Winter Reading for the Angler by Mark Usyk
There’s never enough time for fishing lately. But even though time on the water is more valuable than gold this time of year you can always find something to connect you to the waters and the fish once the work day is done and dinner has been eaten, once the kids have gone to bed, and for me, once the wife has turned on that godforsaken Hallmark Channel where every movie seems to have the same plot and the same two female lead actors. I know when she flips to that channel without even being in the room. I can only describe it as a disturbance in the force. It’s as if a million voices suddenly cry out in terror and are then suddenly silenced. But like I said, even though it’s dark before dinner and icicles hang from the eaves outside the windows there’s always a way to stay true to the cause. For one thing there’s fly tying, and for another there’s a never ending list of books filled with fishing stories.
My collection of books on the subject of fishing, and fly fishing in particular has grown to fill the top shelf in my tying and writing room and has begun to invade the next shelf down, bumping books on other subjects off the shelf and out of the room completely. For instance, needing to make space for my latest acquired reading I decided it was time to bump The Hobbit, a classic I’ve read most likely at least five times but not in as many years, onto Jake’s book shelf. He’s an 11yr old reading at a 9th grade level according to his latest report card, so the excuse was he needed more challenging and imaginative reading. So I opened up a space on the shelf… But gained two more books. So they’re beginning to stack up in a way that would drive a librarian mad.
The two books I gained I ended up reading in about a week in between tying and writing my own stories. I thought they were both significant enough that, seeing how winter is only just beginning to set in, I should put the titles out there for other anglers hard up for a fix during the slowest season of the year.
“Man of the Woods” by Herbert F Keith.
Written in 1971, Man of the Woods is a collection of early Adirondack memories from a man who began his visits to the town of Wanakena in 1907 when it was a newly established village based on the logging of the era and eventually made it his home. Stories of guides who not only knew the Oswegatchie river above Cranberry Lake better than the back of their hands but were responsible for the naming of every rapid, bend in the river, water fall, and beaver dam, as well as guide camps long gone paint a picture of what life was like in the Adirondacks, as well as the Adirondacks themselves, before they were conquered and made more accessible by roads, automobiles, and motor boats. Tales of a river where wild one pound brook trout were considered nothing to brag about and where a fly or lure needed only to be cast once to find a trophy by today’s standards will have you wishing you’d been born a hundred years earlier.
From the beginning to the end you’ll see the transformation of one pin point on the map of the now over six-million acer Adirondack Park. Beginning with the logging boom and the bustling village of Wanakena where the inhabitants gathered at the train station to welcome new comers and family members alike because that’s just what you did before televisions, automobiles, and Wi-Fi, the story rises to the peak of the days of guides and sports and up to the 1970’s. Here it suddenly seems depressing to be able to see the progression of what man does to his beloved environment. Yet coming to terms with the fact that it’s seen too late, the days of first growth white pines and cedars, of wild three pound brook trout, and of men who lived off the land because it was the only thing to be done somehow gives the right person the hope that somewhere out there it could still exist today, somehow. I’ll place this book on my shelf next to Richard Proenneke’s accounts of his little piece of paradise in Alaska, One Man’s Wilderness, because like it, I can see myself returning to re-read the pages again and again when I’m wishing an escape to simpler times and remote places.
“Fins and Grins” by C.N. Cantella.
Reading this title a couple days after the above mentioned book was a good way to balance out the emotions in my head. Whereas the first was a look back to a very specific time and place, Fins and Grins I found was filled with very relatable stories of the day to day struggles of trying to balance out a fishing addiction with everything else in life trying to keep you from it. Family, the opposite sex, technology, and north east winters to name a few. If you’ve ever found the most perfect fishing spot only to have it ruined by the idiots that seem to outnumber the rest of us in today’s world you’ll relate to this book. If you believe that a fishing rod, a less than beautiful day on the water, and a good fish can get a person’s head straight when everything else seems bent on bringing them down, then you’ll appreciate this book. And if anyone has ever told you that you fish too much, before you begin to question it yourself, you should probably read this book.
An easy read that will have you smiling and thinking to yourself “So, I’m not the only one who thinks that way after all,” this is one of those books you can pick up and before you know it realize that the wife and kids have gone to bed, but you’re not sure how long ago. It’ll have you feeling better about your fishing addiction, and just maybe you’ll come to terms that you’re not alone, it’s not selfish, and perhaps you should actually step up your efforts a little, because winters, families, and an inevitable end to it all means time is limited and you should make the best of all of it before it’s too late.
There’s nothing like sitting under a lamp in a comfortable recliner, your feet up, and a beer or even a glass of whiskey, a good book of lies, I mean fishing stories, and your mind imagining you’re there. It’s enough to make a person go fishing. Could be a lot worse. If you’d like to see more book reviews, let me know. JP has a book on sale on the site right now titled Adirondack Fishing in the 1930’s that I’m planning a review of soon. If I can’t fish, if I can’t tie, and if my own writing is moving well enough, I may as well try and spread some good reading around by other authors simply because fisherman never get tired of fishing stories. They’re what keep us going after all. The ultimate motivation, not that we need much. But we need to be reminded that we’re not alone in the afflictions of chasing scales, and the one’s that got away.