Neil Travis - Jul 30, 2012

Recently here in Montana we have been experiencing the heat that has gripped most of the nation since early in the summer, heat that has made it too hot to do almost anything outside. Being more of a temperate-loving sort, at least weather-wise, when the temperatures reach into the 90's it's time to retreat to the shade. I located a lawn chair and positioned it in the shade of the willow tree in my side yard where I could catch the errant breeze wafting from the direction of the Yellowstone River just beyond the football field beside the local high school. Ensconced in a pair of shorts with a short sleeve shirt unbuttoned to my waist line I was prepared to endure the heat of another too hot summer day. As I headed out the door to my shady sanctuary I perused the shelves of my library for a suitable tome; something not too heavy or too serious but something light preferably with lots of pictures. Hiding between some far weightier volumes of angling literature I spied Robert Traver's Anatomy of a Fisherman. Thus armed I retreated to the shade.

Anatomy of a Fisherman was originally published in 1964, and is what we would refer to today as a "coffee table" book. It came about as the results of an article written for Life Magazine by Robert Kelley, a photographer and writer for that publication. With far more images than needed for the magazine article Kelley suggested that they use some of the images for a book. Traver agreed and this book is the result.

This book is mostly color images but they are interspersed with short and somewhat pithy observations about fish and fishing written by Traver. The short article, Testament of a Fisherman, is a concise description of what keeps many of us returning again and again to be fooled by a fish. What I loved about Traver was his backwoods common sense. He had little use for fish and tell fishermen, those guys you take to your secret spot only to have them write an article about the place and even include a map. He concluded that the only ones you should take to your favorite spot were "dogs and small children."

He defined experts as those anglers that "the expert knows he can't ever make a trout feed when they don't want to." However, he believed that experienced anglers too often "cling to their pet stupidities with all the zeal of Grandma to her old home remedies." This was why he believed duffers, as he called them, often fish rings around those anglers that are stuck with proven techniques even when they are not working. His conclusion: "Humility and open-mindedness sometimes catch more fish than all the wise guys." His description of the frugal fisherman is a classic, and needs to be read in its entirety to be fully appreciated.

However, as I sat in the shade at my home in Montana some 1,500 miles removed from the streams and ponds that Traver loved, I was struck by the images of a time that now seems so very long ago. There were the required images of fish, but mostly I was struck by the images of Traver and all his old fishing buddies. These were images of people from my youth, good old boys who had forgotten more about the outdoors than most of us will ever know. They bushwhacked their way into isolated streams and ponds and fished waters that rarely saw another angler. They camped out in a tent, drank boiled coffee from an old pot heated over an open fire, they could build a campfire in a downpour without resorting to gasoline, and in their plaid shirts and canvas waders they just appeared like they were part of the natural scenery. There was no pretense, nothing contrived, no egos on display; just a group of old friends enjoying their sport and each other's company.

The book is a classic, long out of print, but I see that there are used copies for sale on various websites that deal in books. Unfortunately, the price that I paid for my copy is significantly lower than the prices that I saw on the Internet. Perhaps, if you don't have a copy you can find one at your local library. It's a nice trip down memory lane to a time and a place that sadly no longer exists except in the memory of those of us lucky enough to have lived it.

Editor's Note
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Robert Traver, he was a well-known author in the late 50's and 60's. He was Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and his real name was John Donaldson Voelker, but he wrote under the pen name of Robert Traver. His best known novel was Anatomy of a Murder published in 1958 and subsequently made into an academy award winning movie in 1959. It related a true story of a murder that took place in Michigan, and the defendant was represented by John Voelker. He retired from the court in 1959 and spent most of the rest of his life fly fishing and writing. He died in 1991 at 87 years of age.

Comment on this article

Archive of From a Journal By..

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice