How Fish Work

How Fish Work

An angler's biology book; Female fly-fishers in the last frontier; Flyline history; and more

  • By: Seth Norman
Fly Fishing Women Explore Alaska By Cecilia "Pudge" Kleinkauf Photos by Michael DeYoung (Epicenter Press, 2003; 800-950-6663) 112 pp.; paperback; $19.95 See ya, gents. In Fly Fishing Women Explore Alaska all the photos are of women. Author Cecilia "Pudge" Klienkauf runs a guide service named "Women's Flyfishing," and the largest portion of the bibliography is subtitled "Books by Women." Rivers are also feminine. The Talachulitna, for example: ""Although no two years are ever quite the same, her dusky pools and wadeable riffles call me back again and again…she changes course, and at times low waters reveal her secret depths… " This book focuses on five Alaskan destinations: Kodiak Island, the Tangle Lakes, the Brooks, Talachulitna and Aniak rivers. Much of the information arrives in dialog between author and students, including lessons on casting, presentation and choosing flies. The intent is both to teach and convey a convivial, "can-do experience," combining these into an invitation. We've done and done the issues around "aimed-at-women" fly-fishing books and videos, but here's a fair question: Does this one differ from what a man would expect from a male writer approaching the subject? Yes. In tone, emphasis, and even some of the bright illustrations. Most of page 61, for example, is dedicated to a photo captioned "A tubing strategy session," in which three women cluster up, one smiling widely, another wearing a lavender hat. Can't tell you how I know, but it wouldn't have shown up in a book by a Bill for a Bob. There is one guy in here, however. Among other duties, he's the cook. America's Fly Lines The Evolution of the Modern Fly Line By Victor Johnson, Jr (EP Press; 2003; 707-644-4788) 166 pp.; softcover; $21.95 Author Victor Johnson, Jr., called me when preparing to publish this book. He'd already printed Fiberglass Fly Rods, the Evolution of the Modern Fly Rod from Bamboo to Graphite, which is the Bible to some fiberglass-fishing fiends. Now Johnson wondered where to go and what to expect with A History of Fly Lines in America. I hadn't a clue. I also had embarrassingly little knowledge or understanding of flyline history, I discovered when the author sent me his final product-that I was ignorant of both the players involved and the progression of technology. Even Myron Gregory's efforts to promote flycasting as an Olympic sport, circa 1960, came as a surprise. The author includes a copy of the US Olympic Committee's initial, lukewarm response to that proposal, along with a hundred-plus photographs of people and products, patent drawings, tables and diagrams: as with Fiberglass Fly Rods, Johnson's done his homework. He begins with "Fishing lines from ancient time," proceeds to the "US fly line industry: 1800-WWII," adds post-WW II lines, then works his way to contemporary lines and manufacturers. One later chapter offers advice on how to care for fly lines, and another has a price guide for lines now collectable. It's a solid, valuable reference. Also a chronicle of challenges: constructing and weighting tapers, adapting and inventing new coatings and cores, the effort to unify standards so anglers could match lines to rods that were also changing. Indeed, I had a new appreciation for the many innovative people and companies that allow me to cast and fish better. It even occurred to me suddenly that those tailing loops might not be the line's fault. Could be the rod. How Fish Work: Fish Biology&Angling By Thomas J. Sholseth, DVM, MPVM (Frank Amato Publications, 2003; 800-541-9498) 86 pp.; softcover; $19.95 Although the subject of the science of angling certainly isn't obscure, Thomas Sholseth's irreverent approach to the subject will push some eyebrows well up into hairlines. For instance, it's remarkable how few researchers with degrees in veterinary medicine will present readers with a photograph of their elementary school report card, by way of providing "Documentation of early childhood development." Of course, it's almost as rare to see somebody directly challenge our disdain of scents, despite the fact that some fish species rely heavily on smell to locate prey. "I've often wondered about flyfishing traditions surrounding the ethics of imitation," admits the author. "It's fine to imitate the visual characteristics of the target species prey. And perhaps you can include a little auditory or lateral line stimulation, as with popper fishing…But when it comes to selling your fly by smell, appealing to the olfactory lobes…we're talking a felony." If Sholseth takes himself and certain fly-fishing orthodoxies with a grain of salt, his examinations of what fish see, hear, feel, taste and smell offer intriguing insights about how we should pursue them. In the area of optics, he literally sheds light on the subject, discussing UV, phosphorescence and fluorescence. Various photographs demonstrate the polarizing qualities of tying materials, stressing luminosity and contrast, to suggest why some of these-select synthetics, polar bear hair-will often outperform others. He also discusses how physiological changes induced by anadromous migration alter the eyes of Pacific salmon, beginning a "shift to the longer wavelengths" that explains why fish tuned to hunt blues and greens in the ocean attack red when moving upstream. Swimbladders, "superstimuli," the "mob mentality" of schooling fish, scale collection for field journals, fish handling and CPR… Sholseth examines an eclectic collection of fish-science subjects, employing illustration and anecdote to emphasize how these relate to fly and conventional tackle anglers. From the outset it's obvious there will be a test…and that fish will score it. Casting About in the Reel World Fishing on the Fly By William Douglass (2002, RDR books; 510 595 0595) 258 pp.; Softcover; $17.95 Don't know why I got this travelogue so late, but the six or seven others also waiting on my shelf tipped me off to a trend. I presume the boom in "Have Rod, Will Travel" books reflects the fact that booking anglers to "frontier" destinations is now the healthiest part of the fly-fishing industry. For many, the more exotic-or at least less traveled-the water, the better. Douglass is of that tribe. He fishes about six weeks a year, most of this time spent in places like Honduras for peacock bass, Kamchatka for Atlantic salmon and steelhead, Mongolia for taimen, Bikini Island for bones. On occasion he's been one of the earliest visitors to venues now well known, and some of his journeys are epic. That suggests the author has interesting stories to tell. Douglass does and does these justice because his descriptions are both richly detailed and clearly unvarnished. An anthropologist by training, with a particular interest in Basques, he's a "professional purveyor of words" whose research and insights to the places he angles, and the people he finds there, encompass far more than most authors in this genre. That's as obvious when he's discussing politics with the owner of an estancia he's fishing-the history behind death threats to Uruguay's reformist president-as when describing the effect of "going native" on Australians in the Marshall Islands, how post Soviet economics encourages tiger poaching, and why the immigrant beavers of Tierra del Fuego are so unusually tame. It's a question of preference, but from my perspective such discourses knit into characters and conditions the author encounters, add enormous substance to "sporting" stories. By the time Douglass has taken a reader to and from a locale, he's usually presented a sense of the ways its fortunes and fishing depend on logging, dams, poachers, local insurrections…and maybe the money a visitor leaves in people's pockets. In addition to that, no matter how unusual the author's destinations, I suspect his trips will remind readers of their own adventures, recalling the vicissitudes of travel as well as the glories-good days on the water, the occasional great one…and some real stinkers. For those contemplating voyages that require substantial investment, this is a wonderful primer on what to expect. Off-the-beaten tracks are often seriously rutted and adventures are full of accidents-lucky breaks, broken outboards, missed opportunities, epiphanies of various shapes and sizes; and at the best of lodges you'll meet people to remember for years, along with one or two you might pay to forget. As to Douglass's chapter on guides, it should be required reading for everybody who pays for this service or provides it. Of all the cultures the author examines, the one he scrutinizes most carefully is his own-the 5,000 fly-fishing players who sustain the high-end travel trade, scouring the globe for the last best places: "The search for frontiers is, of course, illusory, since, once penetrated, any frontier ceases to be one."