Writing About Trout

There are some guys out there who are writing fantastic contributions to fishing publications. 

There are others who are not. 

This is for the both of them. 

It was going to be a hot day, I thought as I headed out from home to meet up with my best friends for a well earned three days of fishing. On the drive through the midlands we joked about who was going to get the biggest fish. It was a perfect day as our rods rattled in their tubes and we remarked how green it was after the recent rains. 

We arrived at the dam under blue skies with abundant birdsong to keep us company as we inflated our tubes. I prefer a pontoom boat to a vee boat and we argued their respective merits as we went to work. In the end I conceded that the vee boat was better only because I had forgotten that little thing that goes into the valve and Charlie wouldn’t let me use his until I did so! He’s a kidder, that Charlie. 

I chose to take three rods out with me that day. I took two five-weights – one with a floating and one with an intermediate line. I had done some research on the various lines available on the market and had selected one with a density that matched the altitude of the dam within 30 meters or so. You don’t want your slow sinking intermediate acting like a medium slow intermediate now do you! I also took a seven weight in case the wind picks up like it sometimes does in these parts. You can’t be too prepared is what I always say. 

All was quiet for an hour or so after we kicked out into the dam. I was covering the channel in textbook fashion with my intermediate line and a 13.5 foot leader while Charlie and Mike were fishing the lanes between the weedbeds with floating lines and 23.89 foot leaders. I was just thinking that I should change tactic when Charlie shouted out “ISN’T THIS THE MOST MINDNUMBINGLY BORING THING YOU’VE READ IN YOUR LIFE!!!!!!”

Sorry, fellas, I can’t do this anymore. I know that there’s a market for this. I’m absolutely certain that it’s bigger than the market for the shit that I spew out with perplexing regularity, but it’s all a bit insulting isn’t it?

How is it insulting? I’ll tell you how. It suggests that just because we are so starved for anything flyfishing related in this country that we will consume it, know no better and be grateful for it. If I memorized one of these stories and recited it at the bar I would lose my audience to the toilet, their urgent phone call, stomachs ache, faked seizures, etc. – anything to get away from me as I tell it. 

There are nuggets of literary gold that land up in the pan with the silt that is most angling writing, but they are too few and too far between. 

You think I’m speaking crap? I’m arrogant? Well, you’re probably half right. You pick which half. 

But maybe I’m not. I want you to think about something. 

What are, in your opinion, the finest flyfishing related books to have come out of this country?  I only have two on my list. 

Top of my list is ‘Rapture of the River’. Second to that is ‘Call of the Stream’. I can’t think of anything else immediately (except perhaps Wolf Avni and Andrew Levy’s stuff, but that’s mainly on account of the writing style and off the wall context. I’m a sucker for that.)

I punt out those two titles and the first answer I’m going to get is that it is just not possible for a monthly magazine to maintain that level of writing and that its job is as much to inform as to entertain. And I won’t argue that for a second. You are quite right. That it’s ALL they have bothers me. 

I’ve been writing in notebooks, on paper napkins and the back of public toilet doors for 30 years now. If I keep practicing for another 30 years I will not have amassed enough decent material for a single sentence in either of the two books that I mentioned. I have many, many colorful delusions but none of them are about my writing. 

The point I’m laboring here to make is hidden in plain sight in the titles of these two books. Look at them again. Can you see it? They speak of emotion. Of being moved. They speak of the human condition or at least that part of it that wants to connect to nature. To be a part of it. To just raise its bloody head and see the world in terms that aren’t plagiarized from a bloody (I’m tempted to use a stronger word here) Hallmark card. For heaven’s sake, he called it ‘rapture’. 

I don’t know Mr Hey and I’ve only recently been introduced to Mr Brigg but I can assure you that there is not a part of them that looks for the sort of validation that most of the writers of this boring, over-technical crap are clearly looking for. That they would want respect and recognition is patent and it’s fine by me; it is well earned. 

Is there a place for technical ‘crap’. Of course there is. I own masses of it. But it has a place. My coffee table is literally sagging and touching the floor in the centre so overloaded is it with books on fly fishing, motorcycles and art (pop over for a beer sometime and see for yourself). But none of it is technical. My workshop manuals are in the workshop (or, as my wife likes to call it, the kitchen). My fly tying guides (for as much good as they’ve done me) are with my fly tying materials and my drawing tutorials are with my pencils and brushes in my art room (see reference to kitchen, above). 

When I get home after a long day under trying circumstances I open a volume on the works of the masters and I’m taken away to a place of Claude’s pastel water lilies and cities shrouded in fog. Vincent gives me haystacks drying in the abundant summer sun. Soppy? Trite? Probably. But let’s just agree that Mr Monet and Mr Van Gogh describe a sunset a hell of a lot better than most angling writers do. Have you seen Vincent’s nights? Breathtaking. 

Why then am I forced, when looking at photographs of the most breathtaking exotic destinations, to read such mundane garden variety text?

How is this related to writing? It’s not really. It’s related to living. 

Living an authentic life. Of not trying to be some sort of genius, rock-star, shit-hot property. Of just opening your eyes and taking it in. And then of writing about it with compassion and energy and, dare I say it, with just the tiniest little piece of your soul hanging out. If, in the process, you can teach me something I’d be glad to learn it. (But refer to me as ‘neophyte’ or ‘tyro’ and I’m going to take your head off. For fuck’s sake, buy a thesaurus.)

My writing? It’s total nonsense. Bollocks. Horse shit. Im not going to argue that with you. ‘From my keyboard to your dustbin’ is how I refer to it. But, the reason I started doing it was as a counterpoint to (stretch this out as you read it, putting emphasis on every syllable of every word) the retelling of every-bloody-boring-Hardy-Boys-description-of-every-bloody-boring-cast-you-made-at-every-bloody-boring-sunset-of-every-bloody-boring-trip-you-ever-took. 

Oh, the photos will evoke some emotion and give a sense of it all? Charlie on his tube gripping a fish straight faced staring at the camera and a caption of ‘Charlie with another good fish’. Where, for the love of it, is the whoop and the face-splitting smile and the bottle of scotch around the fire in the evening? Where’s the high-five and the “give me my fly back you bastard”. Maybe an endless stream of 11 pound fish is what our man Charlie expects and that, frankly, he’s a bit disappointed with how the trip has been playing out. 

By all means, explain your technique and flies. Describe your equipment, the scenery, the lodge and whatever else you think we should know. Tip your hat to whoever paid for the trip and is looking for some fulfillment of a commercial agreement. (I saw a post by a writer today with SEVENTEEN hashtags relating to sponsors.). Remind us of how shit hot you are. Drop names. 

But whatever you do, tell us how it made you feel. Be authentic. Open up. You might just find that you’ll enjoy your life just a little more when you add some color to it. God knows we’ll enjoy reading about it a lot more. 

But seriously, I’m being too harsh. I’m entirely myopic in my judgement. We aren’t all gifted writers and its a technical sport; I get that. But we do it primarily for fun, so have some fun. 

Let your soul hang out a little. 


2 responses to “Writing About Trout

  1. Thank you for the mention and almost in the same breath as Rapture is pushing it me thinks, but appreciate your sentiment, no less your brilliant, there I said it again and richly deserved, writing – a talent for story telling and taking us there without being there and not a picture needed. I agree on most of all said, so that’s two of us and I suspect we are not alone! Let’s keep the fun going ……….

    • Thanks Peter. I just love what’s real in this world. Your writing is very real in a ‘here I am, here’s what I believe in’ sort of way. It’s refreshing. Im a full-blown fan and I don’t mind admitting it. Im not going to throw my underwear at you – not that kind of fan.

      I can’t do mundane anymore. I want extraordinary. I’ve come to realize that I’m more than halfway through my one roll of the dice on this earth and I’m not going to go quietly.

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