My Secret Fishing Life

Overview

Beyond his life as an English professor, book publisher, and writer, Nick Lyons has always had a "secret fishing life," a deep and abiding passion for fishing, especially with a fly. My Secret Fishing Life is Lyons's effort to bring together the diverse threads of his life - the joys of a fly fisher's spring, the pleasures of fishing an old farm pond, reflections on first and last days of the season, a unique record of his life as an editor and publisher of books about angling, the process of aging, threats to ...
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Overview

Beyond his life as an English professor, book publisher, and writer, Nick Lyons has always had a "secret fishing life," a deep and abiding passion for fishing, especially with a fly. My Secret Fishing Life is Lyons's effort to bring together the diverse threads of his life - the joys of a fly fisher's spring, the pleasures of fishing an old farm pond, reflections on first and last days of the season, a unique record of his life as an editor and publisher of books about angling, the process of aging, threats to fishing waters, various ways to fish, and much else, always tempered by Lyons's hallmark self-deprecating humor.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
...Lyons's latest, nearly elegiac collection of essays....He is a true literary lunker...often cited...as the leading prose stylist of the fly.
Library Journal
The authors fishing life is hardly a secrethes been writing about it for over 30 years. His revered essays are a regular feature on the back pages of Fly Fisherman magazine and have been compiled in several acclaimed books, including A Flyfishers World (LJ 5/1/96). The title of this book, another compilation, acknowledges that Lyons has had coexisting vocations as a Hunter College English professor, author, and editor/publisher throughout most of his adult life and that angling has simply been a passionate avocation that added a more meaningful perspective to everything else. His departures from piscatory tales offer readers thoughtful musings on aging, art, and publishing. Highly recommended for public libraries.Will Hepfer, SUNY at Buffalo Libs.
NY Times Book Review
...Lyons's latest, nearly elegiac collection of essays....He is a true literary lunker...often cited...as the leading prose stylist of the fly.
Kirkus Reviews
Broadsides from the fishing stream, with the appealing qualities of both an informal chat and a polished etude, from Lyons (A Flyfisher's World, 1996, etc.). Many of the 20 chapters here are vintage Lyons: jigging for striped bass under the Statue of Liberty; messing about in boats, "happily alternating left and right strokes to my own rhythm"; reveling in the mystery of headwaters; and the pleasures of the best fishing writing. There is a great story about the curmudgeon flyfisher Darrell Martin, who flew to Croatia during the civil war there to fish what he figured would be deserted waters. He had the river to himself until a soldier appeared and aimed a machine gun at him. Martin defused the situation by assuring the soldier he was fishing a dry fly. These stories speak of Lyons's love of the preposterous and of living deliberately, savoring the process, even as his four children and five jobs keep him in a swirl. As in his last collection, there is an awareness here that lifetimes come to a close, that friends are lost to death and argument and distance and entropy. Perhaps most intriguing are two extended chapters in which Lyons details the course of his life, one of candent energy—his humor in the face of financial insecurity, his own impressive list of published work and the work of others he has published from his small press—and gives a quietly devout and engaging portrait of his wife, a character as artful and unconventional as himself (her drawings illustrate the book). Lyons suggests that this may be his last collection of fishing pieces. The thought of it is outrageous—the world needs more, not less, of so generous a soul.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802138422
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/21/2001
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


A FLY FISHER'S SPRING


    In April, the season in my part of the world officially opens—and the season of preparations unofficially closes.

    In February, I went to one of those shows—crammed with a fly fisher's candies—and bought four years' worth of sweets I'll never use. Then I arranged my 10,473 flies yet again—Eastern, early, mid, and late, Western, bass, bluegill, Northern saltwater, tarpon (will I ever go again?), spring creek, pike, and stuff-for-particularly-dumb-fish-of-many-species. I threw out a hundred, gave another hundred or so to Sandy, who will be fishing the East more this year. I suspect I have enough left. Maybe.

    It wasn't such hard work. Each fly has a life all its own, with virtues that have proved their worth a hundred times to me—the sparkle shuck, the thorax winging, a certain color to the body and hackle—or flaws that make all other efforts futile. I am a fly addict and can pick and sort and chuck out flies for a week, nonstop, and then it's time to go on to my nineteen rods and thirteen reels, numbers down substantially because I'm always giving stuff away or trying to trade up.

    This rarefication of our fly-fishing lives goes on, for better or worse, willy-nilly, for as long as we fish. It is flagrantly arbitrary, for a brilliant rod to one of us is a club to another—but we persist because of an absolute belief in our pursuit of the one good, true, and beautiful stick. My old friend Frank Mele, who died this past winter, searched endlesslyfor the perfect fly rod, but was too wise to settle for merely one—any more than he could ever settle for a single, perfect blue dun neck. Each neck had a luminous, evanescent color all its own, its own strength of hackle fibers, its own good and proper value for fly tying. He had fifty necks, each slightly different, as all blue dun—and all bamboo fly rods—can be.

    The rarefication is an activity worth the doing. It takes with it a certain set of preferences for certain kinds of fishing experiences. At one time any fishing would satisfy me; I could fish all day with bait, lure, or fly, in almost any kind of water. I would fish any time of day, anywhere. With a full life and a lot of river under my waders, I find I just don't do that anymore. For one thing, I've learned this and that, and I'm less interested in fishing a Catskill river when the water is still forty-six degrees. I prefer to see a few flies on the water. And if it's early May, I'm inclined to think that midday and early afternoon will be best, just as I'll fish mornings and at dusk in the East when the summer heat has started.

    You can't turn back. You've been in a good number of fishing situations, you've done a good deal, and you make a few choices. Sometimes I think that one of these days I'll rarefy my fly-fishing life flat down to bass-bugging on smallish ponds. I can't conceive of getting enough of that kind of fishing—but that may be because I've done too little of it.

    A few well-worn fly lines needed to be replaced this year, reels cleaned, the tip top that mysteriously broke off in Montana replaced. I bought new waders and a fresh supply of leader tippet spools, which I change every year, and I sewed the two rips in my twenty-one-year-old vest. Why, I don't know, but I treated myself to a fourth pocket knife.

    And then suddenly a new season started and I thought of Rilke's little poem about the spring having come again and the earth, like a little child, knowing many poems by heart. Along with the earth's green recollections of buds and sprouts, I began to remember too—a full fifty springs now, stretching back to my earlier days of fishing the East Branch of the Croton River on Opening Day with my friend Mort, when the rivers were always full of surprise and wonder. One year, improbably, I took a nineteen- and then a twenty-four-inch brown, both hook-jawed, both from the same pool on the Ten Mile River. On another, Tony almost got swept away in a heavy spring flood; now he's thirty-five, well over six feet, and quite big enough to save me from floods and hurricanes.

    One day recently I tramped the muddy banks of a river I'd fished a couple dozen times in my youth. Here and there, remnants of ice and snow were tucked into cool, shady comers of the hillside. The earth had not yet remembered its buds or skunk cabbage shoots. The water was too cold; the air still did not have that hint of warmth that says "flies." I thought of a dozen friends I'd once fished the river with, now dead or in other parts of the world. Several were retired and did nothing but fish and play golf; their professional lives were over. One had given up fishing. I'd argued with another, Mike was dead, and I had to fight some days to remember his stories, the particular way he shook hands, smiled, cast a fly. The years had passed much too quickly and I couldn't even remember certain sections of the river; they were quite new to me—changed, no doubt, by floods.

    Two weeks later, standing in a familiar run, I saw out of the corner of my eye a break on the surface. Looking closely, my head tilted to the surface, I could see a few Hendrickson shucks floating by, and a moment later, in the sky, I could see the reddish flies fluttering upward or aslant, to the trees. The swallows had seen them too and began their aerial dance above me, pausing just for a second to take one of the fleeting mayflies. Then there were a couple of fish rising, and I stood still for a moment, remembering, feeling quite happy with the sight. The river was coming alive, as I had seen rivers come alive a thousand times before. There was a spark of light on the surface, the bird sounds, the circles on the surface, the swooping birds. I tucked my rod under my arm, fetched out a box of early-season flies, found a Red Quill, and soon had my first fish of the new year. It was a bright brown, icy in my hands, not quite ten inches.

    It is such a happy sight, the slight curl of a rising fish to your fly, after you have watched it float twenty times over a patch of water no more than two feet square, where you saw a fish come up. It is especially nice when it is the first trout of the season, for now, at their proper times—barring floods or too much cold or too much heat—all the Eastern hatches will start, in the tight schedule that makes April through June so irresistible.


There are places in the world where the season never ends, where you can fish throughout the year. Ted Leeson writes of such a place, his Oregon, in The Habit of Rivers; and others extend their fishing year by travel either south, southwest, or to the antipodes, Chile, Argentina. I hear the reports and I hear the sounds of pleasure in the voices. The fishing was different but Superb. Bill caught a ten-pound bonefish in Belize, George a twelve-pound rainbow in a spring creek in South America. There are photographs to prove everything. It all sounds like fine sport. The photographs don't lie.

    But more and more, I am framed by the Eastern season. When it ends, as late as October, I open my fish closet, pile in all the paraphernalia I've been messing around with since April, and close up shop for the year. I have other matters to attend to, other lives. And so everything sits until the dead of winter, when, by chance, I notice that there are a few less than one hundred days until April. "It's time to give serious thought to your tackle, Frank used to write me, and I always did and still do, thinking all the time, with increasing intensity, of the day when the first flies come, the true beginning of a fly fisher's spring.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
1 A Fly Fisher's Spring 3
2 Going and Coming Back 8
3 Messing about in Boats a Little 13
4 Diamond Jigging Near Wall Street 18
5 The Judge's Swim Pond 23
6 The 193 Minutes 26
7 Last Day 31
8 On the Top 37
9 Numbers Change 42
10 Bad Sport 48
11 Journal Entries 52
12 Truth in Outdoor Writing 58
13 Me, Too 63
14 Head Waters 68
15 Connections 72
16 The Aging Fly Fisher 75
17 Fishing, Yea, Yea 81
My Fish-Book Life 89
Sphinx Mountain and Brown Trout 138
Tailpiece: A Fly Fisher's Gifts 183
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