Individual taste in books varies as much as the favorite rod or fly.  With that in mind, we hope to review books and videos from the ever-growing fly fishing world, and share them with you.  Books will be the best of all worlds, new and old.  Many of the old books are now available in reprint, and the wisdom contained is timely today.  Others can be found in second-hand book stores, or by mail order dealers. As we find videos we feel are outstanding they will be included. Be assured, reviews are based on what we have actually read, and due to that fact, may not appear weekly.

June 28th, 2004

Late In An Angler's Life
By Gordon M. Wickstrom
Published by University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2004

Reviewed by Harry J. Briscoe

Gordon Wickstrom has a winner in his new book, Late In An Angler's Life, a collection of essays and thoughts on the sport of fly-fishing. If you are not familiar with Wickstrom, prepare yourself for a treat. This is not your normal "me and Joe went fishing" fly-fishing book. Gordon Wickstrom is a retired professor of Drama (and a great many other things) who has fished his entire life. Unlike many of us though, he has paid a great deal of attention to his thoughts and feelings while fishing and preparing for fishing, and he has a delightful and stimulating method of presenting those thoughts and feelings.

In his introduction, he states:
"It is always later than we think. Even when it is early, it's getting later, always later in the angler's life. But we hope, as we approach that defining lateness, that things will make more sense...".

And so, Gordon offers us a thought-provoking series of essays, observations, thoughts and musings that help provide just that "sense." The work is sensitive and eloquent throughout.

The topics in this book are wide-ranging. They are presented in chapters that may only involve a page or two (the longest is about 20 paragraphs), but Wickstrom's obvious command of the language, the syntax, the nuance, the grace and the style, pack far more substance than one might expect into each of those focused thoughts. I cannot help but wish I had enjoyed the tutelage of Professor Wickstrom as one of my professors of English. The book is an entertaining and engaging read, but it is far from a trivial travelogue of adventures. Every essay has a thought, a point, a question. Many are compelling "stoppers" that will provoke you to personal thought, sometimes to such a depth that you might find it a challenge to allow yourself the journey. Many of these essays provoke reflection about things that deserve reflection as we each determine our own definition of the elements of fly-fishing.

This is not a "heavy" book, full of conclusions, pronouncements, edicts or preachings. It is not a lecture and it does not drone on endlessly about what's right or what's wrong or about the "good old days." It does, however, assist one in putting our pastime into perspective, into explaining sometimes "why" we do what we seem so much to enjoy doing. At a minimum, it causes us to think about it.

Wickstrom has a widely varied background in arts, sciences, and philosophies. In addition to the references to the "standard" figures in fly-fishing literature, he shares delightful connections to the sport from the likes of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Henrick Ibsen, Richard Brautigan and Zane Grey. He provides fascinating morsels of history, art, music and literature, and he ties it all to "us," as consumers, as partakers of the sport. The book is tastefully accented with excellent line drawings done by noted fly-fishing historian, John Betts. His work adds a touch of extra class and substance to the effort.

The book's chapters cover the broad state of the author's (and our own) experiences from childhood fascinations with what lies beneath the water's surface, through youth, love and expectations, and on into maturity and a wizened perspective. He covers the "state" of fly-fishing, then and now, the evolution of tackle and thought, flies and fly-tying from hilarious childhood antics of chasing down a rogue rooster for his prized hackles through the conversion to lifeless modern synthetic materials. There are chapters on the tragedies associated with broken rods and the tragedies of misdirected thought, modern angling as a class struggle and as an artificial (and often unfulfilling) outlet for beleaguered CEOs (and the rest of us), of killing versus catching, of talking to the fish, of big fish, of small fish, and of no fish.

Late in An Angler's Life will entertain, educate and amuse you. It will also cause you to think and reflect. It will likely motivate you. After reading Wickstrom's perspectives on things, I for one, am going to pay more attention to my own experiences, to the substance of the wanderings that I am fortunate to enjoy. I am going to see and hear and taste and smell things more closely. Seems to me that the questions of one's fly-fishing life might revolve around this, "Are we building a base of true memories or just a photo-album as we race about the world seeking fulfillment? Are we understanding and appreciating what we are doing - or are we just doing it?" My reading of this book will cause me to stay a bit more alert. I recommend it to you.

Selections from Late In An Angler's Life

Reflecting of a glass and foil painting..."It is all so beautiful and evocative for me now, this 1930's Depression silhouette that once meant almost nothing to me. Now it's become a central metaphor in the life of a boy turned into and old many trying find his way through surfaces."

"...Break one carbon rod and there's always a new and identical one immediately to hand. But break my eight-foot, five strips of Tonkin cane and it's gone forever and ever and ever. The world would be diminished by its loss...My old tackle is indeed emblematic, a system of wonderful relics, charged with the powers of the past and representative of my generation, what we did and who we were."

"The new angler, spending more of his income on his fishing than ever before, is commonly seem on airport concourses lugging rod tubes and duffels toward his plane to the remotest corners of the world...I suspect that this venturing forth all over the place is underlain by a deep anxiety about what our angler feels is happening close to home, that his home waters are fast being urbanized out from under him. The irony that what supports his urban life and times is exactly that which is destroying his fishing may further contribute to his anxiety."

"Their interest in fishing is intense but with less time to do it. Too often the year's fishing is crammed into one or two frantic vacation trips, nothing casual about it anymore. The image is one of haste and stress."

"So, maybe there are two casts of the fly today, two modes, two motives for the cast. First, and now clearly in the ascendance, is that with the carbon rod, with its sharp, fast, aggressive power stroke that more resembles attack than delivery - the appropriate cast for a world of war and rumors of war..." ..."My hunch is that the CEOs as a breed are searching in desperation, not for a reinforcement of what they are already good at, but rather relief from it,..."

"In the old days we were expected to fight a fish gracefully, carefully, handsomely, until the fish gave up....Now,...they tell us that, for the fish's sake, we are to horse in our fish as fast as possible, with no regard to the aesthetics of the fight. ...If the aesthetics of conquest are irrelevant, why don't bullfighters simple shoot their bulls and have done with it? Or why do they fight them at all?"

"I didn't know back then, half a century ago, as I set up my tackle against this immense backdrop, that it was the great man's vision that opened up this land to the likes of me, where I could have a home and family and a life as a teacher of kids, teaching them what had been done with language and what they could do with it, especially when they spoke it in plays from the stage. But I know it now, even as I know truly about the life and times of Wm Frederick Cody. I know it as I sit here rigging the tackle of this essay and feeling profoundly fortunate."

Late In An Angler's Life
Gordon M. Wickstrom, Boulder, CO
Hardcover: 208 pages
Dimensions: 0.85 x 8.92 x 5.80
Published by University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2004
ISBN 0826332668
~ HB

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