Friday, December 31, 2010

Streamside Reading: The View from Rat Lake

View From Rat LakeFor some reason that currently escapes me, the first Gierach book I read was not the game-changing Trout Bum, rather it was his second* book of essays: The View from Rat Lake. Afterwards, I went back and devoured Troutbum; Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing; and just about anything else I could get my hands on with Gierach's name on the cover.

* Assuming one doesn't count Fly Fishing the High Country as a book of essays. I should probably read it before I make such a judgement.  

So a couple of months ago, when I re-read some of my favorite fly fishing books, I pulled out Rat Lake again. Our brains are wired such that we cannot help but use the first of any series as a baseline for comparison. For me, this book is the one I compare all other Gierach books with, simply because I read it first. When I read Troutbum, I found myself wondering a little bit what the fuss was about. Of course, the fuss was that no one had written with that particular voice, in such an appealing and agreeable way about fly fishing before. And no one had done so from the perspective of a fly fishing hermit living in a shack in Colorado.

But even now I feel like Gierach's writing style and skill grew considerably between the first two books. The first  and last essays in Rat Lake are two of my favorite pieces of writing about fly fishing. The initial essay, titled 'The Big Empty River," is an ode to the Henry's Fork and opens with a signature Gierach passage that gets right to the heart of the personality of his fishing buddy Koke.
He somehow managed to achieve a spiral fracture--the classic downhill skiing injury--and so naturally someone down at the health club asked him, in the snide way people have when you're hurt, "How's the skiing?"
"I don't go in for sissy sports," Koke answered, "I'm a trout fisherman."
I've always though Koke's response would make a great T-Shirt.

The last essay in the book is titled "Enough Fish." It follows Gierach on a solo journey touched off by a rumor of large brook trout. And ends with him making the unlikely (yet perfect) choice to not even string up a rod once he finds them. Something about the piece (and the fact it is set in Eddy Country) makes me simply love it. Maybe (as I touched on in a recent post) its because I start to feel the way Gierach felt that morning at this time of year, when the winter hits and I've fished hard all fall.
Is it possible to have caught enough fish, at least for the moment?  You know you can't catch them all, and there's no reason why you should want to. A year ago--maybe even to the day--I was standing at another piece of water puzzling over other fish. No, I don't remember the exact situation, but it was August; what else would I have been doing? Given half a break, I'll be doing the same thing somewhere else a year from now...
Today is New Year's Eve. And I can't help but hope that we all catch "half a break" and get to fish the way we would like this coming year. Be it more often or better or bigger--whatever your goal is for 2011, The Eddy wishes you well.

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