Tag: book review

Book Review: Top of the Flood

topofthefloodWe were milling around the tarmac of Quinhagak airfield when Tosh Brown turned to me and said …

“With any luck I’ll be home for my birthday.”

“When is it?”

“Tomorrow.”

He’d already told me he was going to release a book around his birthday in 2014, but next year now took on entirely precise meaning. Having spent the past week zipping around on jetboats, freezing in chest deep tidewaters, and emptying fine Scotch bottles with the guy, I’d already heard enough stories to fill three volumes. Generated many a guffaw too, but I also assumed the book would be a rehash of what I’d already gotten a kick out of hearing first hand.

Never underestimate the adventures one can accumulate given fifty years, some college fraternity brothers, and a few kidney stones. It was all news to me, and I am glad I ignored the offer of a review copy and bought the book instead.

Part autobiography, part comic relief, Top of the Flood is a compendium of stories detailing Tosh’s fishing pursuits from the time he was knee-high to a grasshopper up to sending his children off to college. While Tosh is best know for capturing moments from behind the lens – that is until someone breaks off a hefty chrome-bright king right at the net, exacerbating the need for another line out – he can most certainly spin a yarn too. The tales are good ole’ fashioned life on the water, from hopping golf course fences at dawn and dusk to the pairing that just wouldn’t shut up about all the permit they’d never caught. Nary a vignette included that someone immersed in the sport can’t relate to.

There are a plethora of lessons within worth absorbing as well. Less cookie-cutter, fly-fishing-esque methodical teach n’ preach – instead garnered by reading between the lines – the most important might be that fly-fishing is far from a solitary pursuit. You’ll get few angler v. fish blow-by-blows and cliché mishaps; Tosh does relate the myriad of conditions, both man-made and otherwise, to be encountered in worldly pursuit of fins with feathers, but there is steadfast emphasis on the prodigious array of two-legged characters the angler will inevitably run into.

Finally, if you’ve had your fill of salmonids, and now proclaim you are carving a niche chasing alternative species, Top of the Flood may actually serve useful. Because the future of fly-fishing isn’t some exotic Amazonian bass nor even the common carp … it’s big fat bullfrogs.

Just don’t set the hook too soon.

MG signing off (but not without first letting you know you can buy Top of the Flood here)

Mini Book Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars was sold to me as an apocalyptic storyline set in the Rocky Mountain West. I read the reviews, found plenty of previous readers who over-analyzed the opening hook, the character development, the plot, AND the conclusion. I figure that anything people are willing to use time getting worked up over must be worthy. So I clicked the “buy” button and was in consumption mode minutes later.

The Dog Stars takes place primarily in post-pandemic Colorado, and the story should appeal to the outdoorsy type, whether into hunting or fly-fishing, those intrigued by the idea of flying, and even female ranch hands. The inner monologue of the main character, a once everyday guy that goes by the name Hig, makes up the majority of the novel. Some may find the style burdensome – I thought it quite entertaining, particularly as Hig ponders the plight that faces him daily while catching carp with pheasant tails. In water I know is presently inhabited by nothing but trout.

Nice to know that someone can still construct a story that intricately includes outdoor sports, but leaves out the over-baked “we slayed some creatures and then cracked open a Bud” byline. Thanks for the work Mr. Heller.

MG signing off (because it isn’t quite a fly-fishing story, and I liked it even more because)

Editor’s note: While the male half of the population supposedly doesn’t read because women run most publishing houses – though not all publishing houses – men who don’t mind sleeping in the dirt will almost definitely enjoy this novel.

Book Review: Keeper – A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them

The KeeperTo the outsider, fly-fishing must seem inordinately complex. There’s a rod and reel, fly selection, and line and leader for a seemingly infinite number of occasions. And don’t forget to add boxes, packs, waders, and footwear. We haven’t yet touched the vast array of knots, some tied on line as thin as a human hair, let alone the mechanics of casting, which require more than a rudimentary understanding of the laws of physics. It is no wonder the yarns we you fishing folks spin are so outrageous – there are too many details to keep track of!

Martin Donovan’s Keeper, a first person narrative of life as a riverkeeper, both mirrors the countless nuances of fly-fishing life and offers up its antithesis. Set primarily on the Nursling beat of the River Test, Donovan tends to both fish and family, patron and poacher, all the while building bridges between the overzealous sportsman and the eccentric tourist. Endless pontification on why people cast the feather this book is not. Instead, Donovan explains why some of his clients prefer a nap on one of his many meticulously constructed riverside benches, or look forward to a fine single malt at days end even more than a fine Atlantic Salmon at the day’s beginning. As instructor and accomplice, he shares the experience with both candor and wit…

Early on, I learned that the anglers who arrive looking like fly-fishing catalogue models are very seldom as experienced as they look. Many times I have watched impeccably turned-out fishermen thrash the water into a frenzied lather and not only scare most of the fish in the Test, but a good deal of them in the Itchen, as well.

Donovan’s dry humor is littered throughout, and you won’t need an encyclopedic understanding of fly fishing for the chuckle either…

Surprisingly, I do drink quite a lot of wine in the fishing lodge, but only to be sociable and because I’d be rude to refuse. I’ve often thought that’s probably the typical opening line used at most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “No, I haven’t got a drink problem, my Mum always told me to be polite and outgoing.”

While you might have difficulty imagining a more idyllic setting than a classic English chalkstream, the author has since moved on to what he describes as the even quieter pastures of the Whitchurch beat. It’s a clue to future page turners that the fly-fishing life Donovan describes is anything but boring, yet the tale comes off absolutely simple and genuine. A thoroughly immersing read, it’ll leave you wanting nothing more than being there with the author.

The only disappointment for me was that I wasn’t.

Keeper – A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them, by Martin Donovan, is available for pre-ordering via Departure Publishing.

MG signing off (to figure out how to get some time on the Test)

Book review: The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World

To cast a fly to a fish is to hope – hope that it is hungry. The same goes for tailing fish, those bobbing and weaving in the water column, and even cruisers if you are feeling exceptionally confident (and lucky).

To cast yourself into the whirlwind called life is, however, more risk than wishful thinking. Putting yourself out there every day, regardless of your innate skill (or lack thereof), and trying to make the best of it requires courage. To do it all with some semblance of dignity, self-reflection, self-correction, and a modicum of empathy are the only true determinants of success, at least according to this technologist finance geek fly-fishing bum. If I could put myself in the shoes of one Ian McBride, whose fictional [?] life is chronicled in Randy Kadish’s The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World, I sincerely hope that I could look back and say I did half the job he did.

McBride’s journey is one of never ending learning, and one he questions himself constantly about. Albeit a slow start, fly casting, and fly-fishing, becomes the protagonist’s window into a world of relativity. The storyline is immersing – some might find it almost too much so. You don’t feel like you are there, but instead wind up convinced you are Ian. In his head, thinking his thoughts. Acting on his feelings. I didn’t mind – he’s a good egg.

For the fly-fishing aficionado, some interesting history of the sport is gracefully weaved into the story, as is the sublime experience itself…

Where I came from and where I was going no longer mattered; so even though I didn’t catch another trout, I wasn’t disappointed about anything, until I looked at my watch and saw the time.

Many can surely relate. I know I can.

I’ll wrap by noting again that the book starts off somewhat slow, but by the end of the first quarter it does not disappoint. That beginning is purposeful background, one that allows you to understand the how’s and why’s of one young person’s gradual advancement to adulthood. Trials and tribulations are thoroughly included, which makes the book all the more genuine.

The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World is available in both paperback and a Kindle version, from Amazon.

Editor’s note to the government types: I am not generating any revenue from book link click-throughs because the Colorado legislature has seen it in their hearts to indirectly put the kabosh on affiliate revenue in our fair state. That stupidity aside, the author sent me the book on the condition that if I didn’t like it I would not review it. I read it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hence acted accordingly.

Book Review: The Alaska Chronicles

I’m driving north on Colorado Blvd. when the phone rings. I reach into my pocket and think I’ve got a crumpled up bar receipt in there – it turns out to be a mousie fly pattern, one I tried on bass at least a week ago. “These shorts went through the wash yesterday,” I think to myself. Yet the deer hair is unscathed, and I tied it myself. Then I push the answer button: “Hey…I just won the Powerball, and I want to share half the winnings with you!”

My evening would get even better – the copy of The Alaska Chronicles I ordered a few days prior had just arrived. It winds up taking under seven hours to complete the read. One trip to the liquor store once I hit the pictures – The Ocean playing on the radio during the trip there, and Lunatic Fringe blared on the way back. I must get home to those pages, but in between a decision to make: does this work require cheap beer, or a cheap wine? At less that $20 for three liters, boxed white it is.

At 11pm, snoring dogs huddled under my feet and the compelling urge to fill up the glass again, I find it fitting to address this compilation directly…

An Open Letter to author Miles Nolte

Dear Miles,

First, I hope this letter finds you, and finds you well. Guiding again this season? Or off to graduate school? Whatever makes you happy – where there’s a will there’s a way.

It is difficult to explain how enthralled I was by The Alaska Chronicles, other to say I had to absorb it cover to cover in one single evening. During the adventure I gathered supplies and hunkered down, one phone ring the only disturbance. Said call was from a dear friend, a fly fishing guide – he’s getting married soon and wanted to confirm my attendance at the pre-party. “Of course I’m going to be there.” But right now I had to get back to Alaska.

I must hereby inform you that your book will be passed on to that fishy soul, pitched as a pre-packaged lesson in perseverance and fortitude – while I’d rather keep your work in my own collection, I must now share it. As you so eloquently stated, success is a matter of both knowledge and skill, and I am now convinced there must be a symbiotic relationship between the two. The Alaska Chronicles should be required reading for both guides and clients venturing into the Alaskan experience, or setting forth into any water together for that matter. Attitude is the last ingredient in the formula – those that are fun to be with on the water make for the best days, no doubt. Maybe this is why your finest hours always wind up being those when and where you are fishing with your friends, regardless of the landed outcome.

Lastly, with the understanding that much of what you wrote was consumed by your colleagues as it happened, I can only say I wish I had been there. But the book is certainly one hell of a consolation prize.

Kindest regards…

MG signing off (to weasel my way into The Drake forum?)

Book Review: Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout

It’s an oldie by ‘books in the internet age’ standards, but it’s still a goodie. Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout was written by Bob Linsenmann and Kelly Galloup with one goal in mind – figuring out and communicating what makes big trout tick so you can catch more of them.

The Meat

The main premise of ‘Trophy Trout’ is that the angling prizes are anything but friendly. In fact, based on the extensive biological and habitat research the authors (who just happen to expert fly fishers) performed, once trout get into the 20+ inch range they turn into angry, carnivorous predators that seek out steak dinners at night – and sometimes travel miles to do so. During the day, they stake out territory to rest in – territory they guard with ferocity.

Big trout don’t pay much attention to insects, Linsenman and Galloup say; it’s just not efficient to do so. The energy they might expend rising to a bug generally exceeds the amount of calories they would otherwise intake. Instead, they eat other fish, along with crawfish and other underwater invertabrates (and as some may remember, small mammals and baby birds if the opportunity presents itself). They need large amounts of protein to support their mass, and these big meals are what it takes.

So how do these discoveries affect the fly fisherman, particular if one is generally fishing by day? Well you aren’t targeting hungry fish per se – instead, what you are trying to do is literally piss them off! You are attempting to invoke the ‘fight response’ in a fish that is trying to rest before the dinner bell, and is hell bent on protecting it’s territory in the meantime. You toss a monster fly on the trophy’s head, and strip to emulate the flight response of a fish (or other creature) that just realized it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. The monster gives chase, and you know what happens next.

The details on trout behavior really hit home, especially when you start thinking about how many small and medium size fish you always seem to catch on dries and nymphs (and in the usually spots). I’d love to give you a blow-by-blow on the techniques they describe, but you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway – you just have to read them for yourself. But what I will clue you in on is this…some of their methodologies will seem entirely unorthodox to the post-novice angler. The reason: big trout are often NOT where you’ve been taught to expect them to be during the day; the descriptions of how to target them reflect that. Another hint…big trout aren’t afraid of very much – by the time they reach ‘trophy’ size they are the veritable kings (and queens) of their castles – the authors’ attempts to taunt them during the many hours of diving research they did actually produced some aggressive responses…at the authors…from the trout!

Next Edition, Please

The book was published in 1999, and while I found it extraordinarily informative I do believe it’s ready for an update. First off, equipment has come a long way, meaning the rod action definitions may no longer apply. For example, medium action rods (which the authors suggested were suitable for streamer fishing) are now more apt to be designed for delicate dry fly action. I’m of the opinion that the medium-fast to fast action rods of today are the necessary item. My streamer rod is a Sage 690-3 SP, which was originally pushed as a medium-fast action with a tip suitable for intricate mending – it does a pretty good job picking up sinking lines (as long as they are small diameter) but I probably wouldn’t venture to cast streamers all day with anything less.

The authors’ definition of “trophy fish” (in the 20” range) is a little out-of-date as well. During my time out in the Western U.S. I’ve caught plenty of twenty-inch fish (even on the smallest nymphs), and I am certain I am not alone. Twenty-five plus is the new millennium trophy – the true pig everyone who reads this book should be shooting for. And I’ll add that is one more reason to be armed with a rod with the backbone to handle such beasts.

Conclusions

What Linsenman and Galloup are preaching is certainly worth practicing, and I believe that’s exactly what it takes to successfully employ their methodologies, practice. I consider myself a fairly strong caster, even in wind, and grew up stripping big flies – yet after three full day outings in some of Colorado’s prime ‘Gold Medal’ waters I still don’t have a beast to show for it using their techniques. That’s not to say I haven’t picked up a few fish with big streamers since, it’s just that most were taken towards dark. In other words, I’ve yet to invoke the territorial fight response in an angry brown during daylight hours. Nonetheless, everything the authors say makes practical sense, which means I’m nowhere close to giving up trying.

I am giving Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout 4.5 stars, with the caveat that it would surely get a perfect 5 in an up-to-date next edition.

You can pick it up here: Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout: New Techniques, Tactics, and Patterns

Happy hunting, trophy chasers!