Archive for the ‘Fly Fishing’ Category

Burns Night 2020

January 25, 2020

My grandfather’s copy of The Poetical Works of Robert Burns

Tonight, as my wife and I put my daughter to bed, I read and spoke a bit about Robert Burns. To my ten-year-old child’s credit, she indulged me as I explained the significance of Burns’ use of the Scots language, his condemnation of the pretenses shown by the wealthy in church, and so on. She may have a limited interest in such matters at her age, but she seems to appreciate a poet who apologizes to a mouse, after disturbing its home. And I think she appreciates a poet who can admire how that mouse can get right to building a new home; unlike humans, according to this bard, the mouse will not become so obsessed with this or other wrongs nor so worried about obstacles not yet encountered that it cannot carry on. I hope my daughter will learn from Burns, who wrote “To a Mouse, on Turning her up in her Nest with the Plough” in November of 1785. For she will experience wrongs, and she will encounter obstacles. But I trust she will carry on, like the mouse.

Following are the final stanzas of Burns’ famous poem.

But Mousie, though art no they lane,
In proving foresight may be vane:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang oft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an” pain,
For promis’d joy.

But thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only troucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, though I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Skinny Boats

January 6, 2020

I recently purchased a canoe manufactured by Wenonah. I bought an “ultralight” aramid model (aramid is probably best known by the brand name Kevlar), with the intention of being able to handle it for the rest of my life. This purchase had been planned for a while, since we left an Old Town canoe behind during our last move.

I have spent much my life near water. Around the time I was born, my parents purchased a place on a little lake, bordering Montana’ Scapegoat Wilderness. Growing up, there was always a Grumman or Coleman canoe handy. I think I was still pretty young, when my mom taught me the common canoe paddling strokes, such as the j-stroke and c-stroke. When I grew older, I spent an a a lot of my time on the lake, in the canoe casting flies to rising cutthroat trout.

My father’s extended family also shared a lake-front piece of property in Montana, at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. This “inholding” still remains in the family. Sadly, however, as a result of poor choices on my father’s part, my immediate family and I can no longer claim it as out own.

For years, I spent the spring and fall at the Glacier property, staining cabins, painting, and doing other work. These were times when family was not often around and tourists were scarce. For company, I would visit the bar at the Lake McDonald Lodge. Often, I was without a car, and driving after a few drinks was not a great idea anyway. On the other hand, biking or walking at night in the forest–home to so many grizzlies–was also a poor idea. So, I would paddle a canoe to the bar and back

The family had an old Core Craft canoe. It was heavy, but with three keels, it shot across the lake like an arrow. I often took it fishing, casting to trout along the north bank of the lake. I would also take it to the inlet of McDonald Creek There, I would beach it on a sandbar and cast to the huge fish that fed in the depths carved out by the force of the incoming water. Take note, if you are visiting Glacier, that’s a great place to fish (if a bit dangerous; there have been many drownings there).

The bar I would visit is about three quarters of a mile away, as the crow flies, across the lake from our cabins. I would stick to the open water, rather than the shore, since it was safest to avoid the massive flow of McDonald Creek and any animals watering along the shore. In retrospect, the whole venture was foolish; any paddling after a few beers or glasses of Bushmills is. But I still remember those trips fondly.

Of course, Lake McDonald has been traveled by paddlers for many, many generations. It is part of the traditional homeland of the Ktunaxa or Kootenai people (the east side of the park in Niitsitapi or Blackfoot territory), who have long used canoes. In fact, the great western artist Charlie Russell painted a wonderful picture of a Ktunaxa man with his traditional “sturgeon nose” canoe pulled up on the bank of the lake. In the painting, titled “Indian camp on Lake McDonald,” the resting paddler looks toward the north end of the lake, where our family cabins are now located. Russell happened to have a cabin on the lake as well, which still stands across the lake to the west or left of the paddler in the painting.

“Indian Camp at Lake McDonald or “Land of the Kootenai,” by Charles M. Russell, 1901

We still have our property near the Scapegoat Wilderness; my sisters and I were able to hold on to it, despite my fathers’s troubles, and we now share it. At this lake, there is no bar to visit via canoe or otherwise (The closest bar is 13.3 miles away by dirt road. Yes, I checked the distance, when I was younger). When I am there, however, I spend a lot of time fishing from the canoe or just enjoying a trip around a portion of the lake with my wife and daughter (they’re just pretending to look miserable in the following picture). For me, the canoe is just a fundamental part of life there.

Happily, my work often takes me to the water as well. As an academic, I focus upon Native American “research and collaboration.” Here in the Northwest, canoes play a huge role in Native culture. Therefore, our university often offers programming involving them. Indeed, canoeing is a somewhat regular activity for many students. A few times, we have collaborated with Spokane tribal member Shawn Brigman, a PhD and architect.

Shawn has researched and designed a contemporary “Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe” (the copyrighted name refers to canoes based on his design). Most of Shawn’s boats are covered in ballistic nylon, but he has also built traditional bark covered versions. He is very knowledgeable about regional Native American canoe culture, and often serves as a teacher for and consultant with other tribes, museums, and so on. Following is a picture of me and colleague Faith Price paddling a canoe graciously made available to students by Shawn (Faith is waving in the foreground; students are in the background).

Photo by Earl Aston

So, I looking forward to getting my new canoe from Wenonah out, as soon as the weather allows. For the near term, however, it looks like snowshoes will be my only form of alternative transportation, aside from walking and driving. By the way, I purchased the canoe from Paddle People in Oregon; owners Jeff and Russ are a couple of fine individuals. I highly recommend them.

Professor Maclean, in Montana

December 14, 2019

First, my apologies for the long absence. I offer my thanks to those of you those of you who queried about a new post during that time. I write today to let you know about another piece of writing you might enjoy.

Earlier this month, writer Rebecca McCarthy published an essay about Norman Maclean in The American Scholar. In the essay, she recounts meeting him in Seeley Lake, Montana, while visiting her brother. The essay is titled “Norman Maclean and Me: Advice for Living and Drinking from the Author of A River runs through It” (great title, eh?).

McCarthy describes spending time with Maclean, whose summer home was near her brother’s, during a pivotal time in her teen years. Maclean, who knew the young woman wrote poetry, offered her advice and convinced her to attend the University of Chicago, from which he had recently retired.

She describes a visit to the 7 Up Ranch Supper Club, near Lincoln, for dinner. The restaurant burned down years ago, but locals will remember it fondly. And many non-locals from small towns will relate to the discussion in the essay about how being an intellectual in rural Montana or in South Carolina, where McCarthy lived as a girl, can sometimes be a lonely or even limiting experience.

McCarthy paints Maclean as a kind but colorful man, and any fan of his work will enjoy the essay. The publication notes that McCarthy is currently working on a book about Maclean. Meanwhile, you can find other examples of McCarthy’s excellent writing in The American Scholar, at Long Reads, and elsewhere.

I’ll be back soon.

Summer

August 7, 2019

I’ll write a proper post again soon. It has been a busy season.

Following are pictures from the Dalmatian Coast, Dublin, Montana, and the Colville Indian Reservation.

 

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.


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