Arkansas River Fall Redux—Without The Madding Crowds

Mid-September 2020

For my previous articles about the Arkansas River, see https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/19/goodbye-to-a-river-a-sweet-afternoon-on-the-big-ark-near-salida-co/#more-6843

Come early September, there is a magical transformation of my home water, the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado.  The jacked-up artificial summer water flows from local reservoirs for the benefit of recreational rafters are cut down dramatically from over 1,500 cfs to under 400 cfs, making the Big Ark wadeable, if just barely.  Better yet, for the most part the parade of pesky rafters, paddleboarders, kayakers, and float fishermen are gone, offering a modicum of solitude not to mention fewer watercraft running blithely through my honey holes as I watch in utter amazement only a short cast away. 

Just such a magical day recently presented itself coupled with a perfect weather forecast in the wake of a big freak snow storm and several nights of freezing temperatures—high in the 70’s, light breezes, and sunny skies. 

Freak Early September Snow Storm And Cold Weather Trigger Pre-Spawn Bite

I immediately stowed my small creek rigs and broke out heavier Ark river tackle that had been gathering dust since April—five weight rods and 5X leaders—and other essential gear like felt-soled waders. On one rod I tied on a dry/dropper combo with my old standby #16 Royal Coachman Trude on top and a #18 beadhead sparkle caddis nymph trailing two feet below. This time of year there are grasshoppers and big caddis flies around, which the Trude imitates, and the river rocks are loaded with caddis cases. On the heavier nymph rig I tied on a #16 Tung Teaser for the small stones and mayfly nymphs in the river and a #16 beadhead sparkle caddis nymph. I added a couple of BB split shots to get the flies down into the deeper holes and a small clear bubble strike indicator.

Tomorrow morning I’ll head downstream from Salida to one of my old favorite stretches that had been devastated in 2016 by the huge Hayden Pass fire.  The runoff after the fire deposited tons of ash and silt miles downstream past Texas Creek.  It killed off practically all the bug life in the river and silted over prime spawning beds.  I fished downstream of the fire in several locations each year since and only now has it finally begun to recover to its former status.  I found abundant bug life and some decent-sized browns last year up to 14-inches, but still lots of silt.  I’m hoping for even better things this year. 

With the snow storm, it’s been cold so I decide there’s no need to be up at the crack of dawn.  I’ll try to get on the river about 10:30 after the sun has had time to warm things up a bit.  I’m on schedule as I round the bend above my favorite spot and…DAMN….there are already two trucks parked in turnouts alongside U.S. 50 next to the river.  As I drive by the intruders slowly, I breathe a sigh of relief to see they are spin fishermen and are casting from the south shoreline.  Wade fishing Rule #1 on the Ark is to get to the north bank that isn’t trampled to death like the south by anglers not willing or able to wade the big water—which is a real challenge even when the water levels are low.  I like to see 330 cfs at the Wellsville water gauge (Google Colorado Water Talk and hit the Ark River tab.).  It had been down to that level last week, but the melt from nearly a foot of snow in Salida has bumped it up to 385 cfs—my limit.  Above that, it’s risk of life, especially for old codgers like me. 

In this stretch of almost a half mile, there are only two shallower runs that can be negotiated safely.  But before plunging in, I turn over some streambed rocks and am delighted to find they are loaded with caddis cases and small mayfly nymphs scurrying about.  I also notice there is a sporadic, light hatch of big yellow mayflies and caddis flies.  All systems are GO!

The current in my chosen route across to the north side of the river is strong, but with the aid of my trusty wading staff, felt-soled wading boots, and my long legs that keep the flow below my crotch for less resistance (I’m 6’3”, or at least I was before septuagenarian shrinkage began to occur.), I think I’ll make it.  Still, I nearly take a plunge when I venture into the thigh-deep part of the run.  I start to go slip sliding downstream but manage to pirouette to safety on a shallower gravel bar.

The Ark Is Challenging Wading Even At Low Water Levels

After my heart beat slows down, I unfurl the dry/dropper combo and make a short cast upstream of a pool formed in the wake of a big mid-stream boulder, a good spot that has produced in the past. As the Royal Coachman Trude floats jauntily down the riffle above the pool, past the boulder, and into quieter water, it suddenly disappears. I gawk for a second then wake up and set the hook. The pool erupts as a nice brown slashes back and forth with the caddis nymph in his mouth. Having fished mainly small creeks this summer, I make a mistake and let him get downstream of me and into the fast current. I utter a few choice epithets at myself, thinking it’s curtains for the leader, but to my surprise it holds and soon I work the fish—a hefty, healthy 14-inch beauty—into the net. Great start!! I get three more in the next few minutes if you count one well-executed long-distance release, two on the caddis nymph and one on the Trude.

Good Start To A Great Day

When the action slows, I venture into another fast, deeper current so I can reach a quiet run against the rocks along the north bank.  It’s always produced if I can drop the fly in the slower water no more than one foot from the shoreline.  My first two casts are too far out and the flies drag when the current catches the fly line.  But the third bounces off the rocks without snagging, and floats nicely downstream, me long-arming it so only the leader is in the water to avoid drag.  I shake my rod to feed out more line to get a longer drift and just as the Trude starts to drag, a fish shoots out from behind a rock and nails it—another nice brownie that immediately takes to the air then jets downstream.  With my rod bent double, I slowly coax him in against the current into my net. 

Now I am in shallower water and begin working upstream along the north shoreline.  The water is very clear and skinny in places, but I manage to pick up a couple more chunky browns on the nymph in deeper runs.  My destination is my favorite honey hole in mid-river another hundred yards upstream where the water cascades down a wide, shallow riffle past a big boulder and then pours into a long deep run that has produced some 18-inch browns and rainbows in the past before the big fire.

I wade gingerly out to midstream to get to a sand bar behind the big boulder where I can comfortably stand out of the current and reach most of the good water. With great anticipation I cast the dry/dropper rig, get a perfect float down the riffle into the pool and a nice drift through the deeper water, but it’s no dice. I try another half dozen casts but come up empty each time. So I switch to my double nymph rig and throw a long cast at a 45-degree angle upstream into the riffle just above the pool. The strike indicator bounces down the shallow riffle and as soon as it slides into the deeper green-colored water at the head of the pool promptly disappears. I snap the rod back, and a good rainbow skyrockets into the air. He puts up a terrific battle up and down the pool refusing to yield an inch. At one point when he zooms in front of me into a fast run and blasts off downstream, I am forced to execute a graceful, ballerina-like 360 degree twirl while trying to avoid snagging my other rod that protrudes high into the air from my waders where it’s stashed. Finally the bow relents and comes in for a quick photo and release. Pushing 14-inches, he’s dined on the caddis nymph. The next two casts into the same spot produce two corpulent, frisky browns, one on the Tung Teaser and the other on the caddis nymph. Now that’s more like it! It appears that the cold snap has clearly triggered some pre-spawn appetites.

Feisty Rainbow Adds To The Fun

I get a couple of more strikes, but don’t connect, and then the pool goes quiet. I spot a rise across the pool in a shallow run over a gravel bar, the only rise I will see all day despite the big mayflies and caddis that are floating by periodically and would seem to offer a hearty meal. I switch to the dry/dropper rod and cast across the pool into the shallow water to the north of the pool. BAM! The Trude disappears into the maw of another 14-inch brownie. Three more soon follow, one on the dry and two on the caddis nymph.

But where are the big boys and girls that have called the pool home in the past?? I decide to make the proverbial last cast upstream into the riffle and as soon as the dry slides into the pool there’s a mini-eruption. This is definitely a big fish! He bores deep, and I can’t gain any line. Then as if shot out of a cannon, the big brownie blasts downstream past me and out of the pool and into the heavy current below—with me in hot pursuit. My rod is bending double, and I’m sure he’s a goner, but suddenly the trout pauses and lets me gain the upper hand. I pressure him towards the bank and after several strong runs he slides up on a sand bar. I pounce on the prize, a 16-inch plus beauty. To my surprise he’s eaten the caddis nymph on the surface before it had a chance to sink! The brownie cordially agrees to pose quietly for a photo as I slide him back into the water. He’ll be the biggest of the day.

Trophy Of The Day

Now it’s time for a snack and relaxation. I sit and reflect on the True West scene in front of me—rugged pinnacles dropping precipitously from high ridges to the river below. And the river is definitely in better shape, most of the ash and silt from the 2016 fire finally scoured away.

I also notice the little yellow western flycatchers and other songbirds popping out of their hideouts in the tall grass and bushes along the shoreline to feast on the big yellow caddis and mayflies floating on the water.  Yet nary is a fish rising for them.  Go figure. 

Then it’s on to my next old reliable honey hole.  I make an inspired cast in a narrow slot between two boulders and am rewarded with another muscular brownie. 

I then miss a couple of strikes in the main current and that’s all she wrote for this usually reliable stretch.

I continue upstream and pick up another couple of smaller brownies then come to another dependable pool below a giant boulder that splits the river. But there is too much water, the extra 60 or so cfs churning the pool into froth. I do get a flash at the nymph, but that’s it. Now it’s bushwhacking time to reach the next set of pools. I manage to catch a nice brownie leaning out over the water and executing a backhand cast upstream, but finally the brush wins, and I beat a hasty exit to the railroad track up above. I see the shoreline upstream has become completely overgrown this past year with bushes, thorns, and other nasty vegetation and find I can only descend again to the river where the local herd of bighorn sheep has trampled an opening. I make a few casts, but come up empty, except for nearly hooking a western flycatcher that picks off a mayfly in front of me then does an about turn and dive bombs my Trude, veering off at the last second! I take that as a sign it’s time to head home, the thought of wrangling with an angry bird on my line, albeit small, not being appealing, especially with a NA beer waiting in the SUV.

I wade up to the second crossing that is not risk of life and cautiously make my way to the north shoreline.  It’s been great to see the Big Ark is recovering from that huge fire, and the fishing is almost as good as ever.  Now I’m salivating thinking of how big all those 14-inch beauties will be next fall on my home water.

Now’s the time to sample the Arkansas at its best. Water levels have dropped back to around 300 cfs at Salida and Wellsville, and the brownies are feeding voraciously getting ready for the fall spawn. Best of all, you wont’ be overrun by the madding crowds of summer.

The Best Fishing Books Of All Time: Installment #3

September 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This installment covers three categories from the list below:  Funny Bone Ticklers, The Zen of Fishing, and How-To/Technical Expertise

Installment 1 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

FUNNY BONE TICKLERS

Maybe because we take our sport so seriously, there are very few books involving fishing that really tickle our funny bones.  That’s not to say we don’t smile and laugh when we recognize ourselves in the stories from witty books like Trout Magic, and Trout Bum.   But I’m talking about the kind of books that will have you laughing out loud when you’re on an airplane.  But here are several exceptions:

Double Whammy and Skinny Dip –Carl Hiassen

Carl Hiassen is an award-winning journalist from Florida and accomplished salt-water fly fisherman who holds several IGFA records.  One of his first books, Double Whammy (1987), is a murder mystery that revolves around skullduggery in professional bass tournaments.  It features a host of memorable characters and a byzantine plot that is guaranteed to have you guffawing throughout.  In 2004 he followed up with Skinny Dip, another crime novel that has been included in several lists of the best comedic books of all time!  This one involves a crooked biologist in cahoots with agribusiness interests who are polluting the Everglades who throws his wife overboard from a cruise to keep his secrets.  This one really is a gut-buster.  Oddly, it was banned from prisons by the Texas Department of Corrections.  Another of Hiassen’s books, Strip Tease, was turned into a movie starring Demi Moore.

True Love And The Woolly Bugger—Dave Ames

Written by an outfitter, guide, and self-described itinerant fishing bum who averaged 150 days of fly fishing a year, this book was praised by Tom McGuane as a “thoroughly amusing, manic, and perversely informative book about fishing in several of its most mutant forms.  This is another read that non-anglers will enjoy as much as the angling tribe.   It is chock full of interesting characters like a Bahamian fishing guide who searches for gourmet food for his clients and a tattooed, motorcycle-driving, fly-fishing babe who teaches the hero about life and love.  Need I say more?

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Book 4)—Douglas Adams

A United Press International review called this “A madcap adventure . . . Adams’s writing teeters on the fringe of inspired lunacy.”  For you youngsters, the first volume of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was a cult sci-fi hit back when published in 1979.  It and successor volumes have been translated into 30 languages.  The broad theme of the Hitchhiker series involves the tale of last surviving human, Arthur Dent, following the demolition of the Earth an alien highway construction crew.    In this fourth volume, Dent is back on Earth trying to figure out whether his misadventures are just a dream.  However, when he finds a gift-wrapped fishbowl with a cryptic inscription along with the mysterious disappearance of Earth’s dolphins he deduces something is amiss.  Cosmic bedlam ensures.  The Boston Globe summed up the book well:  “The most ridiculously exaggerated situation comedy known to created beings . . . Adams is irresistible.”  Now admittedly, the link to angling is tad tenuous, but I guarantee you will enjoy this bizarre  fishing trip.

THE ZEN OF FISHING

Definition of Zen: A state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.

Perhaps that is the Zen of fishing—you become one with the water and fish, lost in the rhythm of the task before you.  Volumes have been written about why we fish…and many come to the conclusion that it’s not at all about catching fish, but everything that goes into the act as well as the environment that fish often inhabit.  For me, it is understanding the world of the fish so when I am on the stream I fish with intuition grounded in that knowledge.  A select few angling books could qualify here, for example, the insightful vignettes of John Gierach.  There are actually several with the title “The Zen of Fishing,” that didn’t make the cut.  Here is my short list.

The Longest Silence—Tom McGuane

First published in Sports Illustrated in 1969, this article about permit fishing has many devotees like me.  I will let the words of the opening paragraph speak for themselves:

“What is emphatic in angling is made so by the long silences—the unproductive periods.  For the ardent fisherman, progress is towards the kinds of fishing that are never productive in the sense of the blood riots of the hunting and fishing periodicals.  Their illusions of continuous action evoke for him, finally a condition of utter, mortuary boredom.  Such angler will always be inclined to find the gunnysack artists of the heavy kill rather cretinoid, their stringerloads of gaping fish appalling.”

Goodbye To A River—John Graves

As I age, this paean to an angler’s favorite river as he canoes down it one last time before a series of big dams forever submerges its wild nature under the sheen of still waters becomes more and more personal. Too often in my 70-plus years I have witnessed one after another of my home waters transmogrified sadly into something I no longer recognize. In the case of the Arkansas River near my cabin in the Colorado mountains, it’s not a dam but death by a thousand cuts by rafters, placer miners, float fisherman, wildfires, developers, and more lately paddleboarders. When he penned this wistful book in the 1950s full of zen-like reflections, Graves launched his career as a well-known writer. In it he weaves accounts of a three-week trip down the Brazos River in North Central Texas with fascinating stories of the history and settlement of the area and his experiences on it as a kid. Goodbye To A River became so successful that it helped stop most of the 13 dams planned for the river. One of the earliest voices against big dam foolishness of that era, the book became a landmark in conservation and has been compared to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Graves followed it with award-winning books including Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land, published in 1974, and From a Limestone Ledge (1980).

The Zen Of Fish:  The Story Of Sushi—Trevor Carson

How can a book with a title like this not make a list of publications that capture the Zen of fishing?

Published in 2007, this is definitely the complete work on sushi, from its history, through a sushi chef’s education, to how it is prepared.  As one reviewer noted:  “To the uninitiated, few things can be more intimidating than a sushi bar. Corson has created what could be the definitive work on the topic, enabling customers to comfortably and confidently stride into a sushi restaurant and order omakase without trepidation.”  No longer need we proletariat anglers be so intimidated when entering a sushi restaurant having an understanding of the Zen of fish.

Honorable Mention:  I stumbled across a blog on line with an article about the Zen of fishing that is a good read.  https://www.mrporter.com/en-us/journal/lifestyle/zen-and-the-art-of-fly-fishing-1082130

HOW TO/TECHNICAL EXPERTISE

The trend in angling books to the technical and how-to started in the 1950s and exploded in the 1960s-80s period.  It was very good in some ways, establishing a more scientific, thoughtful approach to angling, but in my opinion soon became overdone and started to take the fun out of the fishing experience.  However, I find the “how-to” books that follow are still valuable references. 

Streamside Guide To Naturals And Their Imitations—Art Flick

Published in 1947, this was the first blue-collar guide to fly fishing which heretofore had been the domain of private clubs and the wealthy.  Packed full of good tips, the book also broke ground with color photography and being small and portable so it could be carried on the water.  Just as importantly, it is fun to read as well–being, as one reviewer put it, “interspersed with quaint homilies and entertaining anecdotes.”  Fortunately before he passed away recently, Flick updated his book with a new edition that is just as valuable, particularly to novice fly anglers.

Fishing Different Types of Water—I learned a lot from these books when venturing out on challenging alpine lakes and small waters.

Fly Fishing The Mountain Lakes—Gary LaFontaine

Gary LaFontaine, who passed away in 2003, wrote several landmarks books such as Caddisflies.  But for my money, l learned more valuable tips and techniques from his guide to fishing alpine lakes.  Any angler who has hiked miles to a remote mountain water only to be skunked by finicky trout knows how different, difficult, and unique mountain lake fishing can be.  It is definitely a highly specialized pursuit, but this book helps unravel the mysteries.  Like Caddisflies, LaFontaine goes into astounding detail based in nearly fanatical efforts such as carrying four fly rod outfits, scuba gear,  and a float tube miles to thoroughly research his topic.  He was one of the first anglers to use a pack goat to haul his heavy loads up to tree line!  The book deals with topics from when to go to what to use.  The good news is that it is also very readable, chock full of stories and anecdotes that capture LaFontaine’s humor and warmth.

Small Stream Fly Fishing

As our major rivers in Colorado and elsewhere, like the South Platte and Arkansas, become more and more crowded, more and more anglers like me are retreating to small streams and creeks seeking solitude as well as fish.  One book I wished I had had two decades ago when I began exploring smaller, more remote waters is David Hughes’ Trout From Small Streams, published in 2014.  Hughes discusses everything from the right tackle and flies to casting and different approaches for meadow, freestone, and mountain creeks.  Another good choice is Tom Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing.  It’s illustrated in greater measure than Hughes’ book and in a coffee-table style format that is easy on the eyes. 

Casting—Whenever I foolishly agree to take friends fly fishing who are total beginners, I am always immediately reminded there a many moving parts to the art of catching a trout with a fly rod.  Perhaps the most challenging is casting.  I have entertained notions of strangling my dear pupils as they ignore every bit of sage advice and guidance I have given them and end up snagging me, every bush in sight, and themselves as fish rise all around us.  Fortunately, the grand dame of fly fishing has provided us with a how-to book that is not only perfect for beginners but also us old codgers who need to brush up on specialty casts in special situations like brush-infested small creeks.

Fly-Casting Techniques—Joan Wulff

First published in 1987 and since followed up with New Fly-Casting Techniques in 2012, this book stands alone as the best guide to casting ever.  In the original edition, Wulff delved into the physical aspects of casting as well as clear, simple explanations of the key elements of a successful cast.  The result was a revolutionary book that made fly casting understandable.  When coupled with her instructional video, Dynamics of Fly Casting, both beginners and old coots like me can learn the basics as wells as advanced techniques.

What Fish Actually Want—The avalanche of technical fly fishing books in the 1960s-90s, such as Selective Trout, by Swisher and Richards and Mayflies, a 366-page tome by Knopp and Cormier, introduced a more scientific approach to trout fishing. They also practically guaranteed a degree in entomology to any angler willing to actually read them through to the end. I bought every one I could get my hands on. No doubt they were valuable and helped put fly fishing on a sounder technical basis. They also led to a rush to tie flies to match the hatch that were more often more realistic than the natural! Eventually I and some of my brethren wearied of the movement that threatened, at least for us, to take the fun out of fly fishing and make it a job. Fortunately, I discovered several authors who shared my perspective and led a revolt against the overly technical trend that had gripped my beloved sport, also helping many of us lesser mortals to shed our guilt and angst at not having PhDs in fly fishing, bugs, and the like.

What The Trout Said About The Design Of Trout Flies And Other Mysteries—Datus Proper

“Innocence is a wild trout.  But we humans, being complicated, have to pursue innocence in complex ways.”  That quote captures the gestalt of Datus Proper’s book.  As one reviewer observed, his message is essentially to have us forget all the fancy stuff and listen to what the trout said.  Proper, an American Foreign Service officer, undertook exhaustive observation of trout in their habitat, their stomach contents, and other aspects of their feeding habits.  His basic conclusion is that for most waters, flies that are general imitations of the food trout are consuming are just as if not more effective that exact copies and that color is rarely as important as overall design.  This comports with my own experience except on still waters or slow-moving meadow or spring creeks where the trout have plenty of time to examine their quarry.  His book helped me breathe a huge sigh of relief and off-load a half-dozen fly boxes from my fly vest—leaving only another half dozen just in case.  Proper died in 2003, drowning in a Montana trout stream near his home while fishing after his retirement.  Not a bad way to go.

In The Ring Of The Rise—Vincent Marinaro

The same year What The Trout Said was published (1976), another landmark angling tome appeared that rocked the fly-fishing world.  Marinaro took a startling for the time approach to exploring feeding patterns and behavior of trout—he actually utilized high-speed color photography to capture unexpected and surprising responses of trout to food.  His conclusion was similar to that of Datus Proper:  Because the floating fly is the form least accurately perceived by the trout, presentation is far more important that imitation.  As esteemed angler Leonard Wright, Jr., observed, this book helped pull trout fishing literature off the “exact imitation” merry-go-round.  The first chapter of the book, “The Anatomy of the Rise,” with its incredible analysis of a variety of rise forms through color photographs, is worth the purchase price alone.

Through The Fish’s Eye—An Angler’s Guide To Gamefish Behavior—Mark Sosin and John Clark

Published three years before Proper’s and Marinaro’s landmarks, this book broke new ground by pairing a well-known angler and a fisheries biologist as authors.  It was the first to combine insights from ichthyology and fish biology to explain why fish bite and why the don’t.  Because Sosin was a renowned salt-water angler, there is more emphasis on saltl-water fishing than the other two.  On a personal note, John Clark, a brilliant practical hands-on fisheries biologist and certified character, was a colleague of mine in the 1970s at the Conservation Foundation (which later was merged into the World Wildlife Fund).  When we first met in 1975 he was tremendously impressed that I knew his name from this fishing book which was in my library rather than through his scientific and conservation accolades.

Award For The Most Practical And Useful How-To Fishing Book

The winner is, hands-down, Lefty’s Little Fly-Fishing Tips:  200 Innovative Ideas To Help You Catch Fish by Lefty Kreh.  I first met the iconic Lefty in the 1990s at a fly fishing show in Denver.  He delivered one the best practical and most entertaining sessions I have ever sat in on where I learned, for example, to sharpen your fly hook early and often.  I’ve come to find that I miss more strikes because of a dull hook than practically any other reason. Now that hook hone hangs at the ready on my fly vest.  Lefty expanded his practical tips in this book based on his over five decades of fishing to include topics such as how to rescue a fly that is stuck in a log and how to cast easily in tight quarters.  Get a copy today!

Crafty Coots Bewilder Cutts: A High-Country Getaway

Early September 2020

I just rolled in from my annual two-week backcountry fly fishing trip in the Colorado high country during which I was accompanied by my fishing buddy from Florida, Robert Wayne, Esq., internationally known angler and barrister (AKA “Insane Wayne”). We chase snook, redfish, tarpon and anything else that will bite in the winter in the Everglades, but during the summer he joins me in Colorado to devote two weeks to chasing Salmo truta (brownies), Salvelinus fontinalis (brookies), and other members of the trout family. Our mission on this outing: Search secret high-elevation creeks for cagey Oncorhynchus clarkia—native Colorado cutthroat.

Both of us are 72-years old, grizzled veterans of numerous trout-hunting campaigns across the USA. On this quest we faced riled-up rattlers, marauding bears, pesky camp robbers (Clark’s Nutcrackers), drought, an August snow storm (honest!), and steep canyon trails not to mention arthritis, sciatica, cataracts, and other assorted ailments well-known to septuagenarians. I am happy to report it was a rousing success! Using our small RVs as mobile fish camps, we managed to catch and release dozens of trout while covering three-to-seven miles on the water each day without any major disasters that might have called for hitting the rescue button on our emergency satellite phones.

We called upon our accumulated wisdom and prodigious casting skills to overcome skinny, crystal clear water in narrow creeks, pernicious grasping overhanging trees and bushes, and other impediments to outwit wild and shrewd trout (with brains the size of a quarter). Our best flies were the redoubtable Royal Coachman Trude dry that imitates both grasshoppers and caddis flies and the Tung Teaser and Beadhead Sparkle Caddis Nymphs that are excellent facsimiles of the two predominant aquatic bugs in these creeks, mayflies and caddis.

Mr. Wayne had his sights set on catching native cutthroats in each of the waters we plied which he accomplished in admirable fashion, the high point being a muscular 14-inch beauty, a big fish for any small water. Add to this piscatorial slams on several of the streams we fished—brownies, brookies, and cutts–and it all added up to a grand expedition.

Mr.Wayne’s culinary skills were also on display each evening back at camp, featuring delicious homemade meals including a hearty chicken vegetable stew and zucchini lasagna. When coupled with free-flowing bottles of pinot grigio and pinot noir and a daily ibuprophen fix, all bodily aches and pains were eased while assuring strength and nimbleness for the following day.

Here’s a visual recap of our trip:

Cutthroat Quest In The Rockies

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #2

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This second installment covers three categories from the list below:  Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Installment 1 Link:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

THE STORYTELLERS

Some of the best fishing books are those penned by accomplished storytellers—writers who relate short, entertaining vignettes and brief evocative descriptions of the angling experience.  John Gierach immediately springs to mind among today’s authors.  Most anglers have heard of him and enjoy his work as I do, but what about Robert Traver?  Traver and Gierach are at the tip top of my list of storytellers, always able to make me laugh and reflect as I recognize my own trials and tribulations on the waters chasing trout.

Trout Madness, being a dissertation on the symptoms and pathology of this incurable disease by one of its victims–Robert Traver (Judge John Voelker)

Before Gierach, Robert Traver was the king of spinning  fishing yarns.  Trout Madness was published in 1960 under the pseudonym of Robert Traver.  In a bygone era when hardly anyone made a living out of writin gabout fishing, attorney John Voelker (AKA Robert Traver) published Trout Madness which recounts through 21 short stories his adventures and misadventures on the streams and ponds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  One of the most entertaining is the piece delving into the history of his fishing car, Buckshot.  By 1958 Voelker had already established himself as a gifted writerwith his best-seller, Anatomy of a Murder, a true story that Otto Preminger turned into an Academy Award nominee starring James Stewart. Voelker soon thereafter retired as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to focus on his writing.  He followed up with another popular angling book, Trout Magic.

Trout Bum–John Gierach

Gierach is a worthy successor to Robert Traver as the sports’ premier storyteller and his early work, Trout Bum,  is one of his best.  A Colorado resident, Gierach published Trout Bum in 1986, popularizing that term in a book that has become a cult classic and is still my favorite among his prolific productions.  In a series of short stories and tales he captures in a witty fashion the essence, delight, and sometimes comic nature of fly fishing.  Since then he has published 19 other books in the same vein, one about every two-three years. His latest has just been released—Dumb Luck And The Kindness Of Strangers.  All are good reads but are somewhat repetitive.  One of my favorite fishing quips comes from an angler in one of Gierach’s tales, a definition of a fishing buddy:  “Yeah he can be an a**hole, but we get along most of the time.”  As an aside, Gierach probably has the most mispronounced last name among fishing authors.  Variations include Gee-rack, Guy-rish, Guy-rack, etc.  It’s Gear-ash from his own mouth in a musky fishing video that can be found on the web.

ANTHOLOGIES

Fishing has generated more books and literature than any other sport, reflecting its long history and millions of practitioners.  Perhaps as much as any genre of writing, fishing also has a surfeit of anthologies—a collection of stories by multiple authors in one book.   Usually made up of short stories or brief excerpts from a book, anthologies are perfect when you only have a limited time to read a story or two and don’t feel like plunging into a book-length commitment.  They are also a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and their works that you may decide are worth delving into.  I discovered Jim Harrison in that way.  I have listed three of my favorite anthologies below, each compiled by a noted author or publisher who is also an avid, accomplished angler.  Get one, settle back, and enjoy. 

Fisherman’s Bounty/The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories/Hook, Line, and Sinker—Nick Lyons

Perhaps more than any one person in the modern area, Nick Lyons is responsible for identifying and publishing gifted angling writers.  Lyons was a college English professor and then an executive editor for Crown Publishers, a major press. He went on to create his own publishing company, Lyons Press, which has earned a deserved reputation as the leading publisher of quality fishing books.  His first anthology and still one of the best is Fisherman’s Bounty which came out in 1970.  It includes writings from historical figures like Izaak Walton as well as stories from modern day authors who changed the course of fly fishing with their books in the 1950s-60s like Ernest Schwiebert (Matching the Hatch), and Vincent Marinaro (In The Ring of The Rise).  More recent anthologies like The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, which sports an incredible array of writers from Rudyard Kipling to Tom McGuane and John McPhee, and his latest, Hook, Line, and Sinker, carry on his tradition of wonderful anthologies.

Because of his tremendous impact on fly fishing literature, I am including this illuminating interview with Lyons from Fly Dreamers:

Fd: When did you start fly fishing? Can you tell us your memories from those days?

Nick: I had fished from before memory but I only started to fly fish seriously in my early 20s and was immediately mad for it. I had no instruction and found that I could not cast well when I threaded the line through the keeper ring. I fished in Michigan when I was in graduate school and caught nothing in the great AuSable. Back in NYC I fished a little club stream in New Jersey to which an army friend belonged–and finally began to get some fish, which made it all more worthwhile.

Fd: What are the reasons that made you start writing about fishing? What do you think drives people to do that?

Nick: I had been writing literary criticism but one day in my thirties I took a memorable trip to the Beaverkill with a remarkable new friend and immediately wrote “Mecca” and a little later “First Trout, First Lie” about a trout I had gigged in a small Catskill stream in mid-summer. FIELD & STREAM published them a few months later, my first writing about fishing. I loved the new “voice” I had found, so far from the heavy academic prose I had been writing.

Fd: How did you start working on publishing fly fishing books? How did you come across such great authors and works on the early days?

Nick: I was teaching English at Hunter College and (with four young children) took a second job at Crown Publishers. I wanted books closer to my heart than the commercial fare they published. Art Flick’s STREAMSIDE GUIDE was out of print and I wanted a copy so I got the rights and that was the first. Crown asked me to put together an anthology and I compiled FISHERMAN’S BOUNTY and happily this put me in touch with a whole host of first-rate writers, like Marinaro, whom I published next.

Fd: What can you tell us about the process of finding new authors?

Nick: There’s no substitute for reading widely, in all of the magazines on the subject, and in my case I asked just about everyone I came in contact with–or published–for their suggestions and pursued matters from there. I always leaned toward the literary but for non-fiction I tried to think of what “needed” to be done–Lefty Kreh on saltwater fly fishing, Swisher-Richards on new patterns–always the best I could find on worthwhile subjects.

Fd: Out of curiosity, what are the all-time top selling books on fly fishing?

Nick: SELECTIVE TROUT, ART FLICK’S STREAMSIDE GUIDE, PRACTICAL FISHING KNOTS, and THE ORVIS FLY FISHING GUIDE.

Fd: What are your thoughts on the amount of information available on the internet in contrast to the magazine and book industry?

Nick: I try not to follow the internet and consider most of it too simplified, in too many “bites”.

Fd: What are your all-time favorite books and authors related to the outdoors and fly fishing? What recent books would you recommend?

Nick: Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS. Roderick Haig Brown, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS. Norman Maclean, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Tom McGuane, anything he writes.

Fd: You have published the collected writings of Hemingway and Traver on fishing. Do you think it is possible, in these times, to have another outdoors writer of this level? Or having one that achieves the success of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It?

Nick: I doubt if anyone can match the sales of Maclean, which had a movie to push it along. But McGuane is every bit their equal, though very different.

Fd: How do you envision the future of fly fishing literature?

Nick: It’s getting harder to winnow out the best, with so many people in the pool–but you don’t need a lot of strong writers at any given time, and there are a lot I like. Practical writing is becoming more sophisticated in technical matters–color photography, for example.

Fd: A good fishing story is surely not enough, and a good writer still needs something to write about. What advice would you give to those who want to write about fly fishing?

Nick: Always read the best being written by others–and write from the heart not for the purse. Quintilian says: The heart makes the eloquence.

Fd: Being a key figure in the fly fishing editorial world, have you got a particular aim or message to give out to the global fly fishing community?

Nick: Write less, write more carefully, read the best, write from the heart, avoid all fads.

Fd: Do you consider it important to know about fly fishing history? Why?

Nick: Sure. Faulkner says the past is never past and fly fishing is no exception: knowledge of the past colors everything we do. I’m a passionate supporter of our museums, which preserve and celebrate the past. Some writers, like Theodore Gordon, are eminently wise and readable and often tell us much that we’re forgotten.

Fd: Some fishing. What is your favorite kind of fly fishing (dries, nymphing, streamers, etc.) and what are your favorite spots?

Nick: Dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks (like a couple I know in Montana).

Fd: As a final point, what does fly fishing mean to you?

Nick: Too much to answer briefly. I guess all the books and articles I’ve written address this. Or I hope so.

Silent Season—Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham, who passed away recently, was a prolific writer of fishing books, but was best known for his beautiful, highly-sought-after artwork that often featured outdoor and angling scenes.  His anthology, first published in 1978 and again in 1988, introduced me to a bevy of writers I had never heard of like Jim Harrison, Jack Curtis, and Harmon Henkin.  It also includes Tom McGuane’s jewel, “The Longest Silence.” A bonus is the illustrations in the book by Chatham.

Into The Backing—Incredible True Stories About The Big Ones That Got Away—And The Ones That Didn’t—Lamar Underwood

What angler could possibly resist a book with this title?  An interesting anthology as it has a unifying them—fighting big fish!  Underwood definitely has the credentials to pull together such a tome—he is the former editor-in-chief of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. This is one of my favorite anthologies with a smorgasbord of authors ranging from Joe Brooks (The Hat Trick), Roderick Haig-Brown (Episodes from Fisherman’s Spring), and Zane Grey (The Dreadnaught Pool). 

ODDITIES

There is a select group of fishing books that can only be described as outside-the-box oddities.  After reading them you can only shake your head, bemused and semi-bewildered at the fertile mind of the authors who concocted these books and tales.  The first in particular is a mind-blower!

Trout Fishing In America—Richard Brautigan

Leading the pack by a fair margin is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America.  Brautigan, a cross between a beatnick and hippie, was a counter-culture, youth movement icon in the riotous 1960s.  Trout Fishing America was published in 1967 and sold over 4 million copies—probably a record among modern angling books.  This is a challenging book to read.  Trout Fishing In America turns out to be a person searching for the meaning of life.  If you can get by this and other odd constructs in the book (perhaps with the assistance of a little cannabis), you will discover some real gems like my favorite vignette, “The Hunchback Trout.”  Brautigan was clearly an avid angler as well as a writer, poet, and free spirit.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously on a dock and then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

The Feather Thief, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century—Kirk Wallace Johnson

Another book by a journalist, The Feather Thief could be in a class of its own.  It is an oddity not because of the idiosyncrasies of the author and his writing style,  but because of the outrageously bizarre true tale it tells.  Try to imagine a secretive group of fly tiers who will do just about anything and pay any price to get their hands on plumes from endangered and extinct birds so they can tie their gaudy traditional salmon flies to exact specifications set forth in antique books.  Then further imagine among them a young accomplished American flautist/fly tier who in 2009 breaks into a branch of the British Museum outside London and steals the skins of hundreds of rare birds, some centuries old that were gathered by renowned explorers and naturalists.  He proceeds to sell them for thousands of dollars.  Will he be caught and punished?  What happened to all those priceless skins?  It all adds up to an intriguing true-crime novel.

Installment Three will cover Funny Bone Ticklers, Zen of Fishing, and How To/Technical Expertise

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME

August 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded many of us the time to fish and also catch up on reading and do some reflecting on life. When I’m on the water and catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I sometimes find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 40). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Best Literature

I distinguish this category from others by several measures.  First, does the book and writing appeal to non-anglers?  If it does, that definitely says something.  Second, what do other accomplished authors who have written acclaimed books have to say about it?  The authors on my list below are real craftsmen with words.  And finally, was it interesting enough to be made into a movie? 

1.  The Longest Silence:  A Life In Fishing—Thomas McGuane

The Longest Silence is a series of keenly observed essays about the lessons and insights McGuane gleaned from a lifetime spent fishing.  James Harrison, a peripatetic poet, novelist, and essayist who himself wrote about fishing and whose novel Legends of the Fall was made into a movie, calls it the best book on angling of all time.  I must agree.  In his essays, McGuane takes us around the world fishing for tarpon to trout and introduces us to some memorable characters along the way.  McGuane, who lives in Montana and continues to write and fish, wrote several other notable books on the outdoors and fishing including his debut novel, The Sporting Club, a dark comedy about the intergenerational conflict between young whippersnapper Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation.  Sound familiar Millenials and GenXers?  Another good read, Ninety Two In The Shade, a tale of a young fishing guide running into trouble in the Florida Keys was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.

2.  A River Runs Through It—Norman Maclean

Norman MacLean was an English professor at University of Chicago while I was studying there to become a lawyer.  He never wrote a book until he retired, but when he did in 1976, Maclean produced a lyrical, heartbreaking semi-biographical story that became a blockbuster.  One line in A River Runs Through It describes how many of us anglers feel about our sport: “I am haunted by waters.”  In 1992 Robert Redford directed an excellent movie that was true to the book starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.   As an aside, Maclean’s son John penned a riveting book, Fire On The Mountain, about a wildfire that took the lives of 14 firefighters near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

3.  The River Why—David James Duncan

How can any angler resist a book that mixes fly fishing, family, and baseball?  However, this is a book that has probably been read by more non-anglers than any other on this list.  The main character Gus is a child fishing prodigy who after he graduates from school sets out to fish his brains out according to a rigourous schedule on the mythical Tamanawis River.  After he finds the body of a dead angler, Gus starts his real journey in life, finding love along the way.  The author Duncan wrote several other acclaimed novels, and The River Why was turned into a movie starring Zach Gifford, Dallas Roberts, and William Hunt that unfortunately did not live up to the book.

4.  Big Two-Hearted River—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for his story Old Man And The Sea, so I risk sacrilege by saying for my money his Big Two-Hearted River, the concluding installment in his semi-autobiographical series The Nick Adams Stories, is a better one, especially for anglers.  This tale is about a young man, Nick Adams, just back from World War I and suffering from shell shock, who takes off on a fishing trip to clear his head.  Hemingway’s writing in Big Two-Hearted River is his usual spare, pure style.  As a young law school student in Chicago and aspiring fly fisherman, I loved that title, read the book, and set out to fish the Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately, before I set out I learned that like many in the fishing fraternity, Hemingway was damned if he was going to give away the name and location of a favorite fishing spot.  It was actually the Fox River which I fished one summer between classes, a canoe trip that featured clouds of man-eating mosquitos, few fish, and ended in near disaster when our canoe flipped and we lost our paddles 10 miles from civilization in a dense forest.  Fortunately soon after we started to walk out I spotted one paddle in a sweeper, and we were able to retrieve it and float to safety.

5.  My Moby Dick—William Humphrey

Of all the books on this list, this spare short one is probably the least known and rarely mentioned in the same breath as any of the others.  But as one reviewer wrote, “one of the finest fishing stories ever published, My Moby Dick is a small masterpiece about a whale of a fish.”  In a nutshell, Humphrey spends an entire summer chasing with his fly rod a huge one-eyed trout that he serendipitously stumbles on in a small creek near his vacation home.  Along the way, through his elegant, erudite writing, English professor Humphrey shows us what real literature and writing are like even in telling a fish story.  Humphrey came to writing My Moby Dick after penning acclaimed non-angling books such as Home From The Hill and The Ordways.  Thank our lucky stars he was also an aspiring angler and shared this hilarious tale with us.  It is chock full of wry, smart observations about fly fishing and anglers who pursue trout. Here is but one example:

I had never known a fly fisherman. Since my ignominious failure to make myself one and my retrogression to worms, I had not wanted to know one. …But even if I had known one, known him well, I would not have trusted myself to seek his help now. Indeed, I would have shunned him altogether. He would have surely notice my state of excitement. His curiosity would have been piqued. My eagerness, my impatience to learn and to put my knowledge to work, would have given me away. A wild look, that of one who has gazed on wonders, haunted my eyes in those days. Fly fisherment are a suspicious crew, and their suspicions run on one thing. My secret would have been guessed, and I would have been shadowed to its soure in Shadow Brook.”

Honorable Mention:

A couple of other books that could be on this list are Howell Raines’, Fly Fishing Through The Mid-Life Crisis and Harry Middleton’, The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up In A World of Flyfishing,Trout, and Old Men.  Raines had a storied career with the New York Times before he penned this book after a nasty divorce, producing a beautiful meditation on the “disciplined, beautiful, and unessential activity” we call fly fishing.  Middleton’s book is a memoir of his growing up in the Ozarks and chasing trout with the two old codgers who raise him.  In the process he learns not only the art of fly fishing but also about the beauty and value of nature in life.

The next installment of Best Books will cover Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.