Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
Three Reads: Great Fishing Books
Maclean, McGuane & McManus
WHEN IT COMES TO GREAT FISHING WRITING, there appears to be a handful of key elements that the best writers carry in their literary tackle boxes.
First and foremost, they all share a great passion for angling of various styles.
Next, they are all able to connect with readers, to bring us along with them on their fishy adventures.
Finally, they all write in words as gentle as summer breezes but as strong as perfect casts, words that stay with us as we hit the water or toss about at night dreaming of rivers or rising fish.
It also seems to help if your last name begins with an “M”—or a “Hemingway.”
Therefore, here are short reviews of three reads that folks with a passionate—or even just a passing—interest in angling should enjoy.
“A River Runs Through It”
by Norman Maclean (University of Chicago, 1976)
The film based upon this autobiographical novella about two brothers growing up as fly fishermen in Montana made for stunning cinema. The movie won an Academy Award for Cinematography and after it hit theaters in 1992, the popularity of fly fishing in America soared to new heights.
While the film was a watershed moment for the sport and does the original story justice, it still misses much of Maclean’s masterful and poetic prose. Anyone with a mild crush on fly fishing (or the Northern Rockies) will enjoy Maclean’s beautifully written tale. It is one for the ages.
“The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing”
by Thomas McGuane (Vintage, 1999)
McGuane’s brilliance glistens across the page like sunlight dancing upon the surface of the ocean, and he’s clearly a bit mad—or at lest obsessed—when it comes to fishing. McGuane has cast for virtually every game fish in the world and in this collection he shares many great and thought-provoking stories about his adventures.
While McGuane waxes wonderfully and philosophically about angling around Michigan and Montana, his stories about stalking saltwater fish like tarpon takes his writing to another level. McGuane does a remarkable job of brining his readers right into the watery world he’s in, somehow including “the long silences”—the time fishing often affords one’s mind to explore life, its meaning and fishing’s role in a truly fulfilled one.
“Never Sniff a Gift Fish”
by Patrick F. McManus (Henry Holt, 1983)
One of the best things to take with you when you go a-fishing, besides a rod, a hopeful attitude and a cooler full of beer (solely to help with the attitude, of course) is a good sense of humor. And when it comes to fishing, especially in the West, there’s nobody funnier than McManus. As he so famously wrote, “There is no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm.”
McManus grew up in Northern Idaho and is said to now hang his hat in Eastern Washington. He pretty much claims to be the world’s worst fisherman, so bad that even great anglers get skunked in his presence. So one of the most rewarding things about reading a collection of McManus fishing stories is that it makes you feel that you can’t be all that bad, at least compared to McManus.