Fish's Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors


In The Fish’s Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors, Ian Frazier explores his lifelong passion for fishing, fish, and the aquatic world. He sees the angler’s environment all around him—in New York’s Grand Central Station, in the cement-lined pond of a city park, in a shimmering bonefish flat in the Florida Keys, in the trout streams of the Rocky Mountains. He marvels at the fishing in the turbid Ohio River by downtown Cincinnati, where a good bait for catfish is half a White Castle french fry. The ...

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The Fish's Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors

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In The Fish’s Eye: Essays About Angling and the Outdoors, Ian Frazier explores his lifelong passion for fishing, fish, and the aquatic world. He sees the angler’s environment all around him—in New York’s Grand Central Station, in the cement-lined pond of a city park, in a shimmering bonefish flat in the Florida Keys, in the trout streams of the Rocky Mountains. He marvels at the fishing in the turbid Ohio River by downtown Cincinnati, where a good bait for catfish is half a White Castle french fry. The incidentals of the angling experience, the who and the where of it, interest him as much as what he catches and how. The essays contain sharply focused observations of the American outdoors, a place filled with human alterations and detritus that somehow remain defiantly unruined. Frazier’s simple love of the sport lifts him to a straight-ahead angling description that’s among the best contemporary writing on the subject. The Fish’s Eye brings together twenty years of heartfelt, funny, and vivid essays on a timeless pursuit where so many mysteries, both human and natural, coincide.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Celebrated humorist and nonfiction author Ian Frazier, whose books have ranged from hilarious essays on pop culture to serious works about the plight of Native Americans, switches gears with this eloquent, delightful book on the joys of fishing. Written over a period of about 20 years, the essays that comprise The Fish's Eye find the author in a variety of locations -- from the Adirondacks to the Rocky Mountains -- in search of a bite. Frazier achieves a tone that is both lighthearted and introspective, a quality that will appeal to anglers of every stripe.
From the Publisher

“Extraordinary...Reading [Ian Frazier] one thinks of such American originals as John McPhee, Wallace Stegner, Edward Hoagland, Peter Matthiessen, and Evan S. Connell.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Trust Ian Frazier to break new ground in the literature about fishing...his humor and imagination infuse the seventeen essays...with the manic enthusiasm few anglers can ever explain.”—The New York Times Book Review

“[Frazier] is a keen observer and a genuine lover of nature. On every page is a description that brings the air, sky, water, rocks, flies, and fish stunningly, startlingly to life.” —The Boston Globe

The Fish’s Eye deserves a place in every tackle box on every creek bank in America....A prodigious but casual genius... Frazier’s also a whale of a reporter.” —San Francisco Examiner

“Deliciously bent outdoor essays, most of which involve a fly rod.” —Men’s Journal

“It’s hard to imagine a more heartfelt book, or one more lovingly rendered.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[Frazier’s] such an incredible writer that even readers who don’t care much about fishing will find in The Fish’s Eye a welcoming spot to sit and cast about pondering the depths of life.” —Los Angeles Times

“Witty, insightful...This gem belongs in waterproof pockets and urban backpacks.” —New York Post

“A great read...[He] is a kindred spirit whose writing has the warmth and humbleness of an old friend.” —Big Sky Journal

Ron Hansen thinks of such American originals as John McPhee, Wallace Stegner, Edward Hoagland, Peter Matthiessen, and Evan S. Connell.
Washington Post Book World
Publishers Weekly
All 17 of the angling pieces Frazier (On the Rez) has written over the last 20 years have now been preserved in one volume. Attentive readers of the New Yorker over the last two decades will have caught most of these pieces before, but anglers and essay fans (not to mention Frazier devotees) should be glad to revisit gems like "An Angler at Heart," his 1981 profile of a Manhattan tackle dealer. Frazier's sharp eye and self-implicating wit is at work in these charming but unsentimental pieces, whether he's describing his penchant for mayflies in "It's Hard to Eat Just One," a family fishing trip in which his kids prefer a drainage ditch to the trout stream in "A Lovely Sort of Lower Purpose," or a Central Park pond where the fishermen are as likely to catch empty potato chip bags as catfish in "Anglers." Many of these essays are, in fact, about fishing in the city, and Frazier often wrings more suspense and meaning from a muddy stream that runs "From Wilderness to Wal-Mart" than some outdoor adventure writers get from an expedition through Nepal. His paeans to the angling experience set the standard in this subgenre, yet will amuse many who've never set foot in a tackle shop. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
So what did Frazier do for a break while researching and writing major works like Great Plains and On the Rez? Obviously, he was off fishing. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Neither love for nor even familiarity with fishing is required to enjoy this collection of Frazier's essays published over a couple of decades in and other magazines. Frazier's writing betrays a habit of compulsive observation. His essays on fishing in the city, for example, describe the people fishing, their conversation, their bait, their catch, and the flotsam that floats by, named by brand. All these observed details create an undercurrent in the narrative on America's stuff, geography, city life, and people, that accompanies the history of fishing and stories of fishermen, streams, fording, and choice of flies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
Much-praised nonfiction author Frazier (On the Rez, 2000, etc.) gathers together 20 years of musings on fishing in one slim but entertaining volume. In "An Angler at Heart," fishing-tackle expert Jim Deren defines the essay's title phrase as describing someone who understands "the call of the wild, the instinct of the hunt. It's a throwback to the forest primeval." Frazier makes no claim to this distinction, but his profile of Deren and his shop, the Angler's Roost (closed for about 20 years now), makes vivid the great passion fishing can inspire and provides a touchstone for the entire collection. The mostly short essays find Frazier awaking before dawn in Brooklyn to make it to the Jersey shore in quest of stripers, sweating in his chest waders as he battles through clouds of black flies in search of trout in the Adirondacks, and breaking through underbrush to get to just the right deep pool. Throughout, he describes his surroundings and relationships. "Fishing Without Dad" is a sweet riff on Frazier's softhearted father, who hated it when Ian actually managed to hook anything. "On Urban Shores" is as much a portrait of the wilds of Manhattan as it is a story about catching a fish. "Five Fish" shows the author attempting to play casually with his kids at the water's edge before he is driven to drop them off at home and race back to the river, shaking with the need to get to his favorite angling spot in the lee of a fallen cottonwood tree. Through it all runs the rill of self-deprecation and light humor so necessary to the fisherman's sanity in this solitary and frustrating pursuit. A must for literary fishing enthusiasts; a pleasant diversion for the rest of us.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312421694
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Picador Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 696,396
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, On the Rez, Family, as well as Coyote v. Acme and Dating Your Mom. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

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Read an Excerpt


On the paved shores of the Harlem Meer (one of six ponds in the city's park system which the State Department of Environmental Conservation — in cooperation with the New York City Parks Department, the New York City Department of the Aging, and the New York State Sea Grant — stocked with bullhead catfish on June 27 as part of an urban fishing program designed to stimulate city dwellers' interest in fishing and the outdoors), on a weekday afternoon in July:

"Gregory, how much worm should I use?"

"What you got there is enough, Andrew. Bet with your head, not over it."

Across the pond, a man standing under the trees started playing a three-note progression on the trumpet over and over again, holding each note a long time.

A boy pulled up a white tube sock with a yellow stripe and a blue stripe which had been dangling in the water, and something scuttled off it.

"Look, Gregory! Look at the lobster!"

"That ain't no lobster, fool, that's a crayfish. Throw him back. Throw him back to his mama."

An empty can of Sunkist orange (the new soft drink introduced a couple of months ago) came drifting by.

"Did you pass this year?"

"Yeah, man, 'course I passed."

Across the pond, the man with the trumpet started playing each note in the three-note progression four times and in such a way as to hit it differently each time.

A plastic terrestrial globe came floating by, with just Antarctica above the waterline.

"We had a nice fish, but some people took it." The arm of a Negro doll came floating by.

"Oh, man, my line's stuck. I have got to get it off. I have got to get it off."

"Pull on it, Derek."

"I don't get my line off, I can't get back in my house. I got my keys on there for a sinker."

The line came free, revealing a set of keys on an "I LOVE NY" key ring from a savings bank.

The man with the trumpet started playing "I Get a Kick Out of You."

An empty bag of Wise onion-garlic potato chips came floating by.

Two girls with their hair in cornrows took a look at four catfish in a yellow plastic bucket. "These boys should let the fish go," one girl said.

"Are you kidding? Those fish could die out in that water," the other girl said.


At the Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin in New York City, on Labor Day, about fifty people are fishing in the Hudson River. There is no shore, no beach-there is a walkway paved with asphalt, a railing, and a concrete drop into the dark-olive water.

A little boy sitting on a plastic tricycle in the tunnel leading to the Boat Basin-the tunnel under the West Side Highway — sees a motorboat go by in the part of the river framed by the tunnel mouth. "Look at that fas'-movin' object!" he says.

One of the fishermen starts to reel in quickly. His rod is bent. When he pulls his line over the railing, it looks as if he has a giant hook on the end of his line. It is an eel that has kind of seized in that position for a moment. The eel starts to wiggle and flop so wildly that its body describes a blurry sphere. The fisherman yells in Spanish, and then slaps the eel down on the pavement with a fall overhead motion of his fishing rod. He starts to kick the still-squirming eel along the pavement. He kicks it quite a distance.

A man who lives off the very rich garbage containers outside the fenced-off dock for the biggest yachts decides to throw away his belongings, which he carries in two black Hefty bags. He throws the bags into the river, but they don't float very far away. Then he holds up his hand to stop some people who are walking by, and taking a lightbulb from an inner coat pocket, he also throws that into the river, much farther than the bags. He looks at the people, winks, and puts his finger to his lips.

Another of the fishermen finishes a Kool cigarette and tosses it into a yellow bucket at his feet. In the bucket, along with a few other Kool butts turning brown in auras of brown stain, are two striped bass, both over twenty inches.

Farther upriver, but still within New York City limits, a hundred and fifty or two hundred people are fishing along the shore from Spuyten Duyvil, where the Harlem River empties into the Hudson, up to the Refined Sugars and Syrups Company plant, at the boundary of Riverdale. Along this section of river there are neighborhoods of fishermen: from the point where the Harlem and the Hudson meet to about a quarter mile upstream are black fishermen and fisherwomen and their families; beyond that, farther upstream, the fishermen and fisherwomen are mostly Spanish-speaking; and beyond that, they are mostly Japanese. The Harlem River for the few hundred yards downstream from the Spuyten Duyvil railroad station to the Hudson is a mixed neighborhood, with some whites, some Puerto Ricans, and some blacks. Amtrak passenger and freight trains, to and from New York, and Conrail commuter trains run on tracks within forty feet of the water's edge. Along the tracks are third rails with the warning "Danger 700 Volts" on them. Between the tracks are white pieces of paper with the heading "Message to Our Commuters" blowing around, and a copy of Tennis USA magazine with Björn Borg on the cover and ads about how to work your way through college by playing tennis on the inside.

Big rocks put there by the railroad are along the shore. In the Spanish-speaking section of riverfront, two men and a woman are sitting on the rocks. One of the men has no shirt on, and the other man is wearing a gray shirt with flowers so pink that they attract bees. Bees are actually buzzing around him, but he does not notice. The woman is reading an article in a magazine. The title of the article is "'Billy Martin en la Despedida: 'Soy un Yankee Ahora y Siempre'." The two men are fishing with eight-foot surf-casting rods, using sandworms for bait. One of the men snags a sandworm out of the bait carton with a plastic comb, and then he uses the comb to cut the sandworm in half on the rock. There are flashes of white in the river some distance out, and the other man jumps up and shouts, "Una mancha! Una mancha!" The man who was baiting up quickly casts to where the other man pointed. The English translation of una mancha is "a spot or a stain," but it can also mean a birthmark, a rash, or any kind of surface disturbance. People shout it along this section of river when the see striped bass chasing baitfish.

Copyright (c) 2002 Ian Frazier

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Table of Contents

Anglers 3
Harlem and Hudson 5
An Angler at Heart 10
On the Ausable 49
On Urban Shores 58
Fishing Without Dad 69
Big Fish, Little Fish 74
It's Hard to Eat Just One 80
In the Brain 86
A Lovely Sort of Lower Purpose 93
Guiding Guys 100
Fishing in Town 106
From Wilderness to Wal-Mart 113
Bad Advice 120
Catching Monsters After Dark 127
The Great Indoors 134
Five Fish 141
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Superb essay collection

    This reviewer became a fan of the essay upon reading the classic ¿How to Cook Roast Pig¿. However, perusing seventeen pieces on fish, fishing, or related topics seem outside my lane as the only fish I catch is in a can. Still, Ian Frazier is a popular New Yorker essayist and many of his tales occur in and around the Big Apple. Thinking it¿s the sediment of the Hudson that makes the bagel taste good, I figured I could always shut down by the second contribution by explaining that the big one got away. However, instead I read all seventeen pieces in one sitting, as each contribution is intelligent, witty, and insightful. These tales are not just putting a worm on the hook in Central Park, but are human-interest segments that are often amusing but always insightful. Anglers will love this collection of Mr. Frazier¿s best New Yorker contributions, but so will anyone who relishes a different perspective through a fish's eye. PS, I still will catch my fish in a tin. <P>Harriet Klausner

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