Angling with Raines

Angling with Raines

Plus, the trout whisperers and practical fly patterns

  • By: Seth Norman
The One That Got Away: A Memoir By Howell Raines (Scribner: 2006; www.simonsays.com) 336 pp.; hardcover; $25 On the first page of The One That Got Away, a Memoir, author Howell Raines observes "…some fish haunt us like old love. They live forever in what Issac Walton called 'the boxes of memory.' Yet not all lost fish are equal…" To this he soon adds a curious, curiously resonant observation: "The governing emotion of fishing…is not one of attainment but one of anxiety about incipient loss. Every moment that a fish is on the line, we dread the sensation of being disconnected against our will, of being evaded, escaped from, of grabbing and missing. Every fish that slips the hook instructs us in the indifference of life…" You already know the basics: roughly 10 years after releasing the best-selling Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, Raines lost his position as executive editor of The New York Times, when one of the Gray Lady's reporters--from a staff of 1,100--was exposed as a confabulator and plagiarist. Fallout from the scandal rocked the media world, provoking public debate about journalistic autonomy, integrity and editorial accountability, along with a few awkward, hamstrung discussions of race. As for the effect of this on Raines, it was in a phrase popular in political patois, "a defining moment." Like many others I followed this controversy closely. Still, I found myself relieved when Raines appears to dispose of the subject early on in his book: "Some people thought I got a raw deal. Others were glad to see me go. That is not what this book is about… Mainly, this book is about what happens when you get what you wanted most in the strangest possible way. It's about the unpredictability of luck, love, lies and, of course, life in all its glorious, heartbreaking, quicksilver mutability…" Quicksilver and mutable life may be, and silver some linings. But much of Away describes how Raines arrived at the pinnacle from which he toppled, with memories of fishing serving as lessons and epiphanies (although I don't recall Raines ever using the latter word). One angling adventure also provides the book's frame and conceit: On page 96, the author hooks a marlin while fishing for tuna off Christmas Island, beginning a battle described in episodes that conclude with, at the book's end, Raines' tribute to Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Frankly, I suspect an interest in politics and publishing is requisite to engaging Away; and it might help to be at midlife or beyond to fully appreciate Raines's musings. To his credit, however, by the time he does return to the complex tale of his fall, I'd followed his rise long enough to willingly follow him down. The Trout Whisperers: A Novel By Pete Bodo (Stackpole Books: 2006; 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 288 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 Fly fishers come in different stripes, and not a few argyles. Long time friends Raul Mendoza and B. (Bonaparte) Louis Traub qualify as the latter, eccentrics and devoted pals, here celebrating their 25th year of exploring Big Sky Country together. "Over the years, these trips had become more important to both of them than any other activity, including vacations with their families. This was but one of the reasons that neither of them had much in the way of family any more." It's an interesting partnership: Both men are certainly passionate about the sport, also epicures inclined to almost stylized conversation. Handsome Raul, once touted as a top pro baseball pitching prospect, now considers himself an "Ironfeather" man guided by the spiritual maxims of something called The Virilian Protocol; he fishes only to the largest of bankside risers. Round-bodied Louis, too "flaccid" to row, is an autodidact, entertainingly pedantic, sometime copywriter and lord of a Website created to "serve as the ultimate arbiter of English language usage." His "personal card" proclaims him "Wordsmith and Public Intellectual." All very well, until the friends find themselves reluctant caretakers of a busted drift boat belonging to a third, mysteriously missing friend, and later as gallant shepherds to one Lottie Moffo, (dis)stressed damsel. From there things turn increasingly strange and comic: Add lust and romance; a neglected Native American boy eager for attention from a fly-fishing mentor; also a super-wealthy language addict, devoted to Lamark and creationism, father of bulbous-cheeked twins who dress in lederhosen. Then there's a conspiracy to find what might be a mythical spring creek… It all comes together, as one might expect: Pete Bodo is an outdoor columnist for The New York Times, whose prose is as light and swift as the story he tells here. Practical Fly Patterns That Catch Trout: Volumes One and Two With Charlie Meck&Eric Stroup (2006: Tightline Productions; www.tightlinevideo.com) Running time 109 minutes; $39.99 for the set I'm probably paraphrasing, but as I remember it Will Rogers once said something like "Any fool can get it complicated; it takes a genius to keep it simple." And while I admire complex patterns, like many tiers I squeeze sessions at the vise between myriad tasks demanded by people with more mundane priorities. The homework produced by fifth-grade long division, for example, wreaked havoc with Dad's winter midge-tying schedule, and placed a serious strain on the household bourbon budget. A fair number of fly designers recognize such exigencies, or for reasons of their own subscribe to the "KISS" principle, crafting products that "will work nine out of ten times," as co-host Eric Stroup asserts while building a Trico in the second of two volumes in this two DVD set, responding to popular author Charlie Meck's declaration "I am a firm believer in keeping it simple." Practical's presentation is straight forward: Stroup and Meck fish in four sequences: the "Sulphur Hatch," "Sulphurs-Cornutas," a "Trico Hatch" then "Beetles." Between these they fit tying sessions for 18 patterns, mixing dries, spinners and emergers, nymphs and larvae, a soft hackle, and Meck's signature Patriot pattern. What I like best is that many of these flies require only three or four materials; and, for an intermediate tier, not more than three or four times that many minutes to produce. Production values on these DVD's are fine, the organization easy to follow, and our co-hosts converse without distracting. Then there's the format itself: if DVD's weren't invented specifically for the purpose of instruction, they might as well have been, since they allow for such easy selection and review.