Stu Farnham

June 10th, 2002

A Fly Fisher's Library
By Stu Farnham

The Internet is a powerful resource. It provides us instant access to information, and brings us together via email, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging. FAOL is a wonderful example of the Internet at its best. The Internet, however, will never replace the printed page.

I've loved books and fishing since my youngest years, although I did not start fly fishing until 1993. This column will give me an opportunity to share reviews of some of my favorite fly fishing and tying books (and some that are not such favorites) with my friends here at FAOL. My library reflects my tastes and interests, and so will this column. It will be heavily slanted towards cold water fishing and tying for trout and steelhead, and won't touch much on areas of which I know little, such as warm or salt water fishing.

I hope that these reviews will motivate some of you to pick up a good book, on this or any subject, and read. ~ Stu Farnham

The Longest Silence: a Life in Fishing

The Longest Silence: a Life in Fishing
Thomas McGuane
Hardcover: 280 pages, $25.00
Publisher: Knopf; ISBN: 0679454853; (November 1999)
Paperback: 304 pages; $13.00
Publisher: Knopf; ISBN: 0679777571; (June 12, 2001)

One of the things I enjoy about this column is that I get to choose the books I write about. So far, that's meant (mostly) columns about classic books, personal favorites, and new enthusiasms. This week's topic is a book on fishing (mostly fly fishing) by a favorite author of mine, Tom McGuane.

McGuane established his reputation as a writer of novels, which one reviewer described as "post-hippie picaresque." In my opinion, his writing is put together like a fieldstone outhouse: very solid, and assembled the only way in which the words would fit. Besides this book, he's written at least eight novels, the screenplay to "The Missouri Breaks", a book of short stories, and several books of essays. While I enjoy all of his writing, I like McGuane's short stuff (essays and stories) best.

'The Longest Silence' takes its title from an essay of fly fishing for permit. "What is most emphatic in angling is made so by the long silences - the unproductive periods. [. . .] No form of fishing offers such elaborate silences as fly fishing for permit." As I reread the book to write this review, I noticed repeated references to another long silence, that of loss and death. Each of the first several essays has at its core the passing of a time, place, or person.

McGuane has fished most of his life over much of the world for many different species, and the essays in this book are reflective of that fact. Subjects range from his early experiences fishing small streams in Michigan for trout, to pursuing Atlantic Salmon, to fishing for stripers, permit, and tarpon in the salt to trout fishing in foreign or exotic locales such as Ireland, Iceland, Russia, New Zealand, and Argentina.

Some of these pieces are simply damn fine writing about fishing. Others ("Sons," for example) mix fishing with the larger themes of life in ways that avoid the usual fly fishing clichés. There's a little bit of conservation ("Henry's Fork"), a little bit on fly tying ("Tying Flies") and equipment ("Unfounded Opinions"), several reflections on McGuane's home state of Montana, and a remembrance of Roderick Haig-Brown. In at least one essay ("Sakonnet," on striper fishing in Rhode Island), McGuane fishes with a spinning outfit and plug, a very practical way to fish for stripers.

A favorite moment of mine comes at the beginning of the essay "Wesley's River," in which Tom's four year old daughter announces to company that "All my dad care's about is the F-word. When he's not doing it, he's reading about it." She was referring, of course, to Fishing.

These are neither the angling superstar essays written by some, nor the clumsy just-another-guy-with-a-fly-rod pieces of Nick Lyons (whom I treasure for his humility and for the gifts he has brought to us as a publisher or fly fishing books and a promoter of fine writers). Nor are these the relaxing, laid back trout bum stories of John Gierach. Instead, these are the reflections of a fine and insightful author on a life through which fishing runs like Norman Maclean's river. ~ Stu Farnham

About Stu

Stu tying Stu Farnham is a New Englander by birth, who was transplanted to and put down roots in Oregon in the early 1990s. A software engineering manager by vocation, he can be found in his spare time chasing trout and steelhead in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, chasing his four Gordon Setters (who in turn are chasing chukar), tying flies, reading, or working on his website. Colleen, his long suffering wife of 28 years, is a professionally trained personal chef.

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