Between the Leaves
By Chris Marshall
TALES OF MAGIC AND DISASTER
Fumbling With a Fly Rod: Stories from the River
By Ian Colin James. HarperCollins, 55 Avenue Rd.,
Suite 2900, Toronto, ON
M5R 3L2, 2000.
205 pages, hardbound. $27.00
First of all, I have to admit that time constraints frequently force me to skim the pages
when I'm reading books for review. This was impossible with Fumbling With a Fly Rod.
It seduced me into spending a whole afternoon of reading the whole thing when I'd
a thousand other things to do.
Ian James' collection of twelve "stories from the river" is a book out of time, because,
rather than concentrate on the hard facts of where, how, and when to fish, it celebrates
the experience of fly fishing - something we've seen too little of in the last half century.
It recreates those moments - comic, tragic, pastoral - which are the elan vital of fly fishing.
Not that the book lacks information - far from it- it's packed with pointers on fishing
techniques, fly patterns and, particularly, streamcraft - the stuff of 34 years of observant
and intelligent fly fishing.
Most of the stories feature some degree of disaster, particularly involving falling in the river,
breaking rods, and embarrassing defeats by large fish. In some of these, such as his account
of falling into the Niagara River just below the falls, James flirts with tragedy, but skillfully
shifts into high comedy.
James is also a master of dissembling - an incorrigible and accomplished liar - in the cause
of deflecting potentially destructive "anglers" away from his quiet places on the river. He
delights in assuming the persona of ignoramus in his encounters with these. He's equally
ruthless with "poseurs". One of my favourite moments in the book, is his account of
meeting a couple of spandex-clad, yuppie trail bikers in the parking lot after an exhilarating
and successful day on the river during a succession of thunderstorms. He's soaked,
disheveled and magnificently disreputable. Here's how he describes the encounter:
"Did you get anything?" one of the cyclists inquires.
After activating all their high-tech gadgets to protect their vehicle, the yuppies ride off, advising
James to "stick with it, you'll get the hang of it". The irony is delightful.
"Nah. A few rock bass."
"I've been fly fishing since the spring," he said, checking the spokes on a wheel.
"Oh yeah, in here?" I asked, breaking down my fly rod, hoping he might reveal a spot I'd never fished before.
"No, I go to Shellie's Trout Ponds and Sweetpeas Produce on the fifth concession.
"You get a few, do you?" I was disappointed, but it's always worth a try.
"Tons. There's nothing to fly-fishing. It's really simple."
"Yeah, so they tell me. I've only been at it for a week or two. I guess it's like riding a bike," I said.
But what delights me most about Fumbling With a Flyrod is James' ability to recreate
the experience of being on the river. His keen observation embraces not just the water and
the fish, but also leaves of bankside vegetation gleaming in sunshine after rain, the flight of
insects, the chatter of birds, the rumble of distant thunder, and the mist cloaking the water
This is a book which appeals to a much wider audience than just fly fishers. It's not surprising
that it made the Canadian best-seller list in May - only weeks after coming off-press.
Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead
By Rick Kustich and Jerry Kustich. West River Publishing,
P.O. Box 15, Grand Island, NY 14072, 1999
280 pages, colour and half-tone photography, map.
Hardbound. $39.95 (US)
Although the authors of Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead are not Canadian,
a number of Canadian fly fishers have made significant contributions, from fly patterns
by a number of well-known Ontario tyers and steelheaders to superb drawings by
Al Hassall. The authors also provide profiles of 13 Ontario steelhead rivers.
The book is divided into three sections: The Fishery, The Fly Fishing Approach and A
Guide to the Rivers. The first section, which covers over 80 pages, examines the background
and history of steelhead in the Great Lakes region. Emphasising the importance of careful
and intelligent management of wild stocks of fish, it sets the tone for the whole book.
The second section covering steelhead behaviour, reading the water, strategies, and flies,
provides a wealth of information. I was particularly interested in the section on fishing
dry flies - a technique only just being explored on Great Lakes tributaries. There are
eight full-colour plates of 135 flies and recipes for each of them.
The final section is a collection of profiles on 33 specific rivers (13 of them Canadian).
Besides giving tips on how and when to fish, the authors bring each river delightfully to
life with anecdotes of times spent fishing on them.
Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead was five years in the making, but the
experience it embodies derives from decades of observing and fishing the region. This
is an impressive work - thorough, intelligent, and unique. It is essential for any Great
Lakes fly fisher who takes steelheading seriously.
A GUIDE FOR ALL SEASONS
Fly Fishing the Grand River
By Ian D. Martin and Jane E. Rutherford.
The Usual Press,
RR #2, Elora, Ontario, 1995
64 pages, black & white drawings, eight colour plates of flies, two hatch charts.
Spiral bound $20.00
First published in 1996, Fly Fishing the Grand River has just entered its fourth printing.
This is an indication of the tremendous popularity of this "little" book, which manages to pack
so much in its 64 pages. The title is something of a misnomer, as the authors deliver more
than just how to fish the Grand. For the book is really about hatches and how to fish them
throughout Southern Ontario. Sure, the main focus is on the Grand, but on most rivers in
the region the same flies hatch at more or less the same time, and the same techniques for
imitating and fishing them are equally applicable.
Each author holds a Ph.D. in the ecology and behaviour of stream insects - and it shows.
The information on aquatic insects and how to tie and fish flies is detailed and authoritative.
The sections on caddis flies are particularly impressive.
Fly fishers in Southern Ontario should make sure they have a copy in their vest pockets.
~ Chris Marshall