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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

You Are What You Read

My list of authors and books to read for The Storied Water Tour keeps growing and growing. Like Jack’s beanstalk, my pile of books will reach to the clouds before long. The more I read and research, the more fabulous writing I find.

I have been taking books out of the library and buying used books on-line. I have a few on loan from friends and I scoured my own bookshelves for forgotten volumes. Right now, I have about nine books going at once. I’ll read one for an hour on the couch, and crack open another to read in bed.

How am I going to read (or re-read) everything between now and May?

No, I am not the world’s greatest expert on fly-fishing literature. I have read a long list of authors and books over the years, but I know there are many people who would put me to shame. In the fly-fishing world, no matter how much you know about one particular topic- rods, reels, flies, bugs, you name it - there is always someone out there who knows 1000 times more than you do.

This sport tends to attract obsessive people and, to be less charitable, know-it-alls. I heard a guy recently reeling off every species of mayfly, caddis fly, midge and stonefly as if everyone in the room spoke fluent binomial nomenclature and had memorized the hatch charts of every river in the northeast. I’m too busy untangling my line and patching my waders to memorize all those names. And I am a scientist!

Maybe it’s because I haven’t read every fly-fishing book or story ever written that this tour has such appeal to me. This will be a physical journey of 3000 miles, but it will be a literary journey as well, starting with Thoreau and tracing history to the present. This is a chance to catch up on what I’ve been missing while I was busy doing other things. I am hoping to learn, not just stuff that I don’t know, but also, as the Maine saying goes, stuff that I don’t even suspect!

Even though I’ve been reading books and stories about fishing for decades, I’ve only gotten serious about expanding my library in the past few years. As I do, I am often surprised by who does or doesn’t know about various authors.

When I mention an author I am reading, say Robert Traver, Buddy #1 yawns and says, “yeah, I’ve read all his stuff.” (Most of these writers are men, so it is usually his stuff, but I am determined to find and include as many female authors as I can).

I mention the same writer to Buddy #2, and I’m surprised he never heard of him or the book. So, aside from the truly obsessed readers of the fishing literature, I hope that anyone who follows my tour will learn of new authors, or at least learn something new about their favorites.

My memory has started to fade like my favorite fishing hat, so I have also been re-reading books to refresh my appreciation for the oldies-but-goodies. I have found that, now that I am a writer myself, I read differently than I did in the past. I’m much more aware of the writing itself. Sometimes I find myself sighing and laughing out loud, in total awe and envy, when I encounter a perfect paragraph or a scene so vivid it transports me.

I picked up Walden again this winter after many years. Reading Thoreau can be a project. There is so much you have to think about in his writing. And what I recall may not match what is really on the page.

For one, Thoreau never said “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” This is a misquote that is repeated millions of times on the internet. Thoreau did say something like this, but his words were twisted and repeated until the famous (mis)quote took on a life of its own.

I was also surprised to find that Thoreau mostly caught perch, pickerel and hornpout on Walden Pond, which was kind of a letdown for a trout-fishing snob like me. Thankfully, they now stock it with rainbows and brown trout.

I pulled out my hardcover copy of Fly-fishing Through The Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines, likely a gift, as I rarely buy hardcovers. I read this book 20 some years ago when I was on the other side of midlife, so I thought it might have some fresh appeal as I plan this journey. In re-reading, I was surprised that much of the fishing happens in Virginia and the South, so it doesn’t tie all that well into this trip. However, a chapter on the legends of Pennsylvania fly-fishing is a great resource for planning my tour through the Keystone State.

My reading list will keep growing, I am sure. Even if I keep reading my entire life, I’ll never know everything I’d like to know about these writers who spent countless hours casting flies, and many more hours crafting words and sentences that capture the glory of our sport.

Perhaps someday I will realize that it is not the books, nor even the fish, that I am after.

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