of a rising trout.  As I watch, the back of a fish breaks the surface.  This trout is rooting for nymphs.  As these fish feed, a couple mayfly spinners dance on a column of air.  A few white mayflies rise casually above the water.

On the far side of this dark pool a trout makes two gulping rises.  I take off my mayfly nymph, and tie on a lightly colored mayfly dun.  It’s a tricky cast to this rising fish because the fly has to pass over the fish, just as the water speeds up over some debris.    When I retrieve the fly back over the lip of wood, it intercepts a branch sticking out of the water.  This branch proves to be a graveyard for my flies.  I lose three flies in a row to this branch.

The Last Pool of the Day

I have nothing complimentary to say to this branch.  The rising fish knows just how to keep me interested in this difficult target.  On one of many casts he seems to boil near my fly as I retrieve it.  I am never sure whether he is chasing a real insect, or pursuing my fly.  This mystery, and the difficulty of the cast keep me casting to him.

If this fish proves irresistible, then another huge fish to my left increases my interest in staying.  The fish looks to be the size of a small beaver, as its back and fin come out of the water.

I continue to cast my dry fly first to the fish by the lip of wood, and then to the giant who just showed himself.  But my hunger, and the growing darkness are playing on my nerves.  I am beginning to dream of a warm dry place with plenty of food.  I reluctantly turn toward the shore, and wade in the direction of my car.

The drive back down Eden Mountain Road will be in the opposite direction, but the stone statuary will still be there, and the darkly stained barn.  I will keep in my memory that one riser by the lip of woody debris, and his tag team companion boiling in the center of the pool.  They will keep me coming back to the North Branch for another day of fishing.

 

 

 

 

 


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