I’m currently re-reading my favorite fly fishing book, Trout Bum by John Gierach. The idea was to write a review of the book, but then I thought, “What’s the point?” This is one of the most popular works of fly fishing literature in the last 25 years. Countless numbers of fly fishers and non-fishers alike have read the book. It’s doubtful there are many out there waiting to read a review before they purchase the book. So, as opposed to doing a straight dry review, I figured I’d take a different approach and express some of my thoughts about the book as I was reading it yesterday morning (before coming down with this stomach virus).
To get started, I had to be in the correct frame of mind. To that end, I fixed a pot of good ol’ 8 o’clock coffee, picked out a CAO cameroon cigar from my little humidor, and took a seat on the steps outside my apartment. The weather was incredible: puffy cumulus clouds afloat on a deep blue Alabama sky, low 70s and a cool autumn breeze. Couldn’t ask for better weather to read a good fly fishing book, although the surroundings could have been a little better, like maybe the Smoky Mountains or Colorado Rockies. But hey, might as well enjoy what you’ve got.
Trout Bum contains my favorite fishing essay of all time. It’s the chapter entitled “Headwaters.” There’s nothing profound here really. It’s just a narrative which follows the author as he hikes and fishes up a local stream to it’s headwaters. Gierach transports me right up to that high mountain lake with him. Modern fly fishing magazines are missing something that this little essay has. When I read about fly fishing, I’m more interested in the experience of being in beautiful places, of being alone, of being together with good friends, of asking life’s tough questions. Heck, if I was just interested in learning techniques, I’d have stuck with bass fishing. If all fly fishers want to do is catch fish, why don’t we all drop our fly rods and buy some spinning outfits. Heck of a lot easier. Fly fishing articles should relate an experience, a place, a time and then maybe teach you something about catching a fish as a side effect. “Headwaters” does that.
The middle of the book is a wealth of great writing. “Headwaters”, “Turning Pro”, “The Adams Hatch”, and “Night-fishing” are all among my favorite outdoor essays. “Turning Pro” is, on the surface, an essay about Gierach’s experiences in attempting to become a professional fly tyer, but the essay is really a statement about how turning something you love into a business can destroy your love for that something. “The Adams Hatch” is an essay about a trip to the Frying Pan River with A.K. Best. This would be a relatively insignificant essay if it didn’t contain one of the funniest fishing stories that I’ve ever had the priviledge of reading. Once you read this, the statement “Leave my mother out of this” will never be the same for you. Insane and I use that statement all the time now whenever we are giving each other grief about one thing or other. “Night-fishing” falls along the same lines as “Headwaters.” Gierach relates the tale of a solo night-fishing trip. Gierach is a master at using understated imagery, and this story is a prime example. I feel like I’m there with him once again. In the process he manages to make statements about life on several fronts. I will restate my position that this is the kind of writing sorely missing from most fly fishing magazines. I know there is a place for dry technical writing about fly fishing, but most of the time, you could work that into a story that’s actually interesting to read if you gave a little effort.
To conclude, buy Trout Bum and read it. It was a revelation for me. When I first picked it up, I had never read real outdoor “literature.” My reading had been restricted to articles and books that covered techniques, locations, and trout food. Gierach will teach you a little bit about all that other stuff, while entertaining you in the process. Highly recommended.