The Intersection of Nature & Art in Casting into Mystery

I am a terrible fisherman. It has been years since I caught a fish (though not for lack of trying) and I have never attempted fly fishing myself. So, when I sat down to read Casting into Mystery, written by Robert Reid with engravings by Wesley W. Bates, I found myself in the role of a delighted student, and this book proves an excellent teacher. The main lesson I took away from my reading is that Reid and Bates both view fly fishing as a gateway to many aspects of the world. Whether it be books, music, philosophy, religion or love, everything can be related back to the hours they spend standing hip deep in the river.

While I may not be an expert fisherman who has spent hours standing in rivers, I am familiar with poetry and language, and Reid’s mastery and deep love of these allows him to convey why fly fishing is for him such a special and deeply personal pastime. He draws connections between fishing and art, rivers and mystery, nature and philosophical contemplation, allowing me to attain an understanding of the sport that had previously eluded me. Fly fishing as described in this book is an action that allows one to challenge oneself, allows one’s mind to be set at ease (which subsequently allows it to wander and ponder), allows one the opportunity to be social while alone, and sets nature as the inspiration for art.

Reid is not the first writer to connect nature and sport to art. Going back to classical literature, we see countless examples of hunting tales and pastoral imagery that are designed to speak to the reader about art. Further, there are countless mosaics and other pieces of art which depict natural scenes or scenes of the hunt. These two concepts are inseparable. So, while Reid’s use of nature and sport to engage with art is not revolutionary, I have never seen anyone approach this through fly fishing.

Reid is clearly not alone in feeling this connection. A self-proclaimed avid armchair angler, he notes that many writers before him use fly fishing as their muse. The essays “Books for a Winter Night” and “The Poetry of Fly Angling” detail some of Reid’s favourite authors to read when he is not on the river. These include fictional works, usually in the mystery genre (by the likes of David Leitz, Victoria Houston, and his personal favourite Keith McCafferty), poetry (Raymond Carver, Ted Hughes, Jim Harrison and John Engels), and non-fiction discussing everything from casting technique (Tom Rosenbauer) to fly tying (Patterns of the Masters) to travel literature (Betters’s Fishing the Adirondacks) to philosophy (David Henry Thoreau). This is quite the comprehensive literary examination that Reid provides, and he centres it entirely around the topic of fly fishing.

While literary discussions abound in Casting into Mystery, showing the intersection of literature and nature, I think the essay that best exemplifies Reid’s deep bond between art and fly fishing is “A River Runs Through Tom”. In this essay, Reid argues that the famous Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson was a fly fisherman himself. Evidence in favour of his argument aside, the passion that Reid displays here in drawing a connection between artist and sport, as well as his art and the nature that surrounded him, drives home Reid’s fundamental belief: fly fishing is a medium through which one interacts with their world and the art they enjoy. In Thomson, we see the embodiment of this belief. That his engagement with nature through canoeing and, as Reid argues, fly fishing, directly contributed to his art. I must admit it is a very persuasive argument.

Reid has not created this book alone, however, and I would be remiss if I did not mention Bates and his engravings. Like Reid, Bates is an avid fly fisher himself, and his personal relationship to nature and art comes through in his engravings. Beautifully detailed and often requiring many viewings to appreciate their full depth, these engravings serve as highlights to Reid’s words but also as narratives in their own right. While Reid discusses the relationship between nature and art, Bates puts it into practice. I found the engraving of Thomson particularly striking. Depicting the mystery of his death in Algonquin Park in 1917, it is suitably grim with an air of solemnness–a perfect fit for the essay and wider themes of the book.

Just as the rivers that Reid and Bates are so fond of meander, so do the musings of Reid and the carving tools of Bates as they explore in their separate but interrelated ways what it means to be a fly angler, an artist, and ultimately what it means to be uniquely human. Each manages to capture in is own way the intersection of nature and art, and each allows us as readers to experience a very personal connection to both. Hopefully by having read this, I will become a better fisherman myself, but that seems unlikely. And, as Reid says, “ If I fly fish and don’t catch any fish, I still win” (189).

James Bader

Review posted on the Porcupine’s Quill website blog on 19 April 2021 by James Bader. A Masters of Arts in Classics graduate from McMaster University, he lives in Dundas, Ontario where he is a supply teacher at Lee Academy elementary school.


Classic Angling Praises Casting

A Fine Addition to That Small & Elite Circle of the Best Writers on Fly-Fishing

Casting into Mystery by Robert Reid, $29.95.

Published by The Porcupine’s Quill, email

THIS BOOK will make you homesick for rivers you’ll never likely fish. Its author, Robert Reid, will become an old friend you never knew existed. On the surface, Casting into Mystery is the story of ten years of the author’s fly-fishing life, spent primarily on the Upper Grand River of Ontario, Canada. It’s a celebration of all that makes us become fly fishers—the beauty of the countryside and waters we fish; of trout in general; the history; the fine craftsmanship of rods, reels and flies; companionship with like-minded people; a cold beer (or three) after a day’s fishing. And then there’s so much more. It is like a look into the author’s uncommonly erudite mind and his philosophy of fishing and life.

Reid, now retired from a career as an arts journalist and editor for several Canadian newspapers, writers: ‘A fly rod is an instrument of memory.’ And, boy, does he have some memories.

His musical tastes jump from Handel to Gordon Lightfoot in the time it takes for a couple of sips of 12-year-old malt whisky. While his writing can flit from subject to subject like butterflies in a meadow—take his thoughts on fishing distant waters versus home, or reading about places even further afield or what he carries with him fishing.

‘One of the attractions of the recreational sport is that it encourages travel to beautiful places on this Good Earth. While I have visited the Catskills on two occasions and the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina once, most of my fly angling is done no more than four hours from where I live.

‘Of course, this does not take into account the thousands of miles I have logged as an angling tourist casting lines of imagination on literary waters. If only readers received frequent-flyer points.

‘The pull of memory nudges my thoughts toward the people and the places embodied in talismans I wear, cast or carry with me in my vest that enrich my experience on the water. I cherish these and cannot imagine fishing without them.’

There are chapters and essays on philosopher fisher/naturalists; Canadian acoustic music; North American art; Cuban cigars; Scotch whisky; bamboo rods; books and writers on fly fishing (I’ve already ordered a few he’s introduced me to) and, strange in a fishing book, a hypothesis on whether murdered Canadian artist Tom Thomson was a fly fisherman, as well as who actually did him in. (Artist Wesley Bates has created a marvellously macabre woodcut of the murder scene!)

Reid does, however, sometimes wade into deep waters; waters too deep for this reviewer, such as the nature of Celtic spirituality or the meaning of ’North’. To my mind, he even goes in over his head when he compares American presidents 44 and 45 by stating that Obama was a fly fisherman, Trump not. Surely, both were better known as golfers?

I suspect much of his writing and thinking is well-lubricated by malt whisky—including his thoughts on the matter. ‘I customarily prefer an Islay single malt, perhaps Lagavulin, Bowmore or Bruichladdich. On this day I was fortunate to have an Arran 18-year-old, boasting a nose of sweet orchid fruits with syrup and toasted oak, a palate of chocolate, ginger and caramelized brown sugar and a long, lingering finish.’

We fly anglers are lucky to have so many fine writers to turn to. Reid is the latest addition to the list.

Paul Curtis

— Review written by Paul Curtis, author of Fishing the Margins: A History & Complete Bibliography of Fly Fishing in South Africa

May 2021 issue of Classic Angling, the world’s largest full-colour magazine on collecting, using classic tackle & the history of fishing. Where top authors write on lures, rods, reels, art, books, fish, people & places.


Collection of Poetic Essays

Casting into Mystery

Robert Reid
Wesley W. Bates (Illustrator)
The Porcupine’s Quill (Feb 18, 2020)
Softcover $26.95 (288pp)
978-0-88984-428-5 2020 INDIES Finalist Finalist, Nature (Adult Nonfiction)

Robert Reid explores the benefits and literary depictions of the art of fly fishing in his essay collection Casting into Mystery.

Reid, a retired journalist, discovered fly fishing late in life. It has since become an endless source of comfort, wonder and fulfillment. He combines that love with his reverence for the written word, resulting in an essay collection that reveals the many joys of the timeless sport, from solitude and camaraderie to physical improvement and mental solace.

Reid describes fly fishing as calming and contemplative, and his essays are much the same. They are organized by season, from the promise of spring to the reading-filled days of winter, then back to spring again. They vary in length and scope, touching on such diverse topics as the history of the sport and its popularity with creative people. They also grapple with arguments made by fly fishing’s detractors.

As both an actual angler and an ‘armchair angler’ who collects written works about fishing and waterways, Reid has a unique perspective, and argues that fishing and art are intertwined. His prose is often lyrical; it includes many fishing-themed metaphors. Some of the essays adopt the tone of a literature review, featuring long recitations of books about fly fishing, some of which is more suited to an appendix or bibliography.

The collection is at its best when it focuses on Reid’s personal experiences or conclusions, as in ‘Fishing Dogs & Patient Poppers,’ and when it illuminates a particular aspect of fly fishing’s long history, as in ‘Women on the Water.’ Engravings by Wesley W. Bates are included throughout the text; they show birds, fish, flies and river scenes in gorgeous detail.

As Reid says, there is more to fishing than fish. It may be disappointing to get ‘skunked’ while everyone else catches one fish after another, but there is no winning or losing in fly fishing. The real reward, so far as Reid is concerned, is the complete experience. This fact is emphasized by the essays that do not focus directly on fishing, like the amusing ‘The Fish that Flew Away,’ about the thrill of communing with land- and air-based wildlife, and the poignant ‘Sláinte! Ian,’ an ode to a late friend who loved fly fishing. These essays in particular show why fly fishing has remained so popular among such a wide variety of people for so many years.

Casting into Mystery is a collection of poetic essays that explore fly fishing from the perspective of one of its ardent practitioners and advocates.

— Review written by Eileen Gonzalez for Foreword Magazine. Founded in 1998, an independent media company devoted to covering the indie book publishing industry to serve librarians, booksellers, readers, publishers, agents and other publishing professionals. Read the review at Foreword Reviews, a bimonthly book review journal.


Tidings of Joy

Casting into Mystery is a fine book by Robert Reid is a celebration of the meditative sport of fly fishing as well as the camaraderie and quietude to be found not only in the gentle flow of river currents, but also in the community and culture of anglers past and present.

The author’s words as well as the artful wood engravings by Wesley W. Bates provide a glimpse into a sporting culture rife with literature, art, music and bamboo. The book even features a few chapters about the author’s Sweetgrass rod.

Although I did a review of this book in our newsletter this past spring, the quality presentation of this book is well worth one more mention as a consideration for Christmas.

— Review written by Jerry Kustich, acclaimed angling writer & co-founder of Sweetgrass Rods, formerly located in Twin Bridges and now in Butte, Montana. Read the actual review in the December 2020 Sweetgrass Newsletter.


Ode to Fly Fishing

Casting into Mystery: London native Robert Reid’s ode to fly fishing is described as a ‘celebration of the meditative sport . . . the camaraderie and quietude . . . the community and culture of anglers past and present.’ The book, which references Reid’s experiences on the Thames River, includes engravings by Wesley W. Bates. Published by The Porcupine’s Quill, it is available online and at book retailers for $26.95 in paperback, $4.99 in ebook and at Signed copies are available in London at John’s Fly Materials, 96 Rectory St.

Notice written by Joe Belanger, a longtime reporter currently covering entertainment at the London Free Press


Casting Close to Home

Casting into Mystery is an artful, literary book written by lifelong journalist Robert Reid. The collection of thoughtful, connected essays draws upon his knowledge of fly fishing literature to set the stage for anecdotes about things more intimate and familiar.

Reid’s graceful writing describes the allure of Ontario’s fabled and lesser-known fly fishing waters while telling gentle tales of friendships made and places met through the sport. He also writes about his relationships and experiences with some of our provincial fly fishing icons, clubs and gatherings.

The book is made more elegant by Wesley W. Bates’s wood engravings set to ink. Both have, in their own mediums, painted a wonderful portrait of Ontario’s diverse fly fishing culture.

What’s most striking is that Reid pays homage to angling literature from near and far and, in doing so, has created a book that hits closer to home.

– Review published in Ontario Out of Doors, the province’s premium hunting & fishing publication, by assistant editor Steve Galea, a veteran outdoors writer and columnist. He also owns Algonquin Fly Tying Supply, an on-line shop.


Life of Fish, Literature & Whisk(e)y

 Robert Reid, a career newspaper man, has shifted his writing beat to the rivers and streams of the North in this memoir entwined with a life full of fish, literature and good whiskey.

Throughout his native waters in Ontario, to the rivers of the Adirondacks and North Carolina this side of the Niagara, Reid’s encyclopedic recall of fishing literature from poetry to prose argues the interconnection of all fisher-folk. The adage of all poems speaking to all other poems rings true, and Reid is here to extend the community of anglers probing for what we cannot see: ‘I confess I wrote this book for the poets among fly anglers and non-anglers alike, whether or not they have written a line of verse.’

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the beauty of Wesley W. Bates’s engravings texturing the book. They are the kind of art every angler enthralled with fish, birds and moving water would want close by to sate their longing when the rivers are far away.

Review written by award-winning poet & fly angler Noah Davis, published in the fall issue of Anglers Journal, one of America’s premiere fly fishing publications


Casting an Appreciative Line

These days there are several new angling writers worth reading, and I have always enjoyed books that have vicariously taken me on fishing trips of the mind, trips I will never have the opportunity to take. Last year it was my privilege to write a blurb for a wonderful book by Canadian writer Robert Reid to be released in early 2020 entitled Casting into Mystery. A longtime journalist, the author is not only an accomplished writer, his words transform Casting into Mystery into an enlightened spiritual journey exploring the essence of the outdoor experience through the soul of a fly angler.

The book weaves the author’s in-depth perspective on how fly fishing impacts his life with insights and quotes from naturalists, philosophers, poets, songwriters and other angling authors about fishing and the natural world. Reid also delves into the spiritual realm of nature including the Celtic Way, which is reflective of his own Scottish heritage. While paying homage to the past, his stories and essays are a wonderful blend of angling literature, nature art, historical perspective, philosophical musings, love of bamboo and abiding friendship with a unique literary expression of reverence for the mysteries of nature, particularly as it pertains to the contemplative pursuit of angling with a fly.

For those who believe fly fishing is as much about introspection as it is about catching fish, Reid’s work is not only thoughtful, his stories are an inspiring trip into nature and the mysteries we all encounter there. Accented by the beautifully crafted visual art of accomplished wood engraver Wesley W. Bates, Casting into Mystery is destined to become a classic in the enduring tradition of fly fishing literature.

— Review written by Jerry Kustich, angling writer & co-founder of Sweetgrass Rods, formerly located in Twin Bridges, now in Butte, Montana. Read the actual review in the May 2020 Sweetgrass Newsletter


Literature Goes a-Fishin’

Literature, it seems, loves to go fishing, and has since at least Izaak Walton’s The Complete Angler in 1653; along the way, many authors have weighted a line and flung their baited hooks into the depths, to find what they could pull up.

Add Rob Reid’s to the list. But Casting Into Mystery is as much about literature, music, art, film and others among the author’s many passions, foremost of which, for the purposes of this book is the arcane practice of fly fishing.

Along the way, readers will enjoy musings on Tom Thomson (a great fisher as well as a great artist) and writers as diverse as Hemingway, Yeats, Ted Hughes, Thoreau, Wendell Berry and even some of Hamilton’s own poets. We also meet some fascinating anglers, like octogenarian Joan Kirkham. It is a kind of fisher’s literary companion.

And this gorgeously written and put together book features the incomparable wood engravings of Wesley Bates, whom many remember from Hamilton. Published by The Porcupine’s Quill, $26.95 online, and or through booksellers. Digital $4.99

— Review written by Jeff Mahoney, culture & lifestyle reporter & columnist for The Spectator. Check out the review published in the Hamilton-based newspaper on 9 May 2020 at The Spec


In Praise of Casting into Mystery

Robert Reid is not only an accomplished writer, but his artistry with words transforms Casting into Mystery into an enlightening spiritual journey exploring the essence of the outdoor experience through the soul of a fly angler. While paying homage to the past, his stories and essays weave angling literature, nature art, historical perspective, philosophical musings, love of bamboo, and abiding friendship into a unique literary expression of reverence for the mysteries of the natural world, particularly as it pertains to the contemplative pursuit of angling with a fly.

Accented by the beautifully crafted visual art of accomplished engraver Wesley W. Bates, Casting into Mystery is destined to become a classic addition to the enduring tradition of fly fishing literature.

Jerry Kustich, cofounder of Sweetgrass Rods & author of A quartet of angling memoirs–At the River’s Edge, A Wisp in the Wind, Around the Next Bend & Holy Water. Also co-author of Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead

A fine fusion of trout, bamboo fly rods, literature, music, and poetry–chased by a dram or two of malt whisky. Written by someone who truly loves his sport. Beautiful engravings, too. . . .

Stephen Sautner, New York Times Columnist, author of A Cast in the Woods & Fish On, Fish Off & editor of Upriver and Downstream

Casting into Mystery is a great book with beautiful woodcut engravings. I can’t think of another angling book like it. It’s conversational and comprehensive . . . .

Keith McCaffety, author of the Sean Stranahan mystery series & Award-winning Field & Stream columnist

The thing I first noticed about Robert Reid’s lovely book about fishing, with the distinctive and gorgeous Wesley Bates engravings, is how many images feature birds rather than fish. They’re everywhere: swallows and kingfishers and red-winged blackbirds . . . This is a book about the entire natural world, not just a peculiar hobby or pastime. It gracefully reveals the frame of our existence, one episode at a time. It is a treasure.

We often say that angling is meditative, indeed Reid says it in these pages. But I sometimes think the notion is slightly misplaced, if meditation means emptying the mind. There is a stillness in our angling, yes, but there is also a fierce focus and a dreamy, taut, singular effort that very few things in life can offer. This is action honed to a high degree of sharpness . . . Reid gets this quality of angling better than almost any writer I know, putting him in company with my own league of favourites: Rangeley-Wilson, McGuane, David Adams Richards and my late friend Paul Quarrington.

The long bookshelf of writing about fishing is surely graced by this recent entry. When you cannot be on the water, reading about fishing is never quite a substitute, but it may be a whetter of appetite for future forays. These collected sketches and essays thus offer an album of piscatorial delight. To read a gifted stylist dilate on art, friends and fishing is a rare literary pleasure. If you are an angler, or aspire to be one, it is also an inspiration . . . .

Mark Kingwell, Professor of Philosopy at the University of Toronto & author of Catch & Release among other books

Robert Reid and Wesley W. Bates have given us a beautiful and refreshing gift, a book where word and image join to form a vibrant reality that is shot through with mystery and meaning. Reid’s personal stories, accounts of local history, and curious dives into literature, music, and film are illuminated by Bates’s intricate engravings, images that awaken realities both seen and unseen. This book taps into an ancient metaphysical current, a deep place, where lurking questions about the sacred, time, and mortality will surface and strike again as new.

Chad Wriglesworth, Associate Professor of English at St Jerome’s UNiversity College at the University of Waterloo & author of Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Having read Casting into Mystery, written by Robert Reid with engravings by Wesley W. Bates, I understand better than ever the allure and magic that lies waiting for the dedicated angler.

I know better the reverence for trout. The deep connection with rivers and the delicate ecosystems that support not only fish, but every living thing an angler encounters during a day on the water. The zip and ratchet of the reel as the line runs through it. The graceful curve as the line arcs, flashes and snaps through the air. The waiting, the watching, the gentle tug telegraphing along the filament as the fish makes up its mind. The setting of the hook and the sudden living bond with the yet unseen fish that is frantically spooling out yards of line as he makes his bid for freedom. The camaraderie between brothers and sisters who share a passion. The tall tales in fire-lit cabins. The grateful taste of a rare single malt that warms toes nearly frozen from a day in the river.

It’s all here.

Garnet Rogers, Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter & author of Night Drive: Travels with My Brother

Casting into Mystery is a memoir that is hard to categorize. Part autobiography, part history, part social commentary. However you define it, it is beautifully written and beautifully engraved. And-forgive the pun-it lures you in. With fly fishing as the armature of its structure, it references literature, contemporary culture, music and more. With its tales of friendship and family, a reader feels like she is conversing with an old friend.

Early on, Robert Reid describes Casting into Mystery as `highly personal, maybe even eccentric’. And that is exactly what he delivers: a memoir that is sure to appeal to diverse readers, including those who have never stepped into a river and cast a fly. After reading this book, they may well decide to do so.

Virginia Eichhorn, executive director of the Quest Art School & Gallery in Midland, Ontario

This is a very elegant book. Reid’s reflections on the history, the poetry and the mystery of fishing weave together with Bates’s engravings to create magical moments on the river. Bright waters meet in these lines.

Dan Needles, author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays, in addition to True Confessions from the Ninth Concession, With Axe & Flask & The Perils of Persephone

Sending big #HookedOnAReeling awe to my friend @RobReid30 for excellent #CastingIntoMystery — Streams of consciousness, holy water words, spiritual joys & sorrows, heroic & stoic anglers, Greg Clark truths, fly fishing beauties & best one that got away story ever @PorcupinesQuill

. . . .

Congratulations to #ldnont raised @RobReid30— an ace wit & sage on land and, when in Ontario waters, a visionary fly angler of all things he considers in Casting Into Mystery. Also bowing to #WesleyWBates & @PorcupinesQuill for the silver @IPPYAwards@LondonMorning@AtticBooksCA

. . . .

Yay for @RobReid30 & Wesley W. Bates w/ a bronze for magnificent Casting Into Mystery! via #ForewordIndies #book awards — Isn’t that now three awards so fat for the @porcupinesquill hit? No “mystery” about Casting here in #Windermereland by banks of Thames — that book is gold!

James Stewart Reaney, arts journalist, retired LOndon Free Press ARTS reporter, former hockey linemate & best reader, ever, making the best of 220-character tweets

Rule one for writers is to write about what you know. In Casting into Mystery Robert Reid pays homage to this old adage. Between the book’s covers readers learn about his two great loves: good books and time on the river fly fishing.

Reid has had a life-long love of good books and fine literature, but came to fly fishing later in life. For him, discovering fly fishing was a life-changing experience, one that has brought him peace, joy and an understanding of how important the health of the earth is and how urgent it is for all of us to protect and nourish it. Reid’s well-honed writing skills are made only better with the engravings by Wesley W. Bates that are generously sprinkled through the book.

Bob Burtt, Former Environmental newspaper reporter & author of No Guardians at the Gate and Rare Moments in Time

Full disclosure, Rob Reid is a good friend and fly fishing buddy. And I’m in his new book a lot. Which is very cool. However, on top of that, his book is great for a bunch of other reasons too. It’s superbly written and thought provoking as it explores the heritage of fly fishing; its philosophy, history, literature, art and music. It’s a fly fishing feast, packed full of information that entices the reader to explore further and points in some promising directions. Wesley W. Bates’s woodcuttings are wonderful and add another dimension to the feast.

Dan Kennaley, former fly fishing columnist for Ontario Out of Doors who has published scholarly articles in The American fly fisher, a journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing

Imagine sitting in your friend’s cozy library sipping a good whiskey and trading your best fishing stories. That sums up Rob and Wesley’s book for me. Slainte!

John Wynen, past president of KW Flyfishers

Meticulously written and beautifully illustrated, Casting into Mystery is an exceptional book. Its vivid tapestry of thoughts, words, imagery and life experience is enhanced by an interweaving tribute to the natural world. And it offers intriguing insights into the mysterious world of fly fishing.

Carol Goodwin, former newspaper reporter & book reviewer

Casting into Mystery is a lovely, well-written book . . . a fine book. Congratulations.

Steve Galea, Assistant editor of Ontario Out of Doors & outdoor writer & columnist

What a beautiful gift [Robert Reid] has given the fly fishing community. In my 69 years on this planet I have read a book or two, but I have never, and I mean this from the depths of my soul, read a book that seduced me while at the same time launching me off to reconnect with Thoreau and then Berry and then Roderick Haig-Brown—even my own journals of camping and fishing with my sons.

Where I would normally have one book on my night table I have a quartet: Walden, Bright Waters, Sabbath Poems . . . with Casting into Mystery on top. [Reid’s] memoir reminds me of a day trip I took once to fish the Oldman River but along the way found another stream to fish that led to another. I never did make it to the Oldman.

If poetry is best read out loud, Casting into Mystery is a book to be savoured quietly, line by line, chapter by chapter. Thank you for a truly remarkable achievement. Well done.

Doug Wilson, CEO & president of the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and devoted fly angler

Casting into Mystery, by author Robert Reid and engraver Wesley W. Bates, is a fine collection of deeply personal essays about fly fishing interwoven with equally personal journeys into prose, poetry, music and visual arts.

Reid’s writing style gives me a sense of having a quiet conversation while sitting by a small campfire or during a leisurely walk in the woods. His insights are meaningful and studied without seeming pretentious or heavy-handed.

Bates’s wood engravings are outstanding. This classic medium, in the hands of a master, dovetails organically with Reid’s elegant words.

We all have personal reasons for fly fishing. Many of these reasons are unique to our individual experiences. Most are difficult to articulate. All I can say is I’m glad Robert Reid is able to put his thoughts into words many anglers share and cherish.

I consumed Casting into Mystery rather quickly. I plan to take it on my next trip (when we can travel again in the aftermath of Covid-19), so that it can be enjoyed like a fine single malt: in small luxurious sips instead knocking the whole thing back in a gulp.

Paul Noble, an avid hunter, angler, outdoorsman & podcast fly tier, is chairman of the Thames River Anglers Association & a member of the Forest City Fly Fishing Club & Western Ontario Fish & Game Protective Association

Forum members may like this book. I enjoyed the writing and the engravings. The production of the volume is simply amazing.

Out of the wilds of the Grand River region of Ontario come discussions of cane, [Glenn] Brackett, Sweetgrass etc., etc., lots of McGuane/Harrison refs, though probably not a lot of factual info that would be new to Forum regulars–still, it is certainly worth getting.

Tell me if you have seen a better produced book for the money. 

Review by creakycane, a self-professed bamboo rod fanatic, on

I would like to start by affirming that Robert Reid’s fly angling memoir Casting into Mystery offers my favourite reading on the subject.

His poem ‘Wild Speck,’ which opens the book, got me hooked. In evocative language, he describes brook trout as a ‘savage beauty.’ This conjures memories of rivers I have fished in southern Ontario, for what is arguably the most beautiful freshwater fish. 

 Yet the book is about more than fly fishing. It’s about the interconnection of all living things. Reid writes lovingly about the contemplative sport as a metaphor for life. We often fail, but we have incredible moments of joy, especially when experiencing the Zen of fly fishing. 

While reading the book my pen was constantly in motion. So much of his recommended reads need to be explored. Holy Water by Jerry Kustich comes to mine, as does Trout Fishing by Joe Brooks.

When I learned to fly fish reasonably well, it was apparent to me that fly fishing is an art form; however, I’m not able to articulate this fact as well as Reid when he writes, ‘The practice is a craft that approaches art when executed at the highest level. Like a pen, burin or guitar, a fly rod is a creative tool, an instrument of imagination.’

For bamboo purists there’s a section on spit-cane rods. If art is your passion, there’s a chapter on Canada’s most famous painter, Tom Thomson, who also happened to be a fly fisher, as Reid argues persuasively.

Casting into Mystery is adorned with wonderful engravings executed by Wesley W. Bates, which could not have been done any better.  

Reid writes, ‘Fishing is like love—it’s the ones that get away that cut the deepest, that leave wounds festering so they never completely heal.’ However, most of the book is about the joys one experiences while wading a river and casting a fly into mystery. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you are a fly fisher, Casting into Mystery is a must-read. It’s a welcome addition to the long-storied history of books about the recreational sport. 

Dave Barry, a fly-fishing enthusiast with wide knowledge of the visual arts & a member of the Hamilton Area Fly Fishers & Tiers

If you are fortunate enough to have among your constellation of friends and family a lover of fly fishing, then you need to give them a copy of Casting into Mystery.

Robert Reid has written a multi-dimensional literary hybrid that celebrates the world of angling with stories and memories and a rich compendium of the best of fishing-related literature, music and art.

As he tells it, Reid came to fly fishing later in life after a career in journalism and in this book he conveys his deep delight in all that he uncovers in his own unmistakably authentic voice. His prose has a solidity and weight to it that makes it resonate – it is the voice of a real person deeply absorbing the world in all its manifold splendour.

In reading a fishing memoir I always look for the origin story: how did the writer find his way to moving waters and the fish that live there? For Reid it is a winding journey, but ultimately it points back to his fascination with what he calls the Idea of North, and to his childhood trips to a hardscrabble farm in the ‘north’ Ontario woods to stay with his friend’s memorable aunt and uncle.

Reid’s stories are interspersed with his parallel journey through the writings of favourite novelists, poets and songwriters, as well as the rich history of visual arts, all tied in some way to angling. He draws on a deep pool of knowledge with many new discoveries awaiting the reader. My personal favourite is his recognition of the overlooked literary sub-genre of angling mystery novels. What fisherman could resist a title like The Royal Wulff Murders?

Among the fishing companions in Reid’s life is renowned Canadian artist Wesley Bates. For this book, Bates contributed a series of wood engravings that enrich the text and somehow embody the purity of the natural world that fish and fishermen share–leading us deeper into the mystery that Reid pursues.

There are no guarantees in fishing, but I am certain that readers will find much to savour in this book and many new paths to follow with an enlightened guide.

Chris Pibus, a longtime fly angler who has cast a line on storied trout waters across North America & in England, as well as an inveterate literary sleuth whose interests transcend angling.  

I just finished reading Casting into Mystery and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of the books I will always cherish as one of my favorites.

Donald Tingle, A longtime fly angler whose most cherished memories on the water include fishing on the Duke of Wellington’s estate in England

My guys, Trev and Nathan, spent the week fishing with their old Dad when Casting into Mystery arrived by post. I’ve only had a cursory look at it but I can safely say it’s very special. Rob (Reid) has captured the essence/thread/passion of the why’s of fly fishing. Although a paperback, the book has the distinct quality of a hardcover. Wesley (Bates’s) ‘cuts’ are both superb and beautiful. I appreciate the time the author and engraver have taken to weave together each chapter. There’s so much more I could say. Love how they manage to balance all that makes fishing with a fly so magnificent. This book is a keeper.

After reading Casting into Mystery I find it an important book in the context of both the history of fly fishing and the writers who have contributed to its growth.

Al Hassall, a Terrace Bay, Ontario angling artist/illustrator has published work in many angling journals & magazines including Atlantic Salmon Journal, Fly Fisher, Fly Fusion, Outdoor Canada, Ontario Out of Doors, The American Fly Fisher & Fly Fisherman, as well as numerous books including Becoming a Fly Fisher, by John Randolph; Great Lakes Steelhead, by Rick & Jerry Kustich; & three memoirs by Jerry Kustich, At the River’s Edge, A Wisp in the Wind & Around the Next Bend
Ink Drawing of Streamer Fly by Al Hassall

Rob has been a close friend since we met in Grade 10 more than half a century ago. I knew he was passionate about fly fishing but I didn’t think he was obsessive about it. I learned things about him I didn’t know while reading Casting into Mystery. It was like meeting someone you think you know for the time.

Dave Salhani, while not a fisherman, let alone a fly angler, Wasn’t discouraged from reading his longtime friend’s memoir

Casting into Mystery is richer than David Adams Richard’s Lines on the Water.

Judith Miller, Retired English professor at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo & founder of Stonegarden Studios publishing company

Casting Into Mystery has opened a bigger world to me. It has been my first and greatest inspiration. The way Rob folds in literature, nature study, personal experience, (and yes, I detect a ‘spiritual’ approach) into his fishing life resonates with my own interests, aspirations and world view.

Doug Kirton, Canadian artist & associate professor in the Fine Arts department at the University of Waterloo whose work has been exhibited across Canada, in addition to the United States, Switzerland and China. He is new to fly fishing.

Just received my copy of Casting into Mystery. Wow, what a beautiful piece of work. Robert Reid, Wesley Bates & Porcupine’s Quill have mastered a rare perfect balance of text, image & design.

DoN Sisler, Letterpress Enthusiast.

I’m not a fisherman. However, I believe Robert Reid has written a wonderful, thoughtful, often elegant book that touched on many things I do care about—art, literature, spirituality, family, friendship and, dare I say, love. I probably enjoyed his sharing the ups and downs of raising children and the coming and going of love relationships as much as anything. Casting into Mystery reflects the breadth and depth of his life experience (if I might say so) and it hit many lovely notes for me.

I just finished Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose (one of the writers Rob discusses) and there were so many other references in his book that delighted me along the way including (going on memory now) Mary Oliver, Thoreau, Wendell Berry, Ted Hughes, Cormac McCarthy, et al.

I love the Group of Seven and was fascinated by the stories Rob tells that were new to me; I very much enjoyed the musical references to Eileen McGann, Garnet Rogers and others; and I was impressed with his writing about the natural world, which is so important to him.

Apologies, I do go on; goes with being seventy—or so my children tell me! Just to say, Casting into Mystery is a lovely read. I look forward to the next one.

John P Asling, Toronto-born writer & editor living in Blackheath, London has published fiction & poetry in Canada & the United Kingdom including two works of fiction, A Crack in Everything & Time Enough for Sadness.

Lyrical & literate. #CastingIntoMystery @RobReid30 is as much concerned with the mysteries of life as the fate of #TomThomson or the enduring allure of fly fishing.

So much inner weather. So many philosophical angles on angling. A river of wonder runs through it. Wade on in.

Jeff Hicks, retired sports broadcaster & award-winning newspaper sports reporter

5.0 out of 5 stars

Beautiful Book in Every Way

Casting Into Mystery is a great example of a terrific author, amazing illustrator and a caring press turning out a truly wonderful piece of art. Fly fishing books are a dime a dozen, and when a transcendent gem like this turns up it eventually reaches a wider audience. Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy while you can.

Reviewed in Canada on January 8, 2022 by E. Robillard on (verified purchase)

Many thanks, Rob, for your armchair thoughts and musings . . . and thanks further for the Sweetgrass pitch . . . [In your writing] you mention all my favourite people and talk about the wonderful ways of water and trout–all from the heart . . . keep it coming but fish as much as you can before that last cast comes.

Glenn Brackett, Master Bamboo Rod Maker & cofounder of Sweetgrass Rods

Love the book, Rob. You have a truly magical gift for writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Dave Whalley, former professional guide across Southwestern Ontario, including the Grand, Saugeen, Maitland, bighead & Credit rivers, & former president of KW Flyfishers