Nervous Water

Nervous Water

Plus, Wooly Wisdom and a Fly-Fishing Cover Girl

  • By: Seth Norman
Nervous Water Variations on a Theme of Fly Fishing By Steve Raymond (The Lyons Press; 2006; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 224 pp.; hardcover; $22.95 On page 79 of Nervous Water I found Steve Raymond's essay, "Remembering Ralph Wahl," about a legendary Northwest angler who lived mostly in the town where the author grew up and I live now. I stopped to ponder a moment after reading a description of the two men's drives to fishing spots: "(Wahl) was a quiet man and I tend to be that way myself, so we never said very much on these trips.We would either sit in comfortable silence or listen to some of the remarkable tape recordings Ralph had made: the awesome chorus of an endless flight of sandlhill cranes passing over Peterhope Lake, conversations with Northwest fly-fishing giants such as Tommy Bradshaw and Roderick Haig-Brown, or seminars at some of the early conclaves of the Federation of Fly Fishers." What struck me then, and often thereafter while reading this thoughtful and entertaining collection, was the possibility that "quiet" authors write differently than we noisier sorts. It's too large a generalization, of course, but it echoed again when I returned to Raymond's Preface: "Nervous water. Sometimes it's nothing more than a fleeting crease or wrinkle on the surface of a lake or stream, or a small patch of salt water that looks almost as if it's shivering. But wise anglers know such subtle surface movements are nearly always signs of a fish stirring down below." Theories aside, Raymond's prose is direct, his commentary forthright, frankly opinionated, frequently funny and not without cutting edges, as when he critiques belly boats in "Boob Tubes," the warmwater species that invade Northwest trout water in "Sensitivity Training," and fly-fishing fashions in "Dressing for Success." As those subjects might suggest, there's nothing constrained about Raymond's range, which includes everything from carefully researched pieces like "The Good Old Days," describing the history of Northwest fly-fishing, to "Wives and Lovers," in which he asserts, "Well then, since this is a book about fishing, how could it not have a chapter about sex?" Cover Girl&Other Stories of Fly-Fishermen in Maine J.H. Hall (iUniverse; 2005; www.iuniverse.com) 159 pp.; paperback; $12.95 Three books reviewed here in the last year contained fictionalized accounts of how fly-fishing evolves (or sometimes devolves) in the West. Comes now a book of similar tales from the East, Cover Girl&Other Stories of Fly-Fishermen in Maine, wherein the title story reveals how veterans of an older American fly-fishing tradition wrestle with--mostly against--changes that challenge lives lived on rivers with rods. "Master Guides" Conrad Larue and Brash Whitcomb are students of "the old school" devoted to "secret knowledge." As independent entrepreneurs, however, their attitudes and practices place them squarely in the Pleistocene era of sporting services--tragicomically inept by comparison with an up-and-coming competitor who learned his trade in Montana and now threatens theirs. We all know what desperate times call for. And the measures this pair cook up at their camp on the Kennebec certainly qualify, even when leavened or refined by their pal Murl, a day trader who relies on fish feeding patterns in "The Beach Pool" to predict market trends. Most of the trio's efforts are beyond the pale--ill-advised pratfalls that create disaster. Undaunted by small failures however, they concoct a grander scheme aimed to exploit their antagonist's only apparent weakness: his ego. That's where the cover girl comes in, a lovely guide the pals spot on the cover of Fly Rod Magazine, where one can also find essays by a fellow named John Gierach. If they could only recruit her to their cause… They do--sort of. Naturally nothing goes as planned, partly because cover girl turns out a wiser, more complicated and accomplished character than the femme fatale they'd hoped for, serving as a catalyst for exploring Conrad's and Brash's various "issues" with women. It's a hundred pages of erratic adventures, wry dialogue and cultural comment, this novella, with a bit of an old school touch, a la Robert Traver. There's also something of a Traver perspective in the four short stories that follow--take for instance his description of "that uneasy state of truce known as marriage." In all these, obsessed and mildly or seriously eccentric characters step off deep ends, as in robbing a bank, or building an indoor stream where one can cast to the rhythm of Tammy Wynette singing "Stand by Your Man;" and in three of them, spouses come along for the drift, or don't. Woolly Wisdom How to Tie and Fish Woolly Worms, Woolly Buggers and Their Fish-Catching Kin By Gary Soucie Photographs by Jim Schollmeyer and Peter Frailey (Frank Amato Publications: 2006; 800-542-9498; www.amatobooks.com) 232 pp.; trade paperback; $35 It's a little like learning that a favorite mongrel has a mile-long pedigree; or, depending on your perspective, either a provenance dating back to Charles Cotton, or a uniquely American origin. Can we be talking about the Woolly Worm and its sib, the fluffy-tailed Bugger? Flies routinely described, and sometimes disdained, as "resembling nothing in particular and everything in general." I confess: when author Gary Soucie first described his intent to write Woolly Wisdom, my response resembled the one Lefty Kreh reports in Woolly's forward: "I expected a small book. Instead, what arrived was a two-inch manuscript. I wondered, 'How could anyone write more than 400 pages on two such similar flies?' Gary did and I am grateful he did." Me too. Even if by the time I'd examined about half of Jim Schollmeyer's 400 excellent photographs (Peter Frailey shot the tying sequences), each one attended by Soucie's pithy historical commentary, my sense of what "Woolly" meant was much larger but far, far fuzzier. Palmered hackle, with fibers facing forward, or maybe not; and no wings please, although jungle cock "horns" are apparently OK. And from these simple rules come… Patterns tied as leeches and lampreys, shiners, sculpin, sunfish and chubs; as nymphs of hellgrammite and Hexagenia, damsel and dragon, stonefly and Caenis; as scuds, sowbugs, shrimp, crabs, crayfish and krill (?!); as midges and midge clusters; as caterpillars both terrestrial and aquatic, as the larvae of all kinds of beetles and flies; as a piece of whitebread… All of these, designed to seduce almost as many species of fish, constructed on hooks from 22 to 2/0 and larger; weighted--or not at all. Fished dead drift, as Soucie describes in a chapter on techniques, also "dead sinking," dapped, or on the swing, with retrieves "twitched," "stripped" and "hand twisted."