The quality and abundance of contrasts among the books I've received in 2014 are substantial: from in-depth histories celebrating both Atlantic salmon and steelhead traditions, to an intimate memoir focusing on three miles of two tiny brook trout streams; and a where-to surveying the Great Lakes region; also, an insightful introduction to fishing stillwaters, as well as a brilliantly illustrated tactical encyclopedia providing reams of information on that subject.
After careful thought, here are some you should know about.
7 Practical Lessons for Catching More Fish in Lakes, Reservoirs & Ponds
By Tim Lockhart
2013; Stackpole/Headwater Books
208 pages; paperback; $16.95
Stillwater Strategies would have been a good place for me to get an overview when I moved from California to Washington, not just because the author fishes the Pacific Northwest, and dissects a lake near where I now live to illustrate specific and general points (although I do appreciate that). More important, like many of Dave Hughes’ popular guides (one on this topic), Strategies is a reader’s how-to, presenting seven lessons in crisp, authoritative text that’s also pithy and funny. Put it this way—intending a preliminary scan for structure and subject, I didn’t look up until page 47.
This isn’t a fly-fishing primer, but a guide for fly fishers beginning to fish lakes, and for intermediates who would like to fish much better. Author Tim Lockhart provides well-thought-out systems, first for locating the right water at the right time, then for finding feeding trout using a deliberate set of tactics, each carefully executed and timed. He’s less concerned about tackle—his segment on flies begins with the one-word sentence “Overrated,” and includes a half dozen in black-and-white photos—and focuses instead on searching patterns with floating and sinking lines, and techniques aimed mainly at float tubers trying to locate feeding fish. “Time management” is Lockhart’s mantra, and his wrist watch a critical tool, but his methods sound less mechanical than just sensible and smart—a better way to fish than I use now, and so intend to try.
By Hal Janssen
2011; Hal Janssen Company
276 pages; hardcover; $49.99
While the titles of Strategies and Stillwater: Fly-Fishing Secrets rightly suggest they address the same subject, that same impression provides an excellent reason to review them side-by-side. Strategies distills expertise, aiming to introduce lake fishing tyros, help intermediate anglers fish more effectively (and provide insights I suspect advanced fishers would find valuable). Janssen’s Secrets, on the other hand, is encyclopedic, inclusive, didactic and encompassing—full of details about trout species and their prey, and sometimes renegade opinions from somebody who’s spent 60 years building a fly-fishing résumé that could fill the space allotted for this review. Suffice it to mention that Hal Janssen has designed lines for Scientific Anglers, hooks for Partridge, rods for Fisher, products for his own company, and 70 fly patterns now marketed internationally. He’s also an artist and illustrator who fills this 276-page book with hundreds of drawings and diagrams; add an abundance of color photos, hatch charts, timing tables and wall-to-wall text into a coffee-table-size book and you’ll get some sense of how much he hopes to convey.
You can quantify the difference between books, albeit crudely: Lockart dedicates about 200 words to choosing the right rod; and, fishing mainly from a float tube, usually carries just one. He considers graphite superior, and suggests a “midrange” model. Janssen, on the other hand, always has at least two rigged and ready in his boat, often twice that many, and in 3,000-plus words argues that a parabolic fiberglass rod with no more than one ferrule is best, for casting accurately and delicately, in wind, and for protecting tippets strung tight to big fish.
Similar ratios apply to the authors’ discussions of reels, fly lines, leaders, knots . . . . Janssen’s instructions for positioning and anchoring are the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen; and when it comes to flies it’s clear the authors differ radically. “If you learn only one thing from this book,” Lockart insists, “understand your [fly] selection is the last priority.” While Janssen might concur generally—or not, because he frankly admits to believing every aspect of the fisher’s armament is critical—Secrets includes recipes for 24 patterns, each illustrated with full-page, step-by-step instructions, along with tips for picking hooks and hand-dyeing materials.
I’d lend Strategies to people who passed background checks and posted bonds, but can’t see Secrets leaving my reference shelf.
Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations
By John Waldman
2013; Lyons Press
301 pages; hardcover; $26.95
There’s hardly a whiff of how-to in Running Silver. There is, however, a great deal of information about how fish were caught from rivers by the billions—salmon and sturgeon, eels and alewives, herring, striped bass and shad (especially shad)—that for millennia fed vast networks of life, including eventually European settlers who, after depending upon these species for generations, would ultimately reduce fish species as severely as a cataclysmic geologic event. In fact, the impacts on spawning created by the construction of thousands of dams, and sedimentation from farming and logging, and pollution from sewage and industries, seems as profound as a shift of tectonic plates erecting a new mountain range.
Also as inevitable: By the 1700s, fishers and seers, pragmatists and even politicians were loudly denouncing, and sometimes violently opposing, the destruction of river systems, occasionally winning legal and legislative “victories” that, more often than not, were completely ignored by industries that did whatever they wished, as effectively immune from consequences as contemporary corporations too powerful, per the current Attorney General, for our Justice Department to challenge.
That’s one part of the tragedy. To author John Waldman, a second is more subtle and too pervasive: During years of battles, slow, ultimately “invisible collapses” of treasured fish resources erased them from memories, individual and collective, creating an “intergenerational amnesia” that threatens to depress expectations of how good things were, and might be again.
But that can change.
However dire the story of Atlantic river fisheries, and however similar to those of the Great Lakes, and now Gulf and Pacific coasts, Silver is not a dirge. The book’s subtitle (“Restoring”) speaks the theme, and the prologue introduces readers to recent efforts—some effective, some not—aimed at resurrecting runs. Silver is filled with illuminating histories large and small, vignettes of visionaries and advocates past and present, and fascinating, sometimes curious anecdotes. In one brief aside, for example, Waldman mentions a theory suggesting that the trapping of beavers for mens’ hats may have briefly extended the Little Ice Age (which increased the demand for more beaver pelts to keep women warm). In another, he describes an incident in one of many “fish wars”:
“The cannon fired—but it was the gunner that was killed. His death in 1806 on the Falmouth, Massachusetts, village Green was the only fatality in the Coonamessett Herring War. The odd ammunition he loaded into the weapon might have had something to do with it; the cannon’s barrel was packed with herring, as a statement by the ‘Anti-Herring Party.’ This ‘fish war,’ begun in 1798, was one of several that were fought on a number of Atlantic rivers, where tensions between those who benefited from free flows and those who profited from dams reached a fevered pitch.”
In places, Waldman’s narrative approach reminds me of Bill Bryson or Stephen Jay Gould, and other readers of Carl Safina in Song for the Blue Ocean. While Waldman’s message is clear, his first-person reporting shows far more than it tells, relying on abundant facts carefully presented; his commentary adds common sense, wit, humor and irony, without veering into diatribes. He allows a reader to develop his or her own response to a devolution described in detail, and to positive changes that might improve what’s left.
My own reaction was a little surprising, and unsettling: What struck me most was a visceral sense of awe, comprised at once of outrage and astonishment, appreciation and pity; and also, if abstractly and too feebly, I’m afraid, with a glimmer of hope, derived mainly from the author’s cautious optimism, from specific recommendation detailed in chapters like “Toward a New Stewardship,” and that epilogue, concluded by a quote from Thoreau: “Keep a stiff fin then, and stem all the tides thou mayest meet.”
Walden admires Thoreau, and dedicates Silver to the man “ . . . who could hear fishes cry.”
Poor David, who must have cried a river.