Reviews

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 twitter.com/RobReid30/stat

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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

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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 www.classicflyrodforum.com

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

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, writer & editor living in Blackheath, London. Born in Toronto, he has published fiction & poetry in Canada & the United Kingdom. a former youth worker, teacher, journalist & church executive, He has published two works of fiction, A Crack in Everything & Time Enough for Sadness.

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