Spring ritual: Compleating the angler

Books On Fly Fishing

April 02, 2000|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,Sun Staff

In a few weeks, fly-fishermen in waders armed with 9-foot sticks of graphite will stand in small rivers about as far across as a large living room, looking through boxes of dry flies for the right offering to a rising trout.

Fumbling through a fly box filled with hooks dressed with feathers and fur is a ritual that says spring has arrived.

But in the short time before we figure out which bugs will fool the trout, we "addicts" can use a quick fix to get us through the next few weeks.

Get a book and you'll have a way to live vicariously through the pages of a good fishing tale rather than rush out to cold water that may lead to a "skunking." The proliferation of fly-fishing books since the 1992 movie "A River Runs Through It" brought legions to the sport makes it easy for all to find something of value at the library or book store on fly-fishing.

Among the prolific fly-fishing authors of the 1990s is John Gierach, who has written another book of essays, "Standing in a River Waving a Stick" (Simon & Schuster, 235 pages, $23). Since he started with "Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing" in 1990, Gierach has been spinning witty tales of fishing on small streams, with his buddies (including famous fly tier A.K. Best) and by himself. Gierach writes about the kind of fishing experiences even a bait fisherman can relate to.

In one chapter, "The Lake," he pays homage to a pay-to-fish lake, which is a little out of character for the fly-fishing set. But Gierach is about down-to-earth fly-fishing. He writes, "One thing that saves this place from being too posh is that this part of it is still a working ranch, so there's always the smell of manure to remind you who and where you are."

Leigh Perkins, the man who made Orvis a multimillion-dollar company, is not nearly the storyteller that Gierach is. But like so many salesmen CEOs, who have had to entertain at luncheons and dinners, he knows how to tell a good anecdote. With professional writer Geoffrey Norman, Perkins has written an autobiography, "A Sportsman's Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 193 pages, $24). Perkins' life is a riches-to-riches story; no real struggles here, just how he came to learn a few life lessons. He says: "I never gave anyone a reason to feel sorry for me."

Perkins, who bought Orvis in 1965 with $400,000, takes you along for the Vermont company's ascendance to sports super-retailer, worth $200 million today and based in Roanoke, Va. The stories run the gamut from fly-fishing gaffes in England (you don't cast downstream on a chalk stream) to his favorite dogs. He tells a perversely funny tale about how he kept saving his vicious pit bull "Tippy" from repeated death sentences for attacking other dogs, people and the like. Cat lovers can skip this part.

Prolific fly-fishing writer and former outdoor editor for The Sun Lefty Kreh has written what several critics are now calling his masterwork, "Presenting the Fly: A Practical Guide to the Most Important Element of Fly-Fishing Success" (The Lyons Press, 352 pages, $40).

Kreh knows how to clearly convey what should happen on a stream to a fly fisherman trying to improve. He also offers the kind of tiny pieces of advice that can be a boon to your experiences on the water. My favorite gem: Pointing your index finger at a fish and your thumb at the sun to eliminate glare.

As an amateur weekend photographer, I like a good book of pictures and "Trout & Salmon: The Greatest Fly Fishing for Trout and Salmon Worldwide" (Lyons Press, 176 pages, $39.95) is the kind of oversize, coffee table sitter that appeals to the mind and eyes.

Wrapped around the photographs of R. Valentine Atkinson are essays by some heavy-weight fishing writers alive and dead: Zane Grey on trout in New Zealand, Nick Lyons on salmon in Iceland and Bill Currie on salmon in Russia.

This is Atkinson's second book and images are as spectacular as those in his first, "Distant Waters." At the end of each chapter is a brief description of the location, when to fish it and the tackle to take.

Robert Hughes' "A Jerk On One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman" (Ballantine, 126 pages, $18.95) is an orderly trek through the mind of a fisherman full of wonderful passages about the joys and frustrations of mastering any sport.

We've all been mediocre at some time in our fishing lives and most of us will remain so. But Hughes, the art critic for Time, reminds us that the promise of tomorrow is why we keep showing up on the streams, lakes and ocean after repeated failure: "I have never yet caught a bonito, or so much as hooked an albacore, on a fly rod. But next year will be different."

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