Waters, Large and Small

Waters, Large and Small

Small Streams, Western Rivers--and Angling at Altitude

  • By: Seth Norman
Trout from Small Streams By Dave Hughes (Stackpole Books, 2003; www.stackpolebooks.com; 800-732-3669) 176 pp.; hardcover; $16.95

There's a brain-shift many of us experience when we're consciously trying to learn something. Last Saturday, for example, the instructions to "Assemble tail light bracket (26) to rear end of side rail (1RL, 1 RR), then install license plate bracket (27) and left tail light (28L) (with clear lense [sic] for light) with nut. See illus. 5(y)" reminded me that's it just fine to have a mid-morning drink on a weekend, and justified, given that only two of the 32 red parts (not counting 53 different types of "hardware") that arrived from China were actually labeled.

The point is that even how-tos for tasks important to us often end up as chores, right-brain endeavors with all the charm of flossing. Trout from Small Streams is a how-to all right, but so obviously different that it's a little startling from the get-go. For one thing, I can't remember the last time I met a book of this type that had not one picture or diagram between the covers-zero, none, zip. Remove the book jacket and Streams is stripped of all its visual supports. What's left, however, is hardly bereft of images.

The subject of Trout from Small Streams is so close and dear and comfortable to author Dave Hughes that readers with modest experience will quickly fall into step, nodding occasionally as they carry their part of this relaxed conversation. Hughes begins with how "Land Shapes Water," proceeds to "Streams Shape Anglers" then goes on to tackle in "Gear Down." In the next eleven chapters Hughes discusses everything from generalities like "The Learning Curve" to the nuts-and-bolts of "Dry-Fly Size," "Working Wet Flies," Stream Situations" and "Stalking Beaver Ponds." Along the way he addresses just about everything else, from specialized casts to the basics of stalking, organizing boxes, et al.

There's little missing here. See for yourself:

Part of my lack of hurry in that place is because the picture is so beautiful. I'm always crouched near the head of the pool on my knees on fine gravel, overhung by alders, struck by sunshine filtering through the leaves, able to gaze off at all that beauty around me while the fly sinks and is pushed downstream. I usually make a downstream mend to enable the current to pick up the speed of the drift a bit. That downstream mend also puts the line in the perfect position from which to make the retrieve. When the line has floated downstream far enough to begin getting tugged by the tailout itself, then it animates the fly. That's when I draw my attention in from the scenery and watch for anything arrowing after the fly. It doesn't happen on every cast. It doesn't happen in every pool. But it happens often enough to keep me happy and in that prayerful position on my knees.

Notice I wrote that in Trout from Small Streams, Hughes addresses "just about" everything, and that there is "little" missing? While many anglers are reticent to reveal favorite waters, small-stream enthusiasts could teach classes on how to resist interrogation. If our national secrets were left in their care, the Russians still wouldn't have the bomb. They've good reason for care: a boat full of yahoos on the Beaverhead probably won't spoil your day, but even a well-mannered stranger on your favorite trickle can feel like your first girl's father sitting next to you on the porch swing. More importantly, small streams are fragile environments, as Hughes asserts when talking about beaver ponds you'll sometimes stumble across, "It's easy to clean a beaver pond out of a season's worth of its catchable trout."

Fly-Fishing with Trout-Tail
-A Child's Journey By K.H. Lucas (TKTK, 2002; www.TK.com; Tel TK) 40 pp.; hardcover

Sophia and I perused this book while propped up on pillows. She read while I turned pages-an exercise we've pretty much perfected over her eight-year span. Sophie ooo-ed over the pretty photographs, picked out flies she liked-"you have some of those!"-and made remarks common to fly fishers three or six or ten times her age, like "Nice fish!" That the main character's nick-name was "Trout-tail" didn't overly interest her; and since Fly-Fishing with Trout-Tail is a pictorial introduction rather than a how-to, she didn't learn much she doesn't know; but it's the first time she saw anybody her own age practicing a sport she already enjoys, and that was exciting. "So what do you think?" "I like it!" "Yeah? What do you like about it?" "It shows how great fly-fishing is!" "Ah-hah. And what if you'd never fly-fished before, what would you think then?" "I'd say, 'Daddy, take me fly-fishing right now!' " There you go.

Fly Fishing Large Western Rivers:Winter; Spring; Summer; Fall
(Four video/DVD set) with Rick Hafele and John Smeraglio (Laughing River Productions, 2003; www.laughingrivers.com) Approx. 50 minutes each; $24.95 singly on VHS, or all four for $84.95 on DVD

Bullwinkle, of Rocky and… drops by on occasion-or drifts, as it were, floating directly behind Rick Hafele and John Smeraglio as they introduce a sequence. At one point our host hooks and lands an undergarment that some enormous lady will miss; and occasionally entomological mysteries must be resolved by "Bugwan," a gold-turbaned character who advises anglers while folded into a lotus position up the bank in the shade.

Perhaps these examples suggest that the four videos in this series are not entirely serious efforts to help fly fishers angle changeable Western Rivers, guiding us from season to season and hatch to hatch. Wrong: If the approach is madcap at moments-okay, often-the content of these tapes is pragmatic, practical and eminently informative.

To clarify, noted entomologist and author Rick Hafele teamed up with guide and shop owner Joe Smeraglio to film these videos on the Deschutes River, each set during a different season of the year, under different water conditions and temperatures, with new sets of bug and beast life available to the trout. Toward the beginning of each tape, Hafele and Smeraglio seine a stream, discuss the lives they find, then adopt gear, tactics, and flies appropriate to the moment. Along the way they make mocking reference to therapy, drinking habits, their partner's skill or lack thereof, and the gratifying fact that both have day jobs. They're fond of repeating motifs: "This fish is fourteen inches," Hafele says often, usually while holding a redside rainbow well under a foot. "It's just that I have really big hands. It's a problem, these big hands." Five minutes later, "Here he comes. Nice fish, too." Then, "Of course, I have really big hands… "

To acknowledge that some of the whimsy is wild(e) shouldn't suggest Oscar, or an Oscar, for that matter: and after watching one of the opening segments my five year old, Max, was certainly suspicious of one conceit: "Did they catch the moose, Daddy? Did they hurt it?" That said, there's not a single tense or overblown moment in any of the tapes I've watched; and it's hard to find entomology lessons daunting when discussed by a half-naked Hafele Bugwan.

Trout at 10,000 Feet: Reflections of a Passionate Fisherman
By John Bailey (Stackpole Books, 2001; www.stackpolebooks.com; 800-732-3669) 176 pp.; hardcover; $19.95

There are many measures of books. Here's one: you know you're gut-hooked when you stop abruptly a couple of chapters in, compelled by the question, "What else has this writer written?" Page 56, Chapter Three, of Trout at 10,000 Feet is where that happened to me, halfway through, "Song of the Sturgeon"-a remarkable, violent ,and gritty adventure on the Volga near where it enters the Caspian Sea. Author John Bailey begins with a description of his captain and host on a voyage to explore the possibility of encouraging European tourism in the area:

Mochanov, who was a beast of man, was shot in the head, his body found in the winter Volga, just south of Astrakhan. He was big in the Mafia there and during the weeks that I spent with him, his stories chilled me to the soul… Pasha told me what I'd already guessed at: He'd have squashed me like a fly had he not felt I could potentially be of use to him. With the deaths of scores/hundred/ thousands I can't guess, to his name the demise of a single squishy Englishman would have made little difference to his sleep at night.

By page 61, readers will also be "glad they put a bullet in Mochanov's brain," and not only for crimes against humanity. Bailey believes the "toad of a man" would have killed him, had he author not pretended to sleep during Mochanov's nightly poaching forays, part of the wholesale slaughter of sturgeon, an ancient species of fish the author admits "mean the world, the absolute world to me."

Much of Bailey's world is water, as it happens, and this is evident from page one. The first chapter of Trout at 10,000 Feet is one the more mesmerizing and descriptions of how a body becomes a body crazy to fish the River Why. Every river, that is. Bailey has spent a lifetime prowling the world for the gamest of swimming quarries. Mongolia, the Arctic, India, Brazil. Taimen-"a fish from the dawn of history"; ferox-"the great, predatorial brown trout that live only in these glacial lakes, where char, their prey, are round." Mahseer and salmon, carp, bonefish and arapaima, "the air breathing giant." He fly-fishes for some of these, but the pursuit dictates his tackle and techniques, and everything else in life.

As the book's subtitle only begins to suggest, this is all about obsession. Some of us know a bit about that. But Bailey is special. It's not just that he's dedicated his life to these quests, has traveled in ways few others ever will, or that his advice about traveling is superb. No: here's a writer who constructs scenes so evocative and compelling-however alien-that weeks later you remember the heat, how light looks flashing from a creature rising from depth, an edged remark, the sound of a "futtering" diesel. Bailey's characters of flesh and scales are often so vivid they seem to leave smells on your hands:

Sometimes, on the long row back to the boat, I'd see a sturgeon hunting. A beluga, the mother of all the sturgeons. Possibly the most awesome fish on the planet, creatures from the crack of creation. They surged into the shallow water as they hunted, their backs black against silvery, shivering water. Here, a shoal of asp sheer away from a fish perhaps five- or eight-hundred pounds in weight. There, a carp of a full twenty pounds is sized a metre in mid-air. Its end is volcanic. Mochanov was in no doubt: "The beluga sleep in the deep holes of the river during the day. Sleep, my friend, like all wise creatures. And then as the sun begins to sink they stir and they move and they hunt. Again, my friend, like all wise creatures."