Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders

John Gierach has a splendid eye for the details of fresh-water fish, their habitats and habits, and the behaviors of anglers in pursuit of both the fish and the experience of fishing. These reflective narratives of specific instances of his life-long addiction to fishing glitter with engrossing specific details of getting to his favorite fishing streams and assessing the hatch (“Blue- winged Olives . . . mixed with some little Red Quills, some midges, and the odd caddis fly blending into a mixed fall of spinners”). And after assessing the hatch and choosing among Adamses, Humpys, mixed hackles, Rusty Spinners, Gierach places his choice into action and brings the rich and arcane world of fly tying into full focus. He spices his narratives of casting on a rising grayling or brownie or rainbow with instances of close—sometimes too close—encounters with other wildlife such as a little cinnamon-colored black bear or the nearly drowned rattlesnake that he rescues from an irrigation ditch. He explores in minute detail dozens of trout streams and high country lakes, riffles and rapids, and tiny foot-wide pristine creeks, becoming an avid birder in the process. He is a man who sees the details out of which he creates his compelling accounts of fishing, arguing that “the liquid roar of the stream [can drive out] all concern for money, women and other personal demons . . .” Still he does not forget that the most important part of the fishing experience may sometimes have less to do with catching fish than with the opportunity the experience gives one to ponder the large questions of one’s relationship to the universe.

But one need not worry about receiving a bad sermon here. Gierach is witty and laconic, curious and wise, giving his moral imperatives with an attractive self-deprecating humor. As he says, he “is a fisherman, not a saint. You can ask anyone.”