Archive for the ‘fishing’ Category

As regular readers may have noticed, I’m a big meat-eater. And though I don’t hunt anymore, I hunted as a kid in Texas. So I was interested in Steven Rinella’s new book Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter. (And since Rinella went to graduate school in Missoula, where I’m on good relations with the local weekly, I had a venue to review it.) It’s a good read, and an effective corrective to what you probably think of when you think of hunting adventures as told by hunters.

A tangential excerpt:

Too many hunters—Montana reader-hunters excepted, of course—are assholes. I’m thinking of the hunters I grew up with on deer leases in Texas, who use electronically timed corn feeders to train trophy bucks to arrive at their predetermined opening-day doom at 7 a.m. sharp. I’m thinking of the hunters I ran into in the wild and scenic lower canyons of the Rio Grande this spring, zipping up and down the remote river in a jet boat with a sawed-off aoudad sheep’s head strapped to the bow, leaving a glittering string of discarded Coors Light cans in their wake. I’ve never seen Rinella’s shows, but anyone who’s ever flipped through the low-budget hunting programs on a slow TV day will recognize the hyperventilating kill-thrill that characterizes hunting’s lowest common denominator. Giddy bloodlust may not be hunting’s driving evolutionary force, but it’s real, and it isn’t a character trait likely to draw many converts.

To hunting’s credit, and his own, Steven Rinella is not that asshole.

You can read the rest of the review here.

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On the 150th anniversary of the death of Henry David Thoreau (which was yesterday; I was fishing), Beacon Press asked me to write a little sumthin about about what Thoreau “meant to me as a writer.” Here’s what I came up with, or you can read it in context on Beacon’s blog, the Beacon Broadside, here.

I grew up the child of a first-generation middle-class family for whom a motorboat and a weekend place on a lake defined the lap of suburban luxury. My parents were just a generation removed from fishing for food and rural isolation as facts of life; to transform those memories of need into leisure marked their triumph over circumstance. They’d escaped. To prove it, they bought a place to escape to.

I’d never heard of Thoreau, but it was our Walden. Like Henry’s cabin, adjusted for interstates and dams, it was just north of town (Houston) on a reservoir (Lake Conroe). Curb to gate, we could drive there from home on the other side of the city in about as long as it took HDT to walk into Concord and bum a beer from Emerson. We called our place Hard Times, with the reflexive self-deprecation of insecure East Texas arrivistes.

At the other end of Lake Conroe was the only Walden I knew of: a lakefront development of condos clustered around a marina full of boats at the western end of what had once been the San Jacinto River. Walden had a golf course and tennis courts. Walden had a shop on a pier selling gasoline and life jackets and bait and polo shirts embroidered with the resort logo. Walden was the rich end of the lake. It was years before I read Thoreau’s Walden and understood the references and aspirations playing out at the rich end of the lake—and, acknowledged or not, at our end too.

What I remember of Walden is the occasional diamond clarity of its sentences, and Thoreau’s constitutional contrariness. I don’t remember his celebrations of nature so much as his condemnations of so-called civilization. To realize that developers were repackaging that contrary clarity as a hive of internal combustion, on a time-share basis no less, marked maybe my first real awareness, in retrospect, of the ways of the commercial world. They’d take a word that meant something—Walden—and turn it upside down. They’d try to fool you. They’d advertise one thing and sell you another. Your parents could do the same thing: Hard Times my ass…

Words can serve truth, or they can serve their speakers. That’s an awareness—call it a bias; fair enough—that I’ve carried through 20 years of journalism aimed, when I could see, at clarifying that which has been obfuscated. It’s a bias that informs Opportunity, Montana pretty deeply. As influences go, it’s indirect, but that’s the note Thoreau sings for me.

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Sorry, this is turning into a photo/river tripping blog. When in Michigan…
This is me on the Upper Peninsula’s Two-Hearted River, a twisty tea-colored little woodland stream that finally slips through a gauntlet of dunes and dumps into Lake Superior, which, as you know, is like God’s own birdbath. The Two-Hearted is the nominal setting of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” which is collected in The Nick Adams Stories.
My friend Fred Maxwell says that he read on Wikipedia that it’s thought that Hemingway, like a true stingy-ass honey-hole-hiding fisherman, was actually describing the UP’s Fox River in his story, but gave it the Two-Hearted’s name, perhaps to throw off tourists and poachers, or maybe because Two-Hearted is just such a goddamn beautiful name for a river. I haven’t bothered to look it up. I’m not sure it matters to me.
I spent two days and one night on it, maybe 24 miles’ worth, the first day portaging 13 unstable logjams and the second day blissing the fuck out.
When I put in there was a guy walking down the bank fishing. About halfway downriver at the state campground where I camped there was another guy with an RV and an ATV who left in the morning to fish for steelhead. The night before he came over and looked at my anemic little sock-drying campfire and offered to let me borrow his chainsaw. I thanked him but no. I asked and he explained to me why there are salmon out there nowhere near the sea. It’s because they were imported to the Great Lakes purposefully to eat a smaller fish that was imported to the Great Lakes accidentally, and they started spawning up these little tea-colored woodland streams. More or less. They’re stocked as sport fish as well.
I threw a spinner out from the sand ramp for a while but I have yet to discover the finer joys of fishing, though I’m not through looking.
I did take lots of what came out looking like portraits of trees, among other things, and posted the better ones to flickr. The one at top links to Part 1. The one below links to Part 2.

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I’m not much of a fisherman. I mean I was raised fishing, crappie and bass in lakes Conroe and Tyler, a little bit of coastal stuff with my dad, catfish anywhere we might find them, which was almost anywhere. My maternal grandfather was briefly a shrimp boat captain on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and I remember one trip with him where I spent hours catching little sharks and throwing up over the side. I went to southeast Alaska a few springs back and caught a 90-pound halibut in Chatham Strait, which felt like hauling a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood through 300 feet of water, but it was my buddy Brandon who actually J3072x2304-03440set the hook and gaffed it. Then again, a 90-pound fish is a two-man job.

Even when I lived in Montana for five years I never learned to fly-fish. Which is not to say I never fly-fished. I did, once, with a borrowed rod beneath a bluff called Sunset Cliff about halfway down the Smith River. My friend G.O. loaned me the rig and showed me what to do with it. I landed a little brown trout right off and let it go. The sun was setting and I was three days into a new river and the bluff was glowing and two hawks were riding the thermals and I’d just caught my first trout on a fly. It was one of those unimprovable moments, so I gathered up my gear and left it at that.

9780816665327.bigBut learning to fly-fish is a different thing, and learning to fly-fish in Montana is like learning to say the rosary in the Vatican. It’s intimidating.

I wrote a column in the new Texas Observer about trash fish, and fishing literature, and a less successful fishing trip. YOU CAN READ IT HERE. If you like it, or hate it, I’m sure the good Observer folks would welcome any comments. Here’s an excerpt:


The granddaddy of them all, the ultimate bigger-than-yours fishing tale, The Old Man and the Sea, ought truly be titled The Old Man and the Marlin. I just read it again. It’s still pretty plain. It’s still really depressing. It remains a remarkably humble disguise for a pompous treatise in defense of just keeping on, with sadness galore and a little bit of honor, by a writer who offed himself in his bathrobe just seven years after winning the Nobel Prize.

Even when you catch the fish, the fish isn’t necessarily yours to keep.

Speaking of trash fish, here’s a video, just for shits and cringes, of two self-congratulatory doorknobs murdering a dinosaur.


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Since I know everyone’s been waiting with — ahem — bated breath since I mentioned the arrival of Montana State English prof Greg Keeler’s new memoir Trash Fish a while back, thought I’d mention that the Missoula Independent published my review of same today. Check it out.


Book excerpt:

One of my earliest vivid memories is of Father standing out on a point of rocks on Lake Skaneateles in upstate New York, jumping up and down, screaming ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ I can’t remember if it was over faulty equipment, a lost fish, or life in general. All I remember is the ‘fuck’ part.”

Review sample:

Keeler identifies his ‘totemic spirit’ animal early on: a sucker-faced carp. By the end, few readers will find fault with the association. Keeler the character—especially the third-person version he retreats to when the going gets rough—is kind of a dick.

And that, strange as it may seem, turns out to be Trash Fish‘s saving grace.”

Whatever else one might think about the book, which definitely has its moments, mad props to any memoirist willing to write the words “I can’t remember.”

Executive summary? Quite funny as regards fishing; kinda icky when it comes to people.

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So when I started this I didn’t foresee Judy Blume OR Carlos Castaneda, never mind back to back. I should have known they’d show up. Here’s a post I netted that’s about not fishing, not not reading, but there are several things I like about it, including the positive treatment of negative action, and also the co-presence of books and Butte, Montana.

note: smiley and links in excerpt are NOT MINE.

The Art of Non-fishing on the Big Hole River near Butte Montana

Do you remember Carlos Castaneda? I keep a copy of his classic little The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968) in my backpack, and read a few pages before my post-peak bagging naps and bedtime. Very inspirational, I think the book even guided a few of us through those drug-crazed late-60s/early 70s. Castaneda gave us hope that some deep spiritual insights lay beyond the surface glimmer of the drug experience per se. Yesterday was an experience in the art of non-doing, a common Taoist meditative technique that snuck into old Don Juan’s teachings.” 

Guy’s got an interesting blog about living where he does. And fishing. And stuff.

To leave it at that, though, would be a cheap post. Especially after that Judy Blume drive-by.

So here’s a book that I haven’t read but soon will. And the book’s got a fish on the cover and fish on the brain. How’s that for a hook?

This is Trash Fish (Counterpoint; Oct. 2008), a forthcoming memoir by Greg Keeler. I love the idea of trash fish: the weeds of the water. Southeast Texas is full of em. We’ve got carp with sucker mouths like the one on the cover. They were imported to eat the weedy hydrilla of Texas, which they did. We used to fish for them with moist nuggets of dog food.

Keeler is a prof at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana (see? this post isn’t totally random…) and a fisherman, apparently. Everyone’s a fisherman in Montana. Not every fisherman in Montana, though, would admit to, much less be photographed, having caught the suck-faced disappointment at right, much less on a blue-ribbon Montana trout stream, which is where this was probably hooked, or netted, or dynamited, or whatever.

I don’t know what the larger market is likely to say (though I can guess), but I like the title. I’d be more likely to buy it by far than, say, Missoulian Jeff Hull’s fishing-oriented collection Streams of Consciousness, which might be the most brilliantly written book I’ll never read, but I’ll never know, because I just can’t conceive of spending the requisite couple of hours with that horrible, horrible title.

But I’ll read Trash Fish, not least because I’ll be reviewing it soon-ish. That’s why I had to mention it now.

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The book on the left, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, is one of my all-time favorites—and yes, this one I’ve read and re-read, even though it has a whole chapter about mayonnaise, sort of, which is gross, sort of. This is a 7th printing of the Delta paperback (that’s Brautigan, at left, on the cover, of course; there’s a whole opening chapter about the photo), but it’s just one of half a dozen copies I’ve had over the years (I don’t know, and doubt, if it was ever released in hardback). I keep giving them away though, or getting them stolen, and I’m about to give this one away as well.

When I first stumbled into Brautigan’s hippie surrealism I didn’t know he’d been drawn, as I would be, to Montana, where he lived outside Livingston for a while, though I did eventually find (and read, and lose) a copy of the winsome The Tokyo-Montana Express, which I hope to possess again someday. I don’t recall knowing then that he’d killed himself with a gunshot and rotted for weeks at home in San Francisco before his body was found. Trout Fishing cultified him, and apparently that sat poorly.

While Trout Fishing in America isn’t strictly about trout fishing, there’s trout fishing in it, and I count it among my favorite trout fishing novels (a genre that I, a cork-and-worm fisherman at best, generally dislike for its ponderous pseudo-spiritual claims) alongside David James Duncan’s The River Why, which is probably at least partly to blame for all its loathesome imitators, but which is beautifully blameless its ownself.

On the other hand, i.e. the right-hand side, we have the Boy Scouts of America merit badge manual for trout fishing, which I recently found at Goodwill, and which mentions neither Brautigan nor Duncan. It does, however, contain an introduction that notes: “Fly-fishing is a specialized form of fishing that emerged centuries ago, as far back as 1653, when Sir Izaak Walton wrote The Compleat Angler.”

(Antiquarians beware: According to Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, and me, modern use of the spelling “compleat,” as versus “complete,” marks you as a compleatly pretentious ass, and is in itself “a one-word cliche.” I’m just saying.)

Apparently there are at least 100 of these Boy Scout merit badge manuals in publication, and this is the first I recall seeing one, even though I made it past Webelos and into the first year of Cub Scouts before my parents got inexplicably nervous about the single guy troop leader who never took us camping. Now that I know they’re out there (the manuals), I want them all.

And no, perversely, after five years in Montana, exposed daily to the kind of streams Orvis-worshipping dorks from New York pay thousands of dollars to visit, I never learned to fly-fish. I’m thinking about taking it up on Lady Bird (formerly Town) Lake in Austin, just to torture the perch and the purists.

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