Judging Books by Covers by Mark Usyk

I think about fishing in faraway and exotic places all the time. I doubt that you’ll ever meet an angler that doesn’t. Even though I know that I’ll most likely never get to see any of the places I read about in books and magazines, Patagonia, Mongolia, Africa, the Alaskan wilderness, remote northern Canadian lakes surrounded by thousands of miles of boreal forests, Cuba…I can still dream, can’t I? Hell, stuck in an Upstate NY winter where the temperatures rise into the sixties on one day and then plummet into the teens the next with snow and forty plus mile an hour winds, even the thought of driving an hour north into the Adirondacks to chase wild nine inch brook trout in less than a month seems exotic and out of reach at this point.

It’s always been a money thing, and it’s been complicated even more by the time thing. I’ve never made good decisions as far as jobs go. For years I chased a dream and only acted on emotions which finally ran its course, and during that time period and even after, I’ve never stayed in one place long enough to build up any real vacation time, the type that would allow me to actually get away. The year I was finally at a job long enough to get three weeks’ vacation I quit before I even got to use one. I’m happy at the job I’ve taken now, believing it’ll be my last, but here I am, forty-one years old, with a week of vacation. I’ll never be that person with five weeks of vacation to burn up, it’s just not in my cards I guess, and I suppose I have no one to blame but myself. This year I’ll be using my one week to go visit my sister in Washington most likely, and no matter how I think it could play out, we all know that family vacations are not fishing trips. They’re two very different things. You might find a day to go cast a line somewhere, but it’s not a fishing trip. Not even close.

So I torture myself all the same, like most people do, reading about the places others go in search of fish and grand views of the wild. And I lie to myself, telling myself that if I’d just buckle down and save some money, that I could be on a plane next year, fly rod tubes in the overhead compartments, fly boxes tucked in between neatly folded clothes in a small suitcase. I tell myself this lie as I hear the wind flapping shingles on the roof overhead, knowing we’ll need a new roof this year. Roofs, if you don’t know, take money. At least as much as what I could spend on several plane tickets. My wife and neighbors see tar and stone glued together in a green shade that matches the house siding laying on the lawn after the wind takes its toll. As I’m on the roof nailing down new shingles that don’t match, I don’t see nails piercing shingles. I see myself nailing a ticket to South America down.

But thank God for Authors who are able to chase these dreams down for us. If it weren’t for them, we’d have little to day dream about except for bills and taxes, politics and the weather.

We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but in fact the cover is what many times draws my attention before even the title. It was a cover of turquoise water contrasting against white billowing clouds, a tiny skiff with two people standing, the small figures contrasting against the overwhelming vastness of the ocean and a wall of storm behind them that first caught my eye in the book store. It’s a mostly monotone cover, full of contrast. Brilliant. It may have been a coincidence that when I spotted it, outside the book store the parking lot was covered in a layer of filthy slush. That cars sat with snow covered roofs, and people hurried from their parking spots to the entrance of the store with a hastiness as their breaths carried away from their faces like steam does from a chimney over a cold cityscape. I’m not saying that if the weather outside had been ninety degrees and sunny that the book cover wouldn’t have grabbed my attention, but we’ll just admit that the current weather was in the authors favor for a sale that day.

Body of Water is the story of a guide and writer who stumbles onto possibly the greatest flats story of all, because of an e-mail. “Can’t go. It’s all paid for. Just book a plane ticket to Miami.” It’s the story of bonefish guide David Pinder and the elite Bahamas bone fishing lodges that his special skills brought about. The building up of an industry that eventually pushed him out and abandoned him. This is the story of some of the world’s greatest guides to ever poll a flat.

It’s books like this that make me close my eyes and imagine what it must be like to stand on the bow of a skiff, in mere inches of salt water, as a fish goes tail up to nose in the sand and snatch up a crab. The guide sees the fish moving from the edge of the drop off and across the flat long before the angler admits to not being able to see it even now when it’s time to send the fly. The cast is made, and while not exactly on target, the timing is right, the stars aligned just perfectly, and the fish turns from the cloud of sand and plucks up the fake crab offering. I can almost feel the tension of the line as the drag screams. And then I close the book.

Not only is this the story of David Pinder, legend of the Bahamas and family man that should set an example for all family men, but this is the tale of how the industry grew off the flats, and even more so a look at the guides who do what most fishermen only wish they could do…Get paid to be on the water. This book left me not wanting only to grab a flight south to fish the flats, but it honestly left me wanting to make a trip just to get the chance to hang out with guides, hear their stories of clients and their best and worst days, and buy them a drink. Naturally I’d have to fish, but I could be almost perfectly happy sitting around a table with these guys, listening to their stories.

If you’re looking for your next book to occupy your down time, I’d suggest this book by Chris Dombrowski. A Montana guide and poet, who, while struggling through his own life, took some time to find his way to the story of another and tell it well enough to make us all wish we were there, not just because of the fishing, but because of the life. Now if you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got to go pick up a couple more shingles off the lawn.