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 and author of At the River’s Edge, A Wisp in the Wind, Around the Next Bend and Holy Water, and 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, author of A Cast in the Woods and Fish On, Fish Off and 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 and longtime 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, 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, 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 and 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

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 and The Perils of Persephone

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, 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

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 journalist and book reviewer

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

Steve Galea, Assistant editor of Ontario Out of Doors

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 five: 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 and podcast fly tier, is chairman of the Thames River Anglers Association and a member of the Forest City Fly Fishing Club and 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 and a member of the Hamilton Area Fly Fishers & Tiers

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