Art Lee – farewell to another muse

WP_20180809_09_37_35_Pro I did it when Lesley Crawford died, so it’s only fair I give a mention to Art Lee, whose death two weeks ago would have otherwise passed me by.

A fact of working life when you’re a writer who happens to fish, rather than a fisherman who happens to write, is that you must ride on the shoulders of giants when attempting to breathe fresh life into instructional topics already covered countless times in your magazine’s 40-year existence.

While Crawford paved my way into the Features Editor role at Trout Fisherman with her Trout Talk dictionary, which explained all the technical stuff I didn’t already know, 12 years ago, Lee was one of several American writers I kept going to back to in search of an international slant on certain flyfishing techniques, with a view to adapting them for a UK audience. His book Lore of Trout Fishing quickly took its place in the Dream Team of books promoted from the TF bookcase to a permanent place on my desk, for ready access.

In a tribute that’s hard to imagine being echoed for any angling luminary this side of the Atlantic, he was given an expansive obituary in the New York Times, from which it is gratifying to learn that piscatorial nit-picking is not an exclusively British trait…

“…the protagonist of the book, Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch, is not even a fully formed knot, but a technique of adding an extra couple of loops, or ‘hitches’, before cinching a knot tight.

“The hitches go behind the eye of a standard hook or through the thin plastic tubes that make some salmon flies resemble minnows. If tied just right, they make the fly ‘riffle’, or skitter along the water’s surface, leaving a V-shaped wake that taunts salmon into striking.

‘You should have seen the angry letters [Lee] got about that,’ Mr. Mercer said.

“Some anglers, he explained, felt that Mr. Lee had contradicted Lee Wulff, an earlier revered Catskills angler, who made the riffling hitch famous but tied it on the other side.”

Like hell, though, am I leaving you with that slice of navel-gazing as possibly your only taste of Art Lee, for the man who could base an entire book around a single knot, was also capable of these closing lines in Lore of Trout Fishing

“…a part of me was tempted to take more, to keep taking for no more complicated reason than the little trout were so easy to take. But there was another part of me, the part, I’m sure that could hear a chain saw working a ways off yet, perhaps beyond the next ridge, that could recall the whine of our outboard motors on the big pond, remember the honking of horns in Manhattan, the clatter of factories in the heartland, the hollow cries from men in despair, pleading , ‘No, no more,’ and so instead I had rested my rod against a tuft of grass growing from a lump of black turf and had set about cleaning the three trout quickly and neatly and certainly lovingly. Now they were almost ready, swelling and glistening with butter, to flake in my fingers; the firm golden meat I would lift to my mouth to savor and swallow, to make part of me forever, there where the stream bulged about halfway up the meadow around the bend above the head of the small pond, in Maine, at the center of solitude.”

This is why you never throw out old fishing books…

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You tend to see most fishing tips going in this line of work, so anything you haven’t seen before always comes as a pleasant surprise.

Looking for information on tadpoles last week, I discovered a book in the depths of the TF library that I had no idea was there – Introducing Fly Fishing in South Africa.

It was penned 44 years ago by English-born John Beams, who has been described as “one of South Africa’s legendary fly fishing pioneers”. Among the section of general tips with which he closes the book were three new ones on me, although I accept that could just be because I’m woefully under-informed:

“When crossing a swollen river use your rod to give you balance. Hold the rod out and submerge as much of its length as possible just under the surface. This will act as [a] stabiliser…

“…when crossing fast water, don’t put one foot in front of the others you do when walking. Having found a good foothold with one leg bring the other level with it, using the static leg as a shield against the force of the current.

“If, when wearing waders you get a footfull of cold water, don’t empty it out. It will be warmer to retain the trapped water until you reach your car or home.”

Ain’t no sunshine? Then they’re gone

a-fly-rod-of-your-own-9781451618341_lgOn a roll-call of supposedly hard and fast rules that stand on shaky ground, this thing about trout ceasing to co-operate in bright sunshine is due some serious review.

Just days after filing an article on a great day’s fishing beneath near-cloudless skies at Tinto Trout Fishery (see our 500th issue, out on  August 16) I start reading John Gierach’s latest book, A Fly Rod of Your Own, and encounter this:

“The day was unseasonably chilly, cloudy and rainy with a leaden sky…The weather felt more like October than August and would normally have been promising for trout fishing, but Snake River cutthroats don’t care for gloomy days. They’re friskier when it’s warm and sunny…”

None of this makes the basic premise unsound, of course, but it does serve as a cautionary reminder that the only thing set in stone in flyfishing are bridge supports.

60 BOOKS EVERY OUTDOORSMAN SHOULD READ

The headline is from Field & Stream. The books, you’ll have to read for yourself but as for their titles, none come better than this. Click image for more details

what-did-i-just-eat-bill-heavey

I don’t know what it is about American publishers, but for covers, paper quality and titles, their books scream “read me” in a way rarely emulated by their UK counterparts. This is just the latest example. Would make me smile every time I saw it.