Fellowship of Literary Anglers

A book is a river with many tributaries. Like an angler who never knows where a tributary might lead, or if it is hospitable to fish, an author casts his book to readers he hopes to ‘catch.’ If an author ‘hooks’ a reader, a conversation begins—a dialogue between creative partners. For readers are creative partners in an exchange of imaginations with writers, no less than visual artists with viewers and musicians with listeners. As a writer whose passion straddles fly fishing and literature I desire most keenly to meet readers who swear allegiance to the Fellowship of Literary Anglers.

After Casting into Mystery was released, I contacted a handful of writers I admire who have written about fly fishing in ways that resonate with me. I sent them books with no strings attached. As with angling, some casts proved more fulfilling than others.

I sent a book to Keith McCafferty because I enjoy not only his Sean Stranahan novels but his superb outdoor journalism. I focus on Keith in a chapter in Casting on angling mystery fiction. Keith suggested I contact Henry Hughes, an English prof at Western Oregon University with four poetry collections to his credit.

Henry Hughes making a long cast

While younger than me, Henry has fished longer, deeper and in many more places than I will ever fish. I knew him as the editor of the Everyman’s Library companion anthologies The Art of Angling: Poems about Fishing and Fishing Stories. He has also published a range of articles and reviews in Antioch Review, Harvard Review and Gray’s Sporting Journal among others, and is a deputy editor of The Flyfishing & Tying Journal.

Joining Thomas McGuane, Jeremy Wade, James Prosek and Canadian angling historian Richard Hoffman among others, Henry presented Montana State University Library’s 2019 Trout and Salmonid Lecture, evocatively titled the ‘Sensual Fish.’ With intellectual curiosity and learning, not to mention humour, he explores a wide range of literature, art and popular culture spanning the centuries. (If for some crazy reason, you don’t think fish are sexy, check out the lecture on the MSU website.)

When I learned that Henry had also written an angling memoir, Back Seat with Fish: A Man’s Adventure in Angling and Romance, I searched online book dealers and scooped up a copy—which I devoured and thoroughly enjoyed. While I view Casting into Mystery as a Portrait of the Angler as an Old Man, Back Seat with Fish strikes me as a Portrait of the Angler as a Young Man. It chronicles his angling and romantic adventures from childhood through adulthood which takes him from America’s East Coast to fascinating places in the far corners of the globe, especially the countries and cultures of East Asia.

If I was going to compare Henry’s joyously picaresque memoir, brimming as it does with sex, death and fish, to the work of another ‘angling’ writer it would be David James Duncan. When it comes to fishing Henry’s tastes are catholic. He views the recreational sport as transcending the boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, class and status. In the years covered by Backseat he was primarily a bait and hard lure angler. Like me, he came to fly fishing later. Now he enjoys angling with vintage bamboo fly rods.

Over the past few months I have exchanged many lively emails with Henry. His praise of Casting into Mystery has been deeply gratifying to both me and Wesley Bates, who produced more than three dozen engravings for our book which is intended as a co-creation.

I would like to share some of Henry’s observations:

Casting into Mystery just arrived and is truly a beautiful object to behold. I wasn’t sure they made books like this anymore. I’m a huge fan of wood engraving–Paul Gentry, Barry Moser–and now, Wesley Bates. Stunning images.

Later, he wrote:

‘I’m halfway through Casting Into Mystery–and I love it. You’ve read and understood so much of the great angling tradition, and the experiences and the characters in your life are vividly and gracefully rendered. It’s a remarkable work . . . Wesley is a master engraver and deserves more recognition in the States. And you’re one helluva of a writer.’

Like so much of my experience as a fly angler, synchronicity came a-calling. About the time he was reading Casting, Henry was contacted by Peter Hubbard, an editor at HarperCollins, and John Maclean, son of Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It, in my estimation the best ‘fly fishing’ work in the literary canon.

HarperCollins is planning to publish John Maclean’s memoir, Home Waters, which is a personal history of his family and their rivers, and the publisher and author were looking for an ideal artist to illustrate the book. On Henry’s recommendation, Peter contacted Wesley and, with John’s approval, reached a deal with Wesley, who spent his childhood in the same town Wallace Stegner celebrates in his masterwork (in my opinion) Wolf Willow.

Henry subsequently wrote:

‘I’ve nearly completed Casting Into Mystery. Damn, you’ve read everything. I thought I know the genre but I’ve jotted down new works to explore. You’re my professor.’ (The last sentence continues to make me blush.)

‘Like Walden, the book is nicely divided into seasons, seamlessly sewing your transcendental philosophy of life into these rich stories. There’s much to admire, but let me say I appreciated the attention given to women anglers and writers. I’m glad you point out that Trump doesn’t fly fish. I hate Trump (as do I). Then, of course, there’s the celebration of Canada, a nation and culture grossly overlooked in the Americentric literature.

‘Oh, Rob, we share a love for the visual arts and whiskey (spelled without an ‘e’ in Canada and Scotland), though you’re much more of a connoisseur, and I love your unabashed old fashioned ways. Although I don’t own a precious Sweetgrass, I often fish vintage cane. And although my job forces me to use some technology (and I appreciate the ease of email), I hate online teaching and this obsession with cell phones. People are plugged in to technology and out of touch with the woods and waters. But not you! And not your friend, Gary Bowen—I sure admire his unpretentiousness.

‘The Tom Thomson chapter fascinated me. I’ve long admired his painting and knew the basics of his life, but now I feel informed. Wesley’s engraving is haunting. It would be spiritually moving to fly fish on Canoe Lake and pay respects to Tom, as you and Dan did.’

The email Henry sent after he finished Casting speaks for itself:

‘I finished Casting Into Mystery and my list of delights and shared passions continues: alternative religion, Jim Harrison, cigars, surprising walleye, Bruce Springsteen, pro-union sentiments, Tom McGuane.

‘Thanks again for writing and giving me your book. I’m quoting you in my essay about the illustrations in A River Runs Through It which will appear in The American Fly Fisher (published by the American Museum of Fly Fishing). Your comments on the connections between wood engraving and fly fishing were so insightful. And I’ll talk up your book to lots of people.’

After the Casting into Mystery website was up and running I emailed a link to Henry. He responded with enthusiasm and generosity:

‘The website is beautiful, like all the things you make and I’m honoured to be quoted,’ he said, adding, ‘I hope your book is getting the readers and attention it deserves.’

One of the people to whom Henry ‘talked up’ our book was Noah Davis, a young literary angler.

As Henry and I were exchanging emails, I read some of his literary reviews in the Harvard Review. I found his critical praise of Winterkill, the sixth poetry collection by Todd Davis—who teaches environmental studies, creative writing and American literature at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College—especially intriguing. I purchased it from on online bookseller and was so impressed I immediately acquired two more volumes, The Least of These and In the Kingdom of the Ditch. Todd writes in what I would call the contemporary rural tradition which brings to my mind of such poets as Jim Harrison, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, not to mention Timothy Murphy and Dan Gerber (both of whom are excellent for being lesser known).

I contacted Noah—whose debut poetry collection Of This River is the sixth book published in the prestigious Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Series administered by Michigan State University—and sent him a copy of Casting. I was delighted when he confirmed that he was, indeed, Todd’s son. The poetic apple doesn’t fall far from the Davis creative tree. After earning his MFA from Indiana University, Noah has moved to Montana to further his education and write about angling and other passions. He has written a review of Casting which is slated for the fall issue of Anglers Journal.

Noah wrote:

‘I really enjoyed the book and I know you must be thrilled to have such a beautiful artifact for all your effort. If I ever have a book as well accompanied as yours I’ll be tickled hahaha.

‘We would be good buddies on the river. Same writers move us. Same good food and drink sate us. And fishing is always something wonderful to help bond. Your Adirondack chapter was very close to home for me. I’ve gone to the ADK every year of my life and my wife, Nikea, and I went there for our honeymoon. Such a good place to social distance. We ate at the Hungry Trout which is indeed one of the great angling restaurants. The roast duck is my favourite.’

Noah Davis (right) enjoys cutthroat success with brother Nathan

Fly anglers have for centuries celebrated the fact that trout prefer to live in beautiful places. Similarly fly angling has introduced me to many wonderful people—some of whom I have had the privilege of sharing water. One of the gratifying consequences of writing Casting into Mystery is that it has introduced me to those I praise in the fellowship of literary fly anglers. Talk about casting to ever-expanding riseforms.

In 2013, when Fishing Stories was released two years after The Art of Angling, I wrote this pocket review for the KW Flyfishers’ newsletter:

One of the neat things about Art Flick’s classic Streamside Guide to Naturals and Their Imitations is that it fits inside the pocket of a fishing vest.

I don’t suspect many fly anglers take books along on angling outings—a practice I highly recommend. However, if you are inclined to do this on occasion–as accompaniment in anticipation of an evening hatch or as a companion during a bankside sandwich and beverage break–I have a couple of books small enough to fit into a fishing vest.

The Art of Angling is a bountiful catch of poems from around the world devoted to all aspects of fishing. As its title suggests, Fishing Stories is an equally abundant catch of prose in various styles and genres.

Both are published in Knopf’s Everyman’s Pocket Classics series. Separately, each collection contains a wealth of piscatorial writing. Together, they comprise a handsome set of companion volumes.

As Henry points out in his scholarly forwards, the origins of fishing extend into the distant past, at least as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period (early phase of the Stone Age which began about 40,000 years ago and lasted about 2.5 million years). I have always viewed a fly rod as a Paleolithic tool.

Although there is some debate, most angling historians credit the first recorded description of an artificial fly to the Roman Claudius Aelianus, near the end of the second century. Writing about fishing emerged in the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome and China (the latter of which Henry has a refined eye and ear). The Old Testament mentions fishing with a hook.

The Art of Angling contains poems, verse passages and prose fragments dating back to the Classical poet Homer, circa 800-850 BC. As confirmed by this charming piscatorial anthology, many of the world’s greatest authors wrote about fishing in one capacity or another.

Shakespeare, John Donne (Izaak Walton’s regular angling companion), Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Service, William Butler Yeats, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell, James Dickey, Derek Walcott, Raymond Carver, Ron Rash, John Engels, Theodore Roethke, Richard Brautigan, James Wright, Richard Hugo and Jim Harrison are just a few of the most famous poets represented. Female poets are not plentiful but they are not forgotten, including Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Bishop and Mary Oliver, among others.

Although the anthology isn’t confined to poems about fly fishing, anglers who cast lines on wider waters and are interested in the history and literature of fishing will welcome the volume.

The same can be said of Fishing Stories. Admittedly, there are numerous collections of classic fishing prose narrative, both fiction and non-fiction, whether short story, novel, biography or memoir. Similarly, there is considerable repetition among volumes.

There is some redundancy here, with many of the familiar suspects represented including Zane Grey, Hemingway, Roderick Haig-Brown, Norman Maclean, Thomas McGuane and Nick Lyons (one of the most significant publishers of fly angling literature, ever). But, there are also wonderful surprises: Anton Chekhov, Annie Proulx and Jimmy Carter, amidst settings as varied as ancient China, tropical Tahiti and Paris, in addition to the wilderness country bridging both sides of the 49th Parallel.

I began my fly fishing journey in an armchair with book in hand, and a dram of malt whisky within reach. Had I not been enchanted by the rich literary history of the contemplative recreation I would have never made the transition from spinning rod and hard lures to bamboo and fur and feather. The Art of Angling and Fishing Stories–in my estimation, the best of the many angling anthologies available along with The Magic Wheel, edited by David Profumo and Graham Swift–are reminders of why I’m proud to consider myself a literary fly angler.


New Quarterly Conversation: One in the Bow & One in the Stern – Robert Reid & Wesley W. Bates on Casting Their Collaboration

Robert Reid is a writer whose career in journalism spanned forty years. Wesley W. Bates is one of Canada’s best-known wood engravers (whose work appeared on the cover of Issue 138 of The New Quarterly). Both are avid fly fishers. Casting into Mystery, published by The Porcupine’s Quill in February 2020, tackles their love of angling through creative collaboration. The book features a combination of text and image and provides a glimpse inside a sporting culture teeming with literature, art, and music.

Wes, we owe so much to fly fishing. It served as the foundation of our creative partnership, not to mention our friendship. When we met for the first time after many years, you asked whether I would be interested in working together on a book. Shortly after I began posting essays about fly fishing on the blog I started after retiring, I contemplated working with you on such a project. We were reading from the same page without knowing we shared a common book.

Yes, it is a delightful fusion of our separate loves of angling and rivers that made this book happen. Before you and I met, I had tested the water with a couple of writers about doing something involving fishing. Back then, I was in the ‘romantic’ grip of fly fishing and I suppose my aims were different from those of the authors I had approached. As I recall when we met, we chatted briefly about fly fishing because I had an engraving of the subject in the exhibition you reviewed. I’m sure that’s where the spark of our book was ignited, at least for me. Later, when I was introduced to your blog where you write so elegantly about fly angling, the hook was set. All that remained was finding an opportunity to pitch you the idea.

Our goal for the book from the beginning was to blend word and image. Your engravings would be a visual narrative running parallel to my textual narrative. Our creative partnership would be like two fly anglers in a canoe, one in the bow and one in the stern, both paddling in the same direction but casting from opposite sides when fishing.

Funny that you mention two anglers in a canoe. You triggered my memory of fishing with my father in the mountain lakes of central British Columbia. There are hundreds of small lakes that are stocked with Kamloops trout. Dad and I would paddle the canoe around a lake following the sun progress, as did the fish. We used fly rods, but we trolled with spinners and we were usually successful. Your image of two fly anglers casting off the opposite sides of the canoe does fit our approach very well.

We were ‘casting from opposite sides’ in the book, but there were some instances of crossover between text and image. Like when I refer to Tom Thomson as an artist with fins, and your portrait has him submerged in a lake along with a trout. Or when I talk about fly fishing as a threshold experience and you portray a great blue heron next to his mirror image on the surface of water. For me, these are examples of creative synchronicity.

I like to think our book resembles the two-headed trout. You know the (fish)tale. A native brook trout makes his way to the Junction Pool where the Willowemoc meets the Beaverkill. Both rivers are so beautiful the trout can’t decide which one to navigate, so he grows two heads.

Your approach to the subject of Tom Thomson is refreshing and insightful. When I heard you give a talk about your understanding of Thomson as a fly fisherman, you opened a new perspective. I still see him as a major artist. And the mystery of his death retains a sense of intrigue. But now when I consider his work, I see deeper into his relationship with subject matter and his connection to nature through angling.

I like to think our book resembles the two-headed trout. You know the (fish)tale. A native brook trout makes his way to the Junction Pool where the Willowemoc meets the Beaverkill. Both rivers are so beautiful the trout can’t decide which one to navigate, so he grows two heads. I think of our book as embodying that legendary trout.

It’s no secret my main interest is creating images, so I wanted our collaboration to blend two perspectives: one literary, the other pictorial. The medium I work in is wood engraving, which had its golden age in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wood engraving dominated the book world as the preferred method of transferring an image onto paper. As you enjoy pointing out, that same period is acknowledged as the golden age of fly fishing. During the Victorian period, fly fishing was considered a form of art. The artificial flies created then were akin to pieces of jewelry rather than mere imitations of insects or bait fish. There are books filled with beautiful wood-engraved illustrations of angling scenes, gear, and fish as well as marvelously tied flies.

For me, the combination of type and wood engravings is a ‘hatch’ made in book heaven. I wanted my engravings to convey a strong feeling of place by bringing the reader in intimate contact with the riverbank, an insect on a leaf, a trout in the water.

Casting into Mystery began as a series of straightforward accounts of angling outings. My aim was accuracy. But as the personal accounts transformed into chapters for a book, I began hearing the voices of literary authors and angling writers, past and present. I heard the melodies of composers and the lyrics of songwriters, which were joined by the images of filmmakers and visual artists. I was no longer a fly angler who writes, but a writer who fly fishes. It was a creative transformation, a shift from accuracy to truth.

I consider my narrative as accessible to fly anglers and non-anglers alike. Like your efforts to convey a strong feeling of place to the reader, I want readers to pretend they are traversing a wide riffle to get to a pool on the other side of a river that holds big fish. The only way of getting across safely, and remain relatively dry, is to jump from boulder to boulder—Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. All the writers, artists and musicians to whom I refer are boulders that punctuate my prose narrative.
I like how you put it: ‘I was no longer a fly angler who writes, but a writer who fly fishes.’ If I may cast an identical line: I’m an artist who fly fishes. For me, the transformation happened as I studied the work of two artists in particular: the Englishman Thomas Bewick and the American Winslow Homer. Bewick is credited with developing wood engraving in the late eighteenth century. He was an avid fisherman in the rivers and streams of Northumberland, near Newcastle upon Tyne. He engraved many angling scenes. The more I learned about fly angling, the more I appreciated Bewick’s work, not to mention his way of seeing. In the miniature space wood engraving allows, Bewick was able to depict landscape and personality in his figures.

Homer’s territory for the greater part of his artistic life—which included fly fishing—was the northeast United States, especially the rugged seashores of Maine and the wilds of the Adirondacks. His painting—in particular his watercolours—of fishing and hunting subjects are impressive for their lack of romanticism or heroism. The plainness, frankness, and truth of his visual narratives set him apart from his peers.

Both Bewick and Homer demonstrated how light illuminates our world. Bewick worked in a medium in which every stroke of the graver adds light to the image. Homer illumined with colour. Both artists had deep love and knowledge of their subjects.

I’m fascinated by the connection between fly angling literature and the importance of place. Fly anglers cherish the home waters that shape their identity; likewise, writers define themselves, in part, by giving expression to place through their craft.

I feel you evoke place very well in your writing. One has to be part of a place, and that requires long association. Before I moved to where I live now in Clifford, I visited the area to fish. It was twelve years before I left the city to set down roots in a rural community. Becoming part of a place is difficult if you don’t interact with your immediate environment. Fishing has been significant to my understanding of where I live. Standing in a river is an intimate act of relationship with the wider landscape, the flora and fauna and network of human relationships Water is the centrepiece of any community. My work as an artist developed through my interaction with riverscape—it’s a bonus that I can also go fishing.

While the turn of the last century is recognized as the golden age of fly fishing, I contend that we are now living in the golden age of fly fishing literature. Incidentally, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653, is the most frequently reprinted English-language book of all time, save for the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. But it is only recently that fly angling writing has turned away from the hows of catching fish to the whys of fishing. Even though it is an apprenticeship memoir, a reader gains precious little instruction on how to catch fish from Casting into Mystery. It’s not an instructional manual by any stretch. Catching fish is incidental. Instead, it explores what is gained from fishing with fur and feather.

You are so right. Thanks to social media, instruction on how to catch fish has been taken away from writers and artists. That allows us to engage our imaginations in other matters and with other concerns related to the ‘art’ of fly fishing.

With that in mind, I hope readers view our book beyond the confines of sporting literature. I have long been interested in what is sometimes referred as the Rural Tradition. The British writer Robert Macfarlane is a contemporary with whom I share a common literary goal. I try to do for fly fishing what he has does so brilliantly with walking and hiking.

Similarly, I see our book as crossing over into nature writing. While we might think of nature writing as exploring wild and remote places, devoid of human contact, the nature writing on which our book is based reflects Thoreau, Annie Dillard or Wendell Berry more than John Muir, Rick Bass or Barry Lopez in the High Arctic.

The Rural Tradition interests me as well. In the engraving world, there are some great English artists, such as Thomas Bewick (already mentioned), Howard Phipps, and Monica Poole. The English have a long and rich tradition of wood engravers working with rural themes and settings. In America, there is Clare Leighton, an import from England, and Thomas W. Nason, known as the poet engraver of New England. These are the engravers who have most inspired me. Wood engraving is a slow and deliberate process. The time for observation and searching for detail is important, but for me it’s really about finding the light. I look for a balance between accurate detail and personal stylization, the proper anatomical gesture to complement the graphic strength in the subject. In our book, I’m not illustrating your words as much as adding a complimentary visual narrative of place. To my way of thinking, the Rural Tradition is a weaving together of the natural landscape and the cultivated landscape. The narrative lies in the intersection of these two landscapes. A riverscape is a wonderful expression of the natural world; with a fly angler included, the wild and the cultivated take on the beauty of passion and devotion.

Regardless of the tradition, though, the first thing a reader should do when they consider our book is interpret its title literally as well as metaphorically. Essentially, our book is an investigation into the mysteries of fly angling, which are emblematic of life’s larger mysteries. Fly angling provides the vocabulary, both textual and visual, through which we try to give shape and substance to the mysteries that envelop us. We could spend a lifetime looking for answers to fundamental questions and be thwarted in our search for meaning and purpose. Fly fishing has taught me that it is enough to wade a river, cast a fly, and surrender to the embrace of mystery.

I feel fortunate to be collaborating with you on this project. I have learned more about fly fishing in the last two years hanging out and fishing with you than I did on my own over many years. It goes back to becoming an integral part of a particular place. Drawing and painting while up to my waist in a river is comparable to wading a river with a fly rod in hand. The perspective is the same, even if the intent differs. What I gain in knowing about where I am opens me up to my sense of place. At the same time, what I have yet to see and come to know is even greater. That’s where mystery comes in. It’s the kind of mystery that is a part of being there.

One of the things that delights me most about our book is its subversiveness. On the one hand, we try to persuade non-anglers that fly fishing is not about catching fish. On the other hand, we try to persuade anglers that fly fishing is about more than catching fish. Whatever practical things fly angling offers, it also serves as a path towards healing. It’s not a sport in any conventional sense, like golfing or tennis—or even tossing a hard lure from a bass boat. At its root, fly fishing is an imaginative act, which links it to other forms of art and creativity. It’s no coincidence that so many artists are drawn to fly fishing and, conversely, that fly fishing inspires so much art.

I couldn’t agree more.

The actual Conversation was published on The New Quarterly website in the Summer 2020 issue. Check out the link at:


Open Book: Lucky Seven Interview

Presented by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization and funded by Ontario Creates, Open Book celebrates the province’s vibrant literary scene, with a special focus on books, writers and events produced by Ontario’s independent, Canadian-owned publishers. The online publication is committed to showcasing the range and quality of contemporary Canadian writing and invites readers from Canada and around the world to connect with Ontario’s vibrant book culture.

Open Book published a Lucky Seven Interview, titled ‘Robert Reid Talks Fly-Fishing and Connecting to Nature,’ on 2 January 2020.

For human beings, forging a real connection with nature can be essential to our understanding of not only ourselves, but our place within the planet on which we live. Spending time in the quiet isolation of tall trees, running streams and singing birds acts as a restorative elixir, refueling us with purpose and inner peace. Everyone achieves this feeling in different ways, but for many, the centuries-old sport of fly fishing is their method of choice.

Author Robert Reid and illustrator Wesley W. Bates understand this better than most. Their new book, Casting into Mystery, is not just a celebration of fly fishing and the rich history of art it’s inspired, but a deep meditation on our relationship with the natural world and how North America’s waterways sustain us mentally, physically and spiritually. Bates’s painstaking wood engravings beautifully flesh out Reid’s prose, working together to create a unique and powerful love letter to the sport they love, and to the wonder and mystery of the environment in which they enjoy it.

We’re thrilled to have Robert at Open Book today to discuss the origins of the book, the importance of ‘the two Vs’ in writing nonfiction, and how fly-fishing brought him closer to a deep and profound relationship with nature.
Open Book
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be. What made you passionate about the subject matter you’re exploring?

Robert Reid
Casting into Mystery is a sympathetic fusion of word and image. Wesley’s engravings are not illustrations in a conventional sense, but a visual narrative that complements and enhances my text. Think of a pair of fishing companions sharing the same stretch of river. Many chapters started as blog postings which I began writing after retiring from newspaper journalism. When I started playing with the idea that the postings might form the basis of a memoir, I thought about working with Wesley. When we finally met up again after many years, he asked whether I would consider partnering on a book. It was exactly what I had been contemplating. It was a case of piscatorial/creative synchronicity. We are both fly anglers. It is a passion for me because it reminds me that I’m inextricably connected to nature. When fly fishing I’m not in nature, I’m of nature. The river in which I’m wading flows through the arteries and veins of my body. I am river, river is me.

Open Book
Is there a question that is central to your book? And if so, is it the same question you were thinking about when you started writing or did it change during the writing process?

The book’s title is intended to be interpreted literally. The book is about mystery. Most of us spend considerable time seeking answers to fundamental questions. Fly fishing has taught me that it’s enough to open my body, spirit and imagination to the embrace of mystery. When I’m standing waist deep in a river with a bamboo fly rod in my hand, I’m casting an artificial fly, often lighter than a whisper, into mystery. I’m one small finishing nail in the architecture of mystery. This process, which unfolds in the pulsating moment, not only encompasses nature in all her abundant splendor – including rivers, fish and insects -but the elements that make up the practice of fly fishing. Time and mortality, joy and sorrow, fulfillment and loss, art and spirituality are integral to the mystery.

Open Book
What was your research process like for this book? Did you encounter anything unexpected while you were researching?

Most of my research was done by wading rivers or canoeing lakes. Every time I pick up a fly rod the experience is new, unlike any previous experience in specifics. The unexpected is the norm. Then there was reading from the rich literature of fly fishing that predates Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (first published in 1653), the most reprinted book in English with the exception of the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. More great books devoted to fly fishing were published in the last century, into this century, than at any other time in the long history of fly fishing, which extends back to before the birth of Christ.

Open Book
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

I have no specific writing routine. I customarily have a cup of coffee, sometimes a glass of craft beer or dram of single malt within reach. Being retired, I write at any time; however, I most often write late at a night, a holdover from my university days in the 1970s. Following is a description of my writing space as recorded in Casting into Mystery:
‘Seated at the computer in my kitchen office, I can look out on a knoll bordered by a line of conifers. Just out of sight is a gully that protects a copse where I routinely watch a leash of foxes cavorting at dawn. I see cottontails, skunks, raccoons, groundhogs and squirrels. I can turn in my chair during wintertide and watch birds at the feeder—chickadees and nuthatches, juncos and cardinals, blue jays and grosbeaks.
‘When I raise my eyes from the keyboard, I can gaze at a print of a painting of a fly fisherman at eventide by Russell Chatham; a print of a fly fisherman casting from an Adirondack guide boat by Winslow Homer; a quartet of salmon flies inspired by patterns designed by Carrie Stevens; an engraving by Wesley Bates of a fly fisherman in a pastoral stream accompanied by a silhouette of a dry fly; and, most special of all, a photo of [my sons] Dylan and Robertson in a boat at dusk, proudly showing off their catch of smallmouth bass. This gallery of angling art and artifact is a source of deep delight when, like an evening hatch, I wait on that elusive right word’.

Open Book
What do you do if you’re feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

I seldom, if ever, get discouraged during the writing process. As a professional journalist for four decades, I grew accustomed to writing on demand. Discipline trumped inspiration. For most of my career I reviewed concerts and theatrical performances under intense deadline pressure. If the creative well temporarily runs dry, I grab my fly rod and angling gear and hit the water to refresh and replenish.

Open Book
What defines a great work of non-fiction, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

Great works of non-fiction are defined, in my mind, by the Two Vs—vision and voice. Vision is a blend of reporting acumen and imagination. Voice is the result of how a writer weaves the manifold narrative threads into the textual fabric. Although not specifically non-fiction, Norman Maclean’s autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It is the greatest single literary work devoted to fly fishing. Although fly angling is an important thematic and structural element, to say it is about fly fishing is like saying Moby Dick is a study of whaling or Walden is a primer for building a cabin in the woods.

Open Book
What are you working on now?

I continue to write essays about the art of fly fishing, based both my personal experiences and the literature, music and visual and performance art inspired by the activity, both historical and contemporary.

To see interview on Open Book website, check out: