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Since the first copy of the Yale Anglers’ Journal appeared in 1996, readers with an interest in fish and fishing have opened the pages of each issue with anticipation and delight. YAJ’s founders suspected that others would share their passion for literature and art related to angling; what they had not fully anticipated was the intensity of enthusiasm from readers and writers everywhere. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been surprised. Statistics tell us that 35 million Americans regularly fish, and among their numbers are presidents and students, old and young, the famous and the unknown, the busy and the idle.
This anthology presents a selection of 50 stories, recollections, essays, and poems featured in the Yale Anglers’ Journal during its first remarkable decade. Accompanied by original artwork from James Prosek, these writings all celebrate fish and the experience of fishing, yet they could hardly be more diverse. Some evoke a nostalgic earlier time, others vibrate with excitement, and still others offer a humorous view of life’s surprises. The contributions come from well-known current writers, little-known newcomers, and even authors of antiquity, such as Homer, who had a thing to say about fishing. Anyone who has felt a line pull tight, or is curious to know why the experience has inspired anglers throughout human history, will want to open the pages of this inviting book.
“So here is where I came out as I entered my fiftieth year .I believe in a balanced life. I do not want to fish all the time .But I have learned that I am also a person who has to be able to go fishing whenever I can and for as long as I want to go.”—from “Amare O Pescare,” by Howell Raines
Here is the opinion that Roderick Haig-Brown forced me to adopt as my own, as he stated it in Fisherman's Fall:
Fishing is not a sport I expect ever to exhaust or abandon.
"Forced" may seem too strong a word, but it's not-the seductive power of Fisherman's Fall, A River Never Sleeps, and all his other books that plucked me from my chair and set me in his boots, the current breaking around my legs and riverbed gravel crunching beneath my feet, the power of his books that filled my head with his fascination for fish and water was too great for a boy with fishing in his blood to resist. I knew even as a teenager that I, too, would never exhaust or abandon fishing. Haig-Brown had me hooked, played out, and landed, and I admired him for it. He was, I felt, a master of words, a spell-caster who understood the thrill of the singing reel, the defeat of the broken tippet, and the wonder of peering into a trout pool better than any other writer possibly could, and conveyed them with unmatched clarity and force. The power of his prose had to come in part from his living in the finest little fishing area in the world-I was convinced of that. But how I believed this in spite of the vastness of his Canadian home province of British Columbia with its multitude of rivers and lakes and the great extent of its intricate coastline is now, to me, something of a mystery. There is a wealth of wonderful fishing throughout British Columbia, of course, but it never even occurred to me that any of it could compare with his little part of Vancouver Island.
So, once he'd got me addicted to fishing, the man's passion for his waters, and the waters that inspired such passion, set me to planning a fishing trip to the country that leapt so appealingly from the pages. Such a trip seemed reasonable to me-our home near Seattle, Washington lay fewer than three hundred miles south of Haig-Brown's farm on Vancouver Island; just a modest drive, I figured. So I began working on Dad. I wheedled. I nudged. I dropped hints to keep the issue on his mind. And all this time I was appealing to Mom, knowing she'd be the easier of the two and that if I could get her to work her own angle, he'd have little chance of holding out. It took some doing, but I wore him down, with Mom's help of course.
My soonest opportunity for such a distant trip would be Easter Break, an escape of around two weeks from the chaos and tyranny of high school. It would be early in April, a difficult time for fishermen, when streams can be high or even flooding from icy runoff or rain or both, and when fish may still be sluggish and unresponsive with blood winter-thick, creeping through drowsy dead-cold flesh. None of this concerned me, of course, or even occurred to me-I was, after all, only fifteen-years-old, an innocent. And anyway, how could fishing ever be less than excellent in Haig-Brown's waters?
Easter Break came at last, and early one brisk April morning my friend Don and I heaped our tackle into the trunk of Dad's big sedan, and then swung wide the doors and hopped into the back seat for the trip. I seemed hardly to depress the car seat, half-floating in the soft mist of anticipation. Don and I chatted openly about fishing and softly in private about girls as we rode the freeway up the Washington coast to the Canadian border just south of Vancouver-as we waited in the long line to get through customs, I could distinctly feel my full weight on the pillowy car seat, and the area of contact was growing uncomfortable. Still, my enthusiasm remained high. We left the border and headed for the ferry terminal. Getting through the ferry line took over an hour, though it seemed more like all day. Even the topic of girls was losing its interest. The ferry left the mainland and plodded across the ribbon of water separating it from Vancouver Island and the small city of Nanaimo, which, on our arrival, seemed dark and industrial; it was reassuring to watch it fade behind us as the road drifted into a magical corridor of dense coastal forest. Within an hour, the promise of Haig-Brown's country had grown much smaller as the distress in my buttocks had grown much larger. What was that car seat made of anyway, stone? But on we continued up the elongated island's eastern side, through a few hamlets, and across a few streams of varied size, the sort I'd normally have strained to examine from the bridges but instead hardly turned my head to notice, and on and on through dull, repetitive, and unceasing forest on my pilgrimage to Haig-Brown. By now my buttocks ached deeply. I was bone-tired, and it showed. Don didn't look too good either. About the time it seemed we'd never reach at our destination, cheerful country yards and houses and side roads, mottled in shadow and low sunlight, began telling encouragingly of the approaching town. I let out a heavy sigh and stretched the stiff, weary muscles down my back.
Roderick Haig-Brown had no idea we were coming-in fact, no idea we even existed. I had neither written him nor told Dad of my intention to meet him. But Dad seemed happy to drive slowly along the road that flanks the south side of the river and watch for a mailbox saying "Haig-Brown." As we crept up the tree-lined side-road, my head filled with bright images from his books, three of which lay beside me on the car-seat: the magnificent Canyon Pool on the Campbell River and the schools of big sea-run cutthroat trout that once milled about it in August, until it was desecrated and murdered by the dams and their penstocks that permanently starved the pool of fresh current; the good run of little steelhead that surprised him by suddenly appearing a dozen years after the dams were installed; his bright, lazy days of three-quarter-pound trout on Buttle Lake, with the always present chance that one of its eight- or ten-pounders would venture up from the depths for his fly; his failed but joyful mission to really figure out the movements and feeding patterns of sea-run cutthroats in the estuaries. We soon found the mailbox bearing his name and standing before his home and his farm on the banks of the Campbell River in the outskirts of the village named for the river and stretching upstream from its mouth.
He came to us in his driveway in a manner far too casual for the event-Roderick Haig-Brown standing right there was an event!-and asked could he help us. Dad explained that I was a great admirer of his work as I looked down at Dad's shoes. We each shook his hand, and he invited us in.
I cannot trust my memory of Haig-Brown, his home, or what happened there-I was young and overwhelmed by the presence of the man, and, of course, it all happened three-and-a-half decades ago. Nevertheless, this is how I remember it. His den was as elegantly somber as I'd imagined it. There were tall bookcases of dark wood displaying the dark spines of books; narrow windows peered out across a field to the river but allowed in only enough light to disperse a soft glow throughout the room. There was a small stone fireplace, too. A pair of coal-black Labrador retrievers lay in the corner, anxious but in obedient restraint. It was perfect. Well, almost perfect-the tiny table by the window and the fly-tying vise and few tools that lay upon it were a disappointment. I'd expected bins of feathers and hides, racks of floss and thread and bright tinsels, a long row of bright metal tools, certainly much more than the few tools on that insignificant little wooden square for such an important operation.
The dogs rose and came to us together with wagging tails and curious noses. Haig-Brown scolded them gruffly and they moped back to their corner. I knew he'd be stern with them-I knew the man, I felt-but I knew also that they'd have his respect.
Haig-Brown himself seemed entirely perfect, a looming but graceful man built all of long bones-long torso, long arms, long hands and fingers-speaking few but well-chosen and elegantly ordered words, reserved, and with just the right balance of gentleness and firmness. He seemed exactly the man to write of fishing with such passion.
I stood mostly in awestruck silence, but managed to ask about the fishing: Were the lakes going yet? Were the salmon fry out in the rivers and the cutthroats coming up from the salt to feed upon them? He seemed dubious about our chances of finding really good fishing anywhere now, as though, to my surprise, the odds were somehow against us, though we at least had some hope. The Campbell River, he said, would be as good as anyplace to start. He described a pool below an island he said we'd recognize, but he warned us that we'd have to cross to the island and that would be difficult if the river was up. This sounded like just the sort of reasonable put-up-or-shut-up challenge I'd have expected from him. I remembered his telling in A River Never Sleeps how Major Greenhill had made him strip naked and then swim across an icy English river in January after two felled mallards because Greenhill's retriever was too old for the job. Whatever I was up against, I figured it had to be short of that.
There was nothing more to say except thank you, which we did, and then left for the place he had recommended on his river. When we got there, the island he'd described lay across a considerable side channel. The time it took to scramble into my waders and fumble the line and leader up through the guides seemed interminable. As soon as I'd tied on the fly I realized I'd missed a guide with the line, and so had to cut off the fly and repeat nearly the whole operation. I was considering taking up swearing. When finally I charged in, I felt the cold force of the river, and the surprise of it made me hesitate. Then I really looked the channel over for the first time, and it looked tough. But I was determined to make it across, to prove myself worthy of Haig-Brown's country, his rivers, and his fish. A little way out I realized that it was tough wading, felt the fear that comes with dubious control out in strong current, and vaguely recalled a line from his Fisherman's Summer. It goes as follows:
Wading upstream over a bottom of great round slippery rocks-and the Campbell has little else-is bad at any time ... Though I was wading across stream, not upstream as in his line, it seemed about as difficult as you could ask. I pushed on, though impressing Haig-Brown suddenly seemed a minor thing compared with remaining upright. Once out on the island, after the moment of relief had passed, I sensed something familiar. The smell of swollen water, the chill damp air, and the dark, green-tinged current sweeping threateningly by all felt like just another gloomy Washington river in spring. Still, this was Haig-Brown's familiar, gloomy river, so while holding fast to my high expectations I tossed my little wet fly out into the main river and let it swing down into the sheltered and seemingly bottomless eddy below the island. I kept putting the fly out further and further and letting it swing downstream until I felt a tug, followed by nothing. Then I felt another tug, struck, and a couple of dozen feet of line spun off the reel. The current weighed on the line and the fish fought as hard as it should have, so it was a while before I slid him up the gravel bar below the island. He was a splendid sea-run cutthroat of about fourteen inches, thick, silvery, and handsomely spotted-a perfectly suitable fish for the occasion. I killed him with blows from a rock, as I often did back then (though I wouldn't now) and dropped him into my wicker creel.
Nothing else came to the fly, so I waded back across, pretty much forgetting about Haig-Brown again for a little while. Don had stayed wisely with the near, safer shore, but had caught nothing.
It was almost dusk, so we took down our rods and packed our tackle away into the car. As I cleaned the fish in the river, I had what seemed a wonderful notion: why not give the trout to Haig-Brown? It would be a thank you for his fishing advice, I said, but I knew it was really to show the master that I was a fisherman worthy of his river and his respect. It seemed perfect.
He would come out as before, I imagined; then he'd silently marvel at the wonderful trout when I raised it from the creel. He wouldn't say it, but he'd judge me a fine fisherman. I could picture him hoisting the fish himself and nodding in approval of both it and me.
But when we pulled in, his wife, Ann, came out. She said he was gone right now. I stammered out that I'd met him earlier that day and had brought him a fish from the Campbell. "Did you take it on the fly?" she asked, beaming. I told her yes I had, right where he'd suggested I fish. "Oh, Roddy will be so pleased that you took it on the fly! I'll fix it for him tonight, while it's still fresh." She took the fish, thanked us, and we drove away.
I sat reveling in proud achievement, even though things hadn't gone quite as I'd imagined, and trying to forget I'd heard the great Roderick Haig-Brown referred to as "Roddy." I casually picked up A River Never Sleeps, opened it at random, and began reading contentedly. After a couple of paragraphs I came to this line:
I do not fish for fish to eat; having to eat fish is one of the penalties of having been out fishing and with this penalty in mind I probably fish a little less often and less painstakingly than I otherwise would.
FISHING WITH MY DADDY Jimmy Carter
A few miles north of the Okefenokee was the small village of Hortense, not far from where the Little Satilla River joins the Big Satilla. This was one of my father's favorite fishing spots; he tried to go there every year with some of his associates in the farming, peanut, and fertilizer business. On two occasions he took me with him, when I was about ten- or twelve-years-old. We stayed in a big and somewhat dilapidated wood-frame house on a small farm near the banks of the Little Satilla. The house had been built to accommodate at least three generations of a family, but now there were just a man named Joe Strickland, his wife, Shug, and two daughters, one a pretty girl in her teens named Jessie. Joe was the guide for our group of about six people. The women cooked our meals and plowed mules in the small fields during the day while we were fishing. It was the first time I had seen women plowing, which I found quite surprising, but they all seemed to take it as a matter of course.
The Little Satilla is a serpentine stream in the flattest part of Georgia's coastal plain, weaving back and forth from one bend to another. A number of oxbow lakes had been left behind when the river changed its course. We fished in the area of what was called Ludie's Lake. On the outside of almost every bend of the stream there was a deep hole, often cut into a steep bank, and on the opposite side of the river was usually a sand bar. There were not as many bushes and snags in the water as we had around Plains, and the bottom was sandy and firm.
I had never done this kind of fishing before. We spent our time in the stream, wading halfway across it to fish in the deep water under the overhanging banks, using the longest cane poles we could handle. I wore cutoff overall pants with no shirt, and tied my fish stringer to one of the belt loops. Joe and I were the only ones barefoot; all the other men had on old tennis shoes or brogans to protect their tender feet. We fished with large pond worms and caught mostly "copperheads," which were very large bluegill bream whose heads, when mature, assumed a bronze color, perhaps from the tannin stain in the water.
The group of us would string out along the river, my daddy and I usually fishing within sight of each other. We always had a fairly good idea of what luck each fisherman was having. For some reason I have never understood, the men would shout "Billy McKay!" when they had on a nice fish. The words would roll through the woods as all of us smiled; the enthusiasm of the voices was contagious. Each night after supper I went to bed early, but the men stayed up to play poker and to have a few drinks. Sometimes they made enough noise to wake me up, but I didn't mind. It seemed to make me more a member of the party if they weren't trying to stay quiet just for me. Most often I was tired enough to go right back to sleep.
Excerpted from TIGHT LINES Copyright © 2007 by THE YALE ANGLERS' JOURNAL. Excerpted by permission.
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