Fishing the Northwest
Glen A. Love
The Pacific Northwest is water country. This far corner of the world is distinguished and defined by rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, estuaries, and an ocean. Where there is so much water, there's fishing. And where there's fishing, there is bound to be writing about fishing because, as Thomas McGuane observed, "you can't say enough about it."
Now there's a book for people who can't read enough about it either. Fishing the Northwest collects stories and essays by twenty-two of the best angling writers in the region. Veteran flyfisher Love has combed the vast literature on angling to create an exciting blend of subjects and styles that puts readers in the water next to fishing authors of great renown as well as noteworthy newer voices.
Included are famous early writers like Zane Grey, who frequented Northwest rivers, and Roderick Haig-Brown, who defined angling literature for the region. Also spotlighted is a new wave of excellent writing that has exploded in the Northwest over the past two decades, calling on a host of gifted authors like Ted Leeson and Jessica Maxwell--one of several women who prove that it's no longer just a man's preserve.
The book ranges from Alaska to the Rogue River in southern Oregon, the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island to the Continental Divide in Montana. From the advice of angling eminence Enos Bradner to the spirited fiction of Ken Kesey, from Robin Carey's account of getting acquainted with a new river to Lorian Hemingway's first flyfishing adventure, Fishing the Northwest is the ultimate reader for anyone who, in Norman Maclean's famous words, is "haunted by waters." Even if you've never felt a tug on a line, you'll discover in this book that some of the Northwest's best writing flows straight from its rivers.
All royalties from Fishing the Northwest will be donated to the Pacific Rivers Council, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to restoring, protecting, and enhancing American rivers.
Michael Baughman, Don Berry, Enos Bradner, Mallory Burton, Robin Carey, H.L. Davis, David James Duncan, Zane Gery, Roderick Haig-Brown, Lorian Hemingway, Dave Hughes, Ken Kesey, Rudyard Kipling, Ben Hur Lampman, Ted Leeson, Norman Maclean, Jessica Maxwell, Kathleen Dean Moore, Peter Patricelli, Steve Raymond, Marjorie Sandor, Frank Soos.
About the author
Glen A. Love is a Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Oregon. He is the author and editor of several books on the literature and culture of the Pacific Northwest. Among his books is New Americans: The Westerner and the Modern Experience in the American Novel (1982) and Northwest Perspectives (1979), a book of essays which he co-edited with Edwin R. Bingham. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Read more about this author
Part One: New Voices
Ted Leeson, "The Farthest Distance Between Two Points"
Robin Carey, "Building With Bones"
Jessica Maxwell, "River Deep, Mountain High"
Frank Soos, "Obituary With Bamboo Fly Rod"
Lorian Hemingway, "Walk On Water For Me"
David James Duncan, "Where I Lived And What I Lived For"
Marjorie Sandor, "The Novitiate's Tale"
Mallory Burton, "The Emerger"
Kathleen Dean Moore, "The Deschutes River"
Peter Patricelli, "The Lesson"
Michael Baughman, "Skunked"
Don Berry, "How To Dress A Nymph"
Dave Hughes, "Lost Lakes"
Part Two: Northwest Tradition
Rudyard Kipling, "Salmon On The Clackamas"
Zane Grey, "Deer Creek, Washington--1918"
Ben Hur Lampman, "Almost Time For Trout"
Roderick Haig-Brown, "Fall Defined"
H.L. Davis, "Fishing Fever"
Enos Bradner, "Mountain Lake Fishing"
Ken Kesey, "Salmon Party"
Norman Maclean, "Fishing With Paul"
Steve Raymond, "The End of the Year"
"You can't say enough about fishing," says Thomas McGuane in Russell Chatham's book, Silent Seasons. "Though the sport of kings, it's just what the deadbeat ordered. Water is a mysterious as fire: we stare into it for hours, a tendril of drool at the corner of the mouth. ...You can't say enough about fishing; but that won't stop me."
You can't say enough about fishing. Herman Melville proved that in Moby Dick, the biggest and best book about pursuing watery creatures ever written. Melville wrote and wrote, and still ended up thinking that he couldn't dive deep enough to fathom it all. We seem to be mesmerized not so much by the chance of catching a fish as by the certainty of our attraction to water.
Our bodies, we are told by those who know, are more than 80% water. We take shape in the womb encased in a watery membrane. Our evolutionary past tells us that the earliest forms of life came ashore from warm oceans. hunters and fishers in our prehistory, we've got fishing deep in our bones. Water laps and laves our imagination. If Niagara Falls were a cataract of sand, Melville asks in the opening chapter of Moby Dick, would anybody come to see it? "Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy?" Melville continues. "Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life, and this is the key to it all."
Norman Maclean ends A River Runs Through It with the sentence, "I am haunted by waters." So are we all. You can't say enough about water. Of fishing. But that won't stop writers from trying to hook the ungraspable phantom. and it won't stop another book on fishing, like this one.
Considering that the Pacific Northwest is water country, a collection of writing on Northwest angling comes as not surprise. Rivers like those that drain the great Columbia, Snake, and Fraser watersheds, streams, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, estuaries, the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, the Inland Passage through British Columbia to Alaska--water is what defines and distinguishes this corner of the world. Where there is so much water, there's fishing. And where there's fishing, there is writing about fishing. Because you can't say enough about it.
In an earlier day, Arnold Gingrich, the founding editor of Esquire magazine and a certified easterner, would claim of the New York Anglers Club that the books and articles written by its members would serve pretty much as the angling literature of its time. Today, though, much of the angling has moved west, and so have many of the angling writers. The fish are bigger and more plentiful out here, a Northwesterner can hardly be restrained from saying, not to mention the rivers and mountains and trees. That's what draws a captive easterner like Howell Raines, author of Flyfishing Through the Midlife Crisis, to confess to all the money he spends to fly to Montana and hire and high-priced guide in order to float down a famous trout river waving an expensive fly-rod in the air.
Then, too, many of the fishing writers have moved west because the East is no longer the cultural and publishing arbiter of the nation. Americans no longer wait for New York--or any other historical seat of authority--to tell them what to think. In this day and age, any place can become THE place. One could make a pretty good argument for Missoula, Montana, as the new literary center of America, emitting the defining cultural beeps--at least for fishing and outdoor writing--that used to be limited to New York City's editorial offices. Today, all places are equally real. All a region needs is a good writer or two to put it on the cultural map. Real places like Missoula and Corvallis and Campbell River and Astoria and the Deschutes and Seattle and West Yellowstone are making their own waves with their writers and publishers. And readers are carried along, because nothing makes a place so real as what is written about it.
At first glance, all of this westward migration of angling literature may seem to be the result of the phenomenal success and influence of Missoulan Norman Maclean's book, A River Runs Through It, first published in 1976. A word-of-mouth bestseller, the first work of fiction published by the scholarly press of the University of Chicago, where Maclean was a legendary teacher for many years. A River Runs Through It spawned a new generation of flyfishers, wile reminding the oldsters of what they didn't know they knew about their sport. The movie version extended that influence even more widely to audiences in the U.S. and abroad.
There is a kind of sweet western justice in all this success, for a Maclean recalls his book was first rejected as "western" by several eastern editors, one of whom included in his rejection letter, "These stories have trees in them." Later, after the book had finally been published by the press of Maclean's own university and had become famous, the same editor, conveniently ignoring his previous dismissal of the work, wrote Maclean a fawning letter, praising the book and obsequiously suggesting that Maclean give them first chance ant this next book! To which Maclean responded, "If the time should ever come when you are the last publisher in the world and I am the last author, then that will be the end of books, as we know them."
The truth is, though, that the movement of great angling writing westward began some years before A River Runs Through It with a British Columbia fisherman-writer whose work deserves to be more widely known. Before Maclean, there was Roderick Haig-Brown, who is the true founder of memorable angling literature in the Northwest. Although Haig-Brown was actually a few years younger than Maclean--born in 1908 to Maclean's 1902--Haig-Brown published his first fishing book at the age of 24 in 1931, at a time when Maclean was just beginning his teaching career at Chicago, and when writing fishing stories about his Montana youth was something far off in his future.
Haig-Brown came to the Northwest from England at the age of nineteen. he worked as a logger, trapper, and fisherman in Washington and British Columbia before settling in a home on the banks of the Campbell River on Vancouver Island. By the end of his career, he had written a total of thirty-one books. He died in 1976, the year Maclean published A River Runs Through It. Haig-Brown's work is held in highest esteem by literary fisher-folk, including Arnold Gingrich, who said in 1974 that Haig-Brown's work was the surest contribution that recent times had made to the main tradition of angling literature. Add to this Russell Chatham's more recent claim that Haig-Brown ought to be required reading in every school, and Harmon Henkin's statement that Haig-Brown's best books are A River Never Sleeps, Return to the River, Measure of the year, and his sequence of the fishing year, Fisherman's Spring, Fisherman's Summer, Fisherman's Fall, and Fisherman's Winter.
I fish for pleasure, as I suppose we all do. We read for the same reason. and part of the pleasure of reading, as C.S. Lewis said, is in knowing that we are not alone. I hope that the selections included here will bring you as much enjoyment as they have brought me. Acknowledged master of the field of fishing writing, like Haig-Brown and Maclean and Zane Grey, are joined in the following pages by a number of less well known but noteworthy newer writers whose works are sure to give pleasure to Northwesterners and readers everywhere who value good fishing and good prose. I am sorry that there was not more room to include other notable Northwest fishing writers, especially from among the newer ones.
All good fishing writing carries an implicit message of conservation. With the ever-increasing threats to fish and to the beautiful places where they live, everyone who fishes must become a guardian of home waters. because this book is a labor of love, and a chance to give back something to the sport that has given me so much pleasure, all author/editor profits it earns will be donated to the Pacific River Council, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to restoring, protecting, and enhancing American rivers.
Long years ago, I sold my half-interest in a McKenzie driftboat that I owned with a friend. Why? Because I found I had more pleasure being in the water, wading a river or fishing a lake out of a float tube, than I did being on the water. I could give practical reasons to my choice: I could rightly claim that I could be stealthier, that I could get closer to the fish by wading or float-tubing. But the most important reason, looking at it honestly, was the pleasurable feeling of immersion. Of becoming something more like a fish myself, with the press of water against me, with the full, satisfying force of all that delight.
I can see myself ending up like Haig-Brown who, in his later years, often pulled on a wet suit and a snorkel to go swimming through the pools of the Campbell River which flowed by his home, content to just watch the same fish he and angled for and caught all his life. "I find," said Haig-Brown in one of his last books, Fisherman's Fall, "that I have practically no desire to go out and catch the fish I have seen when diving; I would rather go back and have another look at them. By the time I have watched the same fish twice he is an old friend and I wouldn't dream of going out to kill him; I would even hesitate to disturb him by catching him and putting him back." Perhaps this experience is the ultimate baptism in nature that we all seek when we go fishing.
"We need the tonic of wildness," said the old master, Henry David Thoreau, in Walden. "We can never have enough of nature." Thoreau, a sometimes fisherman himself, had it figured out 150 years ago, like Melville. The same attraction to the ungraspable phantom of life. In this spirit we take our fishing pleasure so seriously. Ourself, with fishing rod, on one end, the wildness of a watery nature on the other end and a pulsing line connecting the two. Maybe that is why we can't have enough of fishing. Or of Writing-- and reading about it.