- By: Seth Norman
An Angler’s Tales and Travels
By Kevin Searock
2011; Terrace Books (University of Wisconsin); www.uwpress.wisc.edu
182 pages; hardcover; $24.95
Enter Kevin Searock, author of Troutsmith, an essay collection I intended to read in one setting, but decided to sip a chapter or three at a time, like sherry—a cliché to which I’ll return.
Searock confesses his passion in the opening line of his preface: “. . . fishing is water-magic: irrational, seductive, powerful and dangerous.” In the following paragraph he admits to the embarrassing difficulty he has answering basic questions about “. . . an exercise of great skill acquired slowly over more than 40 years of devoted study and practice,” especially when these queries are posed by “twenty-first-century people” living in “. . . a world where knowledge and information are just a click or two away . . . .” The very next graph begins with a sentence asserting that the next best thing to spending time in the outdoors is “sharing with kindred spirits.”
The author does just that in Troutsmith’s 19 short to medium-length pieces. Forty years is quite a term of study, and Searock has practiced broadly, fishing from marginal—barely—waters around Chicago to blue-ribbon Yellowstone lakes and rivers, the creeks and spring ponds of what are now his Wisconsin homewaters, and classic English trout streams he visits like a reverent pilgrim. “Broad” also applies to his perspective: Searock will talk Halford (but take his stand with Skues and Sawyer), quote William Blake en route to fishing a beat on the River Lyd, and from his room in the Izaak Walton Hotel recognizes an illustration from his own copy of the 1887 Le Gallienne edition of The Compleat Angler. He’ll also fish conventional tackle for muskellunge, rhapsodize about sunfish, and in a section of pieces wickedly subtitled “Far and Fine,” include “Redmire Pool at Dawn,” a tribute to carp fishing and fishers.
All that ought to imply an open and roving mind, and I hope it does. But sipping with sherry was a carefully chosen simile. There’s a quality to Searock’s writing that first struck me as old school or slightly formal but wasn’t either one, quite.
It’s fundamentally romantic, I think. Pastoral in parts, in others wild with predators we admire and pursue, so join. Either way, a steady current of pleasure flows through Troutsmith, an abiding appreciation of a lifelong journey in which the author succeeds often, fails with grace, and holds hands with his wife, Teresa, while walking to waters they’re certain to enjoy.
1,001 Pearls of Fishing Wisdom
Advice and Inspiration for Sea, Lake, and Stream
Edited and Introduced by Nick Lyons
2013; Skyhorse Publishing;
402 pages; hardcover; $12.95
Collected and with an introduction by Nick Lyons, 1,001 Pearls of Fishing Wisdom is a special addition to a genre all its own, though I’m not sure what it’s called. All I’ve seen are palm-size—although at 400 pages and more, 1,001 fills my hand. But “inspirational” doesn’t cover advice on tackle, tips about strategy, cosmic asides and comic observations by authors like Harry Middleton and Ed Zern. Perhaps “treasury” works best.
I haven’t reviewed one of these books because I wasn’t sure how. My best guess was that a coherent approach would require distilling an editor’s intentions from a chorus of voices he presents; or, if you like, find patterns among them that often appear to me as a jumble of jewels and bright stones.
In 1,001, Lyons sets his pearls. In 16 sections, he frames quotes collected from hundreds of sources, addressing “Origins,” “Addiction, Compulsion,” “The Lighter Side” (although humor appears throughout) and “Some Maxims, Theories and Philosophical Matters” among others. Each of these begins with Lyons’ own comments, often describing the breadth of perspectives that follow, and gently suggesting the value of those that conflict with our own prejudices and presumptions. He appreciates some writers for their wisdom “others for their criticism, a few even for their outright hogwash.”
I did learn things, I know. But what I like most: 1,001 is fun. w
j While fly-fishing is essentially solitary, many devotees wouldn’t mind a little more fly-fishing conversation. That’s still hard to find at the average block party. While un-initiates are now familiar with pretty images, most remain vague about the specifics of a sport that still seems out of the ordinary, if not arcane. Look at it this way: Your golf-obsessed neighbor knows enough to high-five you hard after hearing about the homerun you hit for some beer-league softball team, but your triumphant tale about taking a 20-inch brown from a spring creek “on a #26 Trico!” may prompt one, “Oh,” one nod, and then, “So how’s it going in the beer league?”
Perhaps that’s one reason fly fishers write and read so much: to speak—and listen in print—to others who understand special subjects, ideas and adventures.
Then there’s this: Fly fishers last. They don’t retire to watch and comment, as happens when middle-age knees end a fine career at third base, but keep going for decades, even a half a century or more. Better yet, many just keep on learning; and, as happens among members of a social species that tends to our awkward young so—I’m thinking also elephants and whales—we feel the urge to pass along wisdom.