Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “flyfishing books

Drunken deaf narratives

I recently wrote a piece about alcohol use, hid it in a piece about flyfishing, and sent it off to the editors of a  magazine.  They printed it. I wondered if anyone would get it, and my thoughts turned to something my wife once said to me. “You have to join the dots for them Andy”, she said, and I suspect that as usual, she is right. I was on a call to Duncan Brown about a year back, talking about a piece of writing, and he mentioned the term “a deaf narrative”. I think Duncan was talking about a narrative that remains obscure and meaningless until the end is revealed. I like the notion, so I jotted down the term. The other day I Googled it, and all I came up with was stuff about hearing impaired people.  I like that too:  that the good, rich stuff is buried deep enough that Google doesn’t know about it , and I try to do a little of that in my writing. But then I go and make it really obscure, and am left wondering if anyone at all joined the dots. Even one person…….

That woman to whom I gave a lift in the Lotheni Valley, may or may not have been under the influence. She was returning from town, laden with shopping (which included a weighty stash of Zamalek quarts). She was tired when I saw her struggling up the hill. When she sat beside me in the bakkie she was animated and enthusiastic. Our exchange was fun. A small delight in a dusty landscape. Her home overlooks the Hlambamasoka.

One of the Hlambamasoka’s that is…the other one runs under the road just beyond Boston on the R617.  Both once contained Trout, and hence their relevance in this, and other stories I have written.

Some time back, my friend Geoff, who speaks isiZulu better than many Zulus, pulled me aside to tell me how much he had enjoyed a book I once wrote, but to tell me that it contained a mistake. I cringed. I am sure it contained many, but somehow you want those swept under the carpet. Not so the mistake Geoff found. I was amused and delighted at this one. Let me explain:   I had extracted the meaning of the name “Hlambamasoka”  from a demure and graceful lady of great poise and dignity, and I repeated her explanation in my book. But as Geoff pointed out, the true meaning of this name is more something borne of hedonistic excess and indulgence. Something that in our culture might be a little too risqué to be used in the naming of a stream, let alone two of them. It goes around the practice of washing off after binge-like activity amongst the maidens of the valley, and that, young reader, is already too much information!

Later in my piece I write of Frank Mele, whose essay “Blue Dun” I greatly admire.

In that text, he reveals in a few suitably camouflaged lines, that he once had some trouble with liquor. He contrasted that with Preston Jenning’s hiatus from his flyfishing life, apparently born of some similar troubles, possibly a bout of depression, which unlike his, was endured with sobriety. That got me thinking. It is undeniable that many great tales, contrivances and subtle delights are delivered on sparkling turns of phrase in a pub. Their delivery is without doubt helped along by the loosening of the tongue. The hearing of them is warmly wrapped in swaddling nostalgia, mirth or aesthetic appreciation which is also helped along by a little tipple.

Take for example the story of Tim’s nets. Tim makes these grand landing nets, you see, and at one time he was having some trouble sourcing the right cloth for the bag of the net. He settled on something different: a particularly fine and soft mesh, which while a little on the impervious side, is certainly kind on fish. He took one of these along to the local one night, where he planned to meet his customer, and the new owner of the net. As they stood at the brass rail, embellishing and drawing out the exchange of this fine item, various of the consort were waxing lyrical about the fine mesh, and how a captured Trout seems mesmerized when slung in the deep comforting folds of the stuff. How they relax, and calm down, and become compliant and beautiful in resigned compliance.  It was at this point that an eavesdropping patron on the bar stool a little further down the counter asked  if he might be allowed to acquire such a net……for his wife. 

Net by Tim at Bambooze

Now I’m sorry, but stuff like that doesn’t happen in coffee shops!

Which was why I wrote to contrast the deep rich epic of Mele’s life-long quest for a blue dun cape, (complete with a bout of alcoholic indulgence) with the stark realities of a far flung African village, plagued by poverty and similar indulgences, but of a different hue. (did you see what I did there?….sorry…I can’t stop myself).

Frank Mele

And with that I dropped in some other lines that you won’t find in coffee shops:  Like the water only covering half one’s boots; pulling yourself up a river bank by a puffadder’s tail, and a glass phone screen that bears a dent from a bony finger. Who ever dented a piece of glass, I ask you!  And if you have ever fished “The Glides”, you will know that my romanticism of the place is the stuff of good whisky, late on a rainy night, and that you have to wait for it to be just right.

The Glides

You will also know that buying a Mele first edition with South African funny money is something of a joke, and that the swig from a flask was a prelude to its utterance. The Hlambamasoka at Lotheni is most times a bleak and disappointing stream, lying between denuded banks, and enriched with cattle dung. To travel there to flyfish in it requires a mix of unrealistic foolishness, romantasized hope, and, dare I  say, a swig or more from a flask.

You can read the article in the latest edition of The Complete Flyfisherman.   You might want to go back and read some of my earlier ones……..

Authors notes (to this author’s note) offered without explanations.

  • Tims landing nets are branded “Bambooze”
  • Frank Mele was instrumental in catchment protection work for his beloved home river……..
  • Frank Mele wrote an essay that inspired him to write a book………..
  • Mele wrote one book of fly fishing essays, and a novel………..
  • Hlambamasoka is also the name given to a nature reserve…….on the uMngeni River

Pewter and Charcoal, Walden and Furth

Pewter and charcoal….a series of sorts, that aims to couple the timelessness of a black and white image, with the timelessness of quotes from our fly fishing literature.

To kick it off, here is the uMngeni on Furth farm:

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…and here is something from Walden…that unsung American writer, from his book ‘Upstream and down’, published in 1938:

“Streams with reputations do not always live up to them and the obscurer brooks often hold a big trout or two. ……/../… Fishermen rather than fish perpetuate and enhance the reputation of a stream. By story and legend, the magic euphony of a name, the prestige of a river is won and held. Beaverkill, Willowemoc, Neversink, Esopus, Brodhead – such names owe their celebrity as much to the tongues and pens of fishermen as to the numbers and weight of trout between their banks”

I will just leave those two here…..


Angling nights

Sparse Grey Hackle-1

“That is night fishing, the essence of angling, the emperor of sports. It is a gorgeous gambling game in which one stakes the certainty of long hours of faceless fumbling, nerve-racking starts, frights, falls, and fishless baskets against the off-chance of hooking into – not landing necessarily or even probably, but hooking into – a fish as long and heavy as a railroad tie and as unmanageable as a runaway submarine. It combines the wary stalking and immobile patience of an Indian hunter with sudden, violent action, the mystery and thrill of the unknown, a stimulating sense of isolation and self-reliance, and an unparalleled opportunity to be close to nature since most creatures are really nocturnal in habit.”

From the book “Fishless days, Angling Nights” by Sparse Grey Hackle  1971.


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Close your eyes

I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.

I think he sways a little too.

He certainly zones out.

He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.

I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.

I too now know that lofty place.  I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.

That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway.  It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and  reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.

My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.

I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.

jnl 1-1-7

Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.

Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those:  Image Library.

I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually  run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”.  I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”

My silences on the water, while they are just that:  Silences;  can be represented by favourite music.

Playlist:

And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.

And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:

Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)

My list of such books:  It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:

  • On the spine of time: Middleton
  • The River Why: Duncan
  • Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
  • Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
  • The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
  • Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach  (I know, they are all brilliant)

You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.

To hell with them.


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The writing of Seth Norman

The other day my friend and I did an exchange of sorts. He and his wife got oxtail. I got his left over beers, a good bottle of wine and the loan of a book. I should consider myself lucky. He would have digested the oxtail in a few hours, and I haven’t yet returned the last book he lent me. Truth be told the oxtail was an experiment: a mix of three rather dodgy looking online recipes, each of which attempt to condense the cooking time of oxtail from six hours to two, and none of which I followed with any dedication. And not only have I failed to return his last book, I haven’t even started reading it.

I was assured though, that what I consider a poor quality, gonzo picture of the author on the cover of this latest tome, should not put me off. Its the second edition.Bright blue surf breaking in the background. A bright red text box bearing the title. An arguably overexposed picture, but with the fisherman’s face in shade. 1970’s movie star blue reflective sunglasses, and after a while I noticed that the weird groin protrusion was in fact a fish, its form poorly contrasted between the mans legs and some or other rag being used as a glove to hold its tail. The right arm is held off to the side, clutching a fly rod rather clumsily……

OK, let me stop bashing the cover .

Inside is sheer brilliance.

My prejudice normally has me skipping chapters on bass, catfish and the like. Seth Norman’s skill as a writer had me relishing pieces on bait fishing!  Actually the pieces on bait fishing, spinning and saltwater species, like those on Trout, were not about fishing at all. They are about death, love, lust, justice, schizophrenia, and nomadic travelling experiences. The fishing is just the glue that holds the pages together, and it serves to attract obsessed flyfishermen like me to topics broader than fly choice and casting techniques. Norman draws you into contemplation of your father’s death, your career and lifestyle choice, and your spirit of generosity or otherwise. He causes you to lose your mind. When he has you in there, he holds you there with fishing tales, and humour, and sentences that you read three times just to roll them around in your head a bit. I found myself wanting to suck the marrow out of the pages somehow. Maybe I will sleep with it under my pillow.

Allow me to quote a few lines:

“…..we’re four thousand feet into a narrow Sierra pass. Cliff wall to the right, cliff wall to the left and in the high beams we see a great white yacht broadside, an oceangoing yacht blocking the highway from shoulder to shoulder. “What’s that?” Mor asks, naturally enough……..

………….“No matter. I know another stream behind us and south. As we bed down in a campground, Mor in front, me over the cab, I hear him laugh again. “Noahs Ark. Does that kind of thing, do things like that happen often on these trips?’’

I consider . “Arks not so often. But a fishing trip is always a meander. You can’t quite know what will come up.”

“You like that?”

“I do.”

He pauses. We each have a small skylight to look through; through mine I can see an edge of cloud silvered by moonlight. Once more, Mor laughs, long, happily. “Of course. Of course you do. You’ve always liked that.”

If you enjoyed “The river Why” by David James Duncan, or “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”,  you will enjoy this one for sure.

Not that my opinion counts in the shadow of a Pulitzer nomination, but Seth Norman, I salute you.

I must own a copy for sure, because this one will  be re-read.

To the great Nick Lyons:  I somehow only got to know about this book after its second edition ( It was first published back in 1996!) , but Sir…could you do something about that 2nd Ed cover ? A sunset maybe. A Trout? Revert to the first edition cover maybe? Maybe a rod and reel in soft light? No?   Okay no problem, I am buying the book anyway.

Seth Norman

 

The first edition is pictured left. I have ordered one…a second hand one. I found it on some or other online store.  I hope it arrives. It cost half of next year’s Christmas bonus. I know, I’m  an astute investor. No, you may not borrow it. Not even in exchange for good oxtail.