Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing’ Category

Local

June 4, 2019

As lovely as old English-made Hardy reels are, I find myself more interested in tackle made closer to home these days. This means tackle made in Pacific Canada and the Northwest United States.

Pictured here are two beautiful fly reels from British Columbia, a Peetz (with art by Jason Henry Hunt, Kwakiutl) and an Islander IR.

Salmon Restoration, Congressman Mike Simpson, and Izaak Walton

May 28, 2019
 
 

Lately, Idaho Republican congressman Mike Simpson’s vocal support of wild salmon restoration and the need to address climate change has received a lot of attention. His willingness to consider the removal of the Lower Snake River dams, has been a particular focus of the media.

Of course, Simpson acknowledges the many pragmatic reasons behind his stance. For instance, he notes that current efforts of the Bonneville Power Administration to protect salmon is exceedingly expensive and results in high costs for consumers. Ultimately, he emphasizes that the current situation is not working well for anyone, including farmers, who have seen more water sent down stream help salmon smolts. What is also interesting, though, is that Simpson counts the salmon and other nonhumans, impacted by the blockages and high water temperatures caused by the dams, right alongside the farmers, outfitters, tribal members, and others who are impacted (Simpson seeks bold action, Idaho’s salmon need hope, Simpson stops short, and more).

In an article published by Grist, writer Nathanael Johnson describes comments made by Simpson at a recent conference:

Recounting a trip to a spawning creek in the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, Simpson paused to swallow hard a couple of times. Only one salmon made it to those shallows, he said, to “create its bed, lay its eggs and die. It was the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. These are the most,” he paused for a deep breath, “most incredible creatures I think that God’s created. It’s a cycle God has created. We shouldn’t mess with it.”

In these comments, Simpson indicates that among the many economic and ecosystemic reasons to save the salmon, is his view that salmon are a part of our shared creation. His understanding of this world and its inhabitants as sacred creations of his god remind me of Izaak Walton’s references to a “God of Nature” in his famous 1653 text The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. I should point out to any readers unfamiliar with the text–assuming there are any–that The Compleat Angler is often cited as one of the most published English language texts in history, alongside the King James Bible and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress.

Venator and Piscator, Arthur Rackham, 1931.

Walton’s most powerful reference to the God of nature, at least in my reading, can be found at the conclusion of his original text (which becomes the conclusion of “part one,” in later editions). There, Walton writes, in the voice of the character Venator:

And as a pious man advised his friend, that, to beget mortification, he should frequent churches and view monuments, and charnel houses, and then and there consider how many dead bones time had piled up at the gates of death, so when I would beget content, and increase confidence in the power, and wisdom, and providence of Almighty God, I will walk the meadows, by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the lilies that take no care, and those very many other various little living creatures that are not only created, but fed, man knows not how, by the goodness of the God of Nature, and therefore trust in Him.

Many people will criticize Simpson as having fallen under the spell of liberal ideology, global warming conspiracies, or some such thing. But Izaak Walton’s words tell us that Simpson’s view of the salmon as sacred creations is anything but new to EuroAmerican thought. Walton, a deeply learned Anglican living in seventeenth century England, saw the salmonids of his island in just this way. Importantly, Simpson’s views very much correspond to those held my members of regional tribes in areas affected by the dams, as well. Indeed, many tribes are just starting this year’s First Salmon Ceremony, in which their members honor returning salmon (with dwindling numbers of returning salmon, these ceremonies are often bittersweet). So, Simpson is not an outlier in his understanding that salmon have a value that rivals that of humans. In fact, historically speaking, those who have no reverence for wild salmon at all are the strange ones.

Mind you, some of Simpson’s views diverge greatly from mine, tribal members, and probably even from Izaak Walton. But that is another post….

Spring

April 15, 2019

Spring is the movement of the stonefly nymphs in the fast water and the hatching of the first stoneflies. It is the stirring of the salmon alevins up through the gravel, their emergence into huddled clumps still vaguely orange from the partially absorbed yolk sacs, their spread though the river as fry and the flight of most of them to salt water through a gauntlet of trout and mergansers, bullheads and loons and kingfishers and their own yearling relatives. It is in the slow warming of the lakes, in the steady increase of the rivers as the snow comes off, in the rain showers and mayfly hatches, in the occasional days of storm and bitter wind more savagely chilling than the worst of winter, other days of flashing life and color more brilliant than summer’s richest. Spring is bloom of dog-tooth violet and trilliums along the flood-swept river banks, it is the scarlet of the sapsucker’s breast, the flight of the bandtail pigeons, the return of the yellow warblers to alders and willows overhanging the water. It is the geese nesting on little lakes, mallards paired on the beaver ponds, frogs croaking in the swamps. It is the rediscovery of pools and shallows changed or unchanged by a winter of weather, sudden freedom from the heavier gear of winter fishing, freedom from the restraints of snow and ice and short days; it is the whole promise of a new season ahead and the new pleasures that one knows will come, all unexpected from the familiar sport of going out beside water with a rod.


Roderick Haig-Brown, Fisherman’s Spring, 1951

The Salmon do not Consent

February 18, 2019

Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist from Alberta, who was raised in Ontario. She is part of an artistic and family known for their art and Indigenous rights advocacy. For those who don’t know, the Métis are one of three peoples legally recognized as aboriginal or indigenous, by the Canadian government. The other peoples are the First Nations (Indians) and Inuit.

Belcourt is a visual artist, who draws upon her identity as an Indigenous woman. Following is a description of her work, from her website:

Like generations of Indigenous artists before her, the majority of her work explores and celebrates the beauty of the natural world and traditional Indigenous world-views on spirituality and natural medicines while exploring nature’s symbolic properties. Following the tradition of
Métis floral beadwork, Belcourt uses the subject matter as metaphors for human existence to relay a variety of meanings that include concerns for the environment, biodiversity, spirituality and Indigenous rights. Although known primarily as a painter, she has for years been also practicing traditional arts.

You can find many examples of varied artwork at her online gallery. Besides the pieces you can find in the gallery, Belcourt also creates a great many graphic pieces, related to Indigenous rights and environmental protection. She makes these available for public use. Once such piece, posted recently on her Facebook page, particularly caught my eye.

This image addresses the “Trans Mountain” pipeline system. The Kinder Morgan cooperation is attempting to expand the capacity of this pipeline system, which will increase the environmental degradation at the Tar Sands of Alberta, where it originates. The pipeline ends at the Salish Sea, in British Columbia, and thus crosses a great deal of aboriginal Canadian land. The majority of First Nations along its pathway oppose the construction, because of the damage done at the Tar Sands as well as the possibility of further damage along its route (the pipeline has had numerous leaks, in the past).

Belcourt’s art implies that the salmon of British Columbia also oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline. This may seem like an odd claim to mainstream Canadians and Americans. However, traditional Indigenous peoples typically recognize animals as non-human persons, with whom they maintain reciprocal relations. Ancient stories often tell of agreements made between the Creator, culture heroes, or game animals themselves and humans. Generally speaking, these agreements stipulate that the animals “consent” to give their lives to humans, if they, in return, are honored and their overall populations protected. For a far more detailed explanation of such reciprocal relationships, I recommend the book Animism: Respecting the Living World (Columbia University Press, 2006), by Religious Studies scholar Graham Harvey.

I think many anglers can understand the relationships described above, even if we do not necessarily see animals as fellow persons. After all, a concern for conservation is reflected in angling literature dating back over 500 years in Europe. Authors emphasize the need to care for fish habitat and even to respect the fish (the latter need is particularly clear in Izaak Walton’s 1653 Complete Angler, in order to enjoy their sport). Today, many anglers join organization like Trout Unlimited or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in order to “give back” to the fish.

In general, though, most Canadians, Americans, and Europeans are not very cognizant of the impact their actions have upon others–even their fellow humans. Drawing from her own people’s views, and those of other Indigenous Peoples, Belcourt urges us to do otherwise. I should add that we must do so, being fully prepared to consume less energy (lest any readers accuse me of hypocrisy). Make no mistake, while I am not the perfect person, I do consider the consequence of my actions regularly.

Giant Bears and Fanged Salmon

February 4, 2019

Much of my attention at work, lately, has been directed toward a project involving grizzly bears. In thinking about the species of bears that roam the Americas, I was reminded of a piece of art I saw recently at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, in Spokane, Washington.  It depicts one of the ancient, now extinct “short-faced bears” (Arctodus pristinus and Arctodus simus) wrestling with the also ancient and extinct “sabertooth salmon” (Onchorhynchus rastrosus).  The massive sculpture, which is mounted on a wall, was created by artist Peter Thomas of entirely recycled materials. It is part of a larger, permanent exhibit of Thomas’ work.

Not surprisingly, these animals were massive. One species of the bear, Arctodus simus, may have stood 12 feet tall, while the salmon may have reached nine feet in length. Of course, the salmon is related to today’s Pacific salmon, while the short-faced bear’s closest living relative is the much smaller Andean “spectacled bear” (Tremarctos ornatus). Both of these animals roamed the waters and wilds of the Pacific Northwest. They were not actually contemporaries, but I still enjoy imagining what it might be like to land a giant salmon with huge teeth, while looking out for an even bigger bear that might want to steal my catch.

Holiday Repost: Charles E. Goodspeed, Francis Francis, and Christmas

December 24, 2018

Copyright 2010, Kenneth H. Lokensgard

NOTE: For a correction of these dates, please see the first reader’s response, written by a former employee of Goodspeed’s Book Shop, to be original post: https://theliteraryflyfisher.com/2010/12/16/charles-e-goodspeed-francis-francis-and-christmas/

Charles Eliot Goodspeed opened Goodspeed’s Book Shop in 1937.  His Boston store grew to be one of the most respected antiquarian book shops in the United States, and it was in business until 1993.  Goodspeed cared not only about books, but also about fishing. As biographer Walter Muir Whitehill puts it, Goodspeed was “a devout disciple of Izaak Walton.”[1] No doubt, this prompted Goodspeed to compile a massive collection of new and previously published fishing essays.  This collection was published in 1946, as A Treasury of Fishing Stories (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company). According to the book’s “Acknowledgements” section, Goodspeed gathered most of the previously published selections from a collection of fishing works left to Harvard Libraries by Daniel Butler Fearing.

Among the sometimes obscure, other times famous, and almost always incredibly entertaining pieces that Goodspeed includes in A Treasury is one by Francis Francis, angling editor to the English sporting magazine The Field and author of the well-known A Book on Angling (1867). The piece that Goodspeed includes is titled “Christmas in the Fisherman’s Snuggery,” from Francis’ Hot Pot; Or Miscellaneous Papers (1880).

In “Christmas,” the narrator, presumably Francis, visits his wealthy friend, George, for Christmas.  The two of them retire to the host’s angling “snuggery” — the Victorian equivalent of a “man cave” — for a smoke between festivities.  The narrator describes the room, perfectly designed for someone who enjoys tying flies, playing with tackle, and having the occasional smoke and drink in private:

A Fisherman’s Snuggery — What is it like?  A squarish room, about 16ft. each way, low rather than lofty, with recesses on either side of the fireplace, and a glazed bookcase in each — one containing a choice collection of works upon angling, ancient and modern, and the other a good selection of works upon natural history, botany, geology, and kindred sciences; for your true angler should always have a love for Nature and her secrets, and should study how to unlock them.  Below the book-cases are chiffonnières [sic], with cupboards.  In one long drawer, with a let-down flap, is contained in various small drawers and pigeon-holes the entire arcana of bait fishing, and in the other of fly fishing.  Both are open this Christmas day, and a loving ramble amongst their contents is going on.[2]

The narrator continues to describe the room, paying special attention to mementos and trophies accumulated by the host on various fishing trips.  George, for his part, indulgently relates the story behind each item.  For example:

“There,” says George, taking a dusty, dingy old salmon fly, past color or mark of teeth, tied on treble gut, off a hook on the wall, where it hung: “that is the fly I killed my first salmon with, twenty five years ago April next! Well I remember it.  Shall I ever forget it, indeed?  Does anyone ever forget his first salmon? Aye, aye, it was in the Thurso, in the Linn of Skinnet, as the pool was called then, though it has long been called by another name, close to where Brawl castle stands now.  …  He wasn’t much of a fish, and in the dead water played rather pikeishly, but I got him out at last, quite panting with excitement.  He weighed 10 ½ lb.; and surely so beauteous a creature never was seen by mortal eyes.  I never got tired of looking at him.”[3]

The narrator clearly enjoys the tour, as any angler would. At last, though, the host reminds the narrator that they should return to the other guests:

“But now there’s Jane with the coffee.  Just spring that night bolt, will you? — I never allow people to come bursting in on me without due notice, and some I don’t let in at all — it’s a bore to get up and let them in; so a night bold is invaluable.  And now, just one pipe more.  Maraschino or Chartreuse? Chartreuse; all right, my boy.  And then let us join the ladies with forfeits, and Sir Roger de Coverley; and I trust you have enjoyed your Christmas afternoon’s pipe in the angler’s snuggery.”[4]

I know that I would certainly have enjoyed some time in George’s snuggery.  There are few activities that I love more than perusing the fishing books and tackle in my office, which is, no doubt, infinitely more modest in design and contents than George’s sporting sanctum.

Enjoy the winter holidays, fellow anglers.


[1] Walter Muir Whitehill, “Charles Eliot Goodspeed,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 71 (Oct, 1953- May, 1957),  p. 362.

[2] Francis Francis, “Christmas in the Fisherman’s Snuggery,” in A Treasury of Fishing Stories, compiled by Charles E. Goodspeed (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1946), 193-194.

[3] Ibid., 195.

[4] Ibid., 199.

Steelhead Spirituality

December 9, 2018

Lately, in Idaho, the volume of debates about how best to address the decline of wild steelhead in the Clearwater River and connected waterways (or whether to address it at all) has grown significantly. This is a good thing, in my mind, though of course I wish there was no question we would make the necessary sacrifices to protect them. Some of the loudest voices in this debate come from guides and others whose commercial ventures focus on steelhead fishing.

The Native Americans who have historically depended upon the steelhead and other anadromous fish are also rightfully vocal. Their dependence, I should emphasize, extends beyond their subsistence needs. Their cultural identities and spiritual lives are also tied to the fish. Most tribes pass down ancient stories in which this dependence is established, via agreements with the fish or their creator, that humans will care for the fish in return for the latter giving their lives to humans. The resulting reciprocal relationships feature heavily in ceremonies and other practices. The revered Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) elder Elmer Crow, explained this in a short film he made for Idaho Rivers United. The Clearwater, as I’m sure many readers know, flows through the Nez Perce Reservation.

We rarely hear Non-Native fishers describe their relationship to salmon and steelhead as spiritual. Yet, an Idaho angler and guide named Jerry Meyers did just that in a column, entitled “A Spiritual Loss,” for the Idaho Falls Post Register this fall. I have posted the column in its entirety below, and I urge you to read it.

 

A Spiritual Loss

by Jerry Myers, Post Register guest columnist. Sep 27, 2018

I am an Idaho salmon and steelhead angler edging into my sixth decade. What I am witnessing this year feels uncomfortably similar to the despair of the mid-1970’s and early 1990’s.

Wild steelhead and Chinook salmon counts are back near their desperately low post-dam-building numbers. Having spent 40 years advocating for wild fish in Idaho rivers, it can be depressing to yet again be wading into the same turbulent political and economic waters. The current discussion about Idaho’s salmon and steelhead future is centered largely on costs related to loss of fish and fishing opportunity, loss of electricity, loss of commodities transportation via barging, loss of biological diversity and loss of habitat.

Jerry Myers

Much less discussion is taking place regarding the spiritual value of these fish and related spiritual values that fishing opportunity provides to Idahoans like my family. What part of ourselves would be lost if salmon are allowed to slip away?

Perhaps older white guys like myself should not be engaged in attempting to explain the spiritual significance of what these fish mean. After all, our Native American brothers and sisters have taken on that role since Euro Americans first laid eyes on the inconceivably bountiful runs of the Northwest.

While it would be difficult for me to understand and accurately interpret Native Americans’ relationship to salmon, let me attempt to explain the spiritual relationship I have to these fish from the sea, and why wild steelhead are such a bone-deep part of our lives.

My parents were small Palouse-area farmers and ranchers who worked very hard to give their five kids a decent upbringing. Decent upbringing included understanding our responsibility to the land, have respect and awe for wildlife, wild places and respect for others.

My parents were generally in favor of building the Port of Lewiston and the four lower Snake River dams which made a seaport in Idaho possible. Their wheat got to Portland cheaper on barges and so each bushel we took off the farm became that much more valuable. More in the bank to feed and clothe a family.

Crop transportation costs still remain the main economic issue for farmers when it comes to barging grain to Portland. But farmers do not pay all the actual costs of barging. The taxpayer also contributes significantly by subsidizing the economic and environmental costs associated with the lower Snake dams.

I saw my first steelhead as a young lad walking along the creek that ran through our ranch. Seeing a fish the size of my leg which appeared like a ghost in a small turbid pool was one of those life-altering events.

When my Dad retired from farming and cattle ranching, he again took up steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River with a zealot’s focus. Free from the time constraints that farming and child-rearing require, he spent days, often by himself, chasing steelhead. I still cherish those too few days when we fished together and talked about many things that we had only argued about in the earlier, trying years of the 60’s and 70’s. Fishing was the neutral zone. I took my future wife steelhead fishing with Dad in the late 70’s, and we landed four steelhead that day.

We started our own river guiding business in 1982 and started our family a year later. Our two kids were largely raised on the river and became guides as soon as they reached 18. We fished together constantly, commiserated during the low-fish-run years and celebrated the stronger runs. Fishing fed our family both directly and indirectly through guiding wages. Our five grandkids, all under age 7, are already steelhead fishing veterans. Nothing excites them more than watching steelhead spawn in our nearby creek. They too are gaining a passion for wild creatures and wild places.

Our story is not that different than many Idaho families who also share our passion for fishing, hunting and exploring Idaho’s special places. I can’t fathom an Idaho that no longer has wild steelhead nor the collective will to fight to protect them.

I struggle to find words to accurately describe to others what these fish mean to us. How do we defend a spiritual need for wild things within an economic argument? We simply cannot assign a value to that innate part of ourselves that needs wildlife and wild fish, and we should never attempt to do so.

Salmon have been a part of the Northwest for many thousands of years, and I cannot conceive that within my lifetime we have gone from relative abundance to near extinction.

I find my faith in places where wild steelhead swim. It is here, in those places, that our family experiences beauty, an appreciation and empathy for those creatures nonhuman, a sense of humbleness in a natural world of which we are just a part. If we lose wild steelhead and salmon, we lose a part of our connectedness to our Creator, because our family believes they are part of the same.

______________________________________________________________________

Jerry Myers was born and raised on a farm/ranch near Genesee, Idaho. He has been an licensed Idaho river and fishing guide since 1977 and, with his wife Terry, has lived on the Salmon River for 40 years.

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.

Fall Morning

October 27, 2018

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.


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