Tales of a fisherman … really

Last September, I wrote my worries that friend and angling author John Gierach was reported as “unaccounted for” by Colorado authorities in the wake of the huge floods that had hit the St. Vrain River, the town of Lyons, and the nearby area of Colorado where Gierach lives.

All Fishermen Are Liars

By John Gierach

Simon & Schuster, New York

Soft cover, 256 pages, $27.99

Last September, I wrote my worries that friend and angling author John Gierach was reported as “unaccounted for” by Colorado authorities in the wake of the huge floods that had hit the St. Vrain River, the town of Lyons, and the nearby area of Colorado where Gierach lives.

Recently I received a letter from John explaining that, when you decline to be evacuated or rescued in Colorado, they designate you “unaccounted for,” which does not mean “missing,” and that he and his were OK and had been working hard with his neighbours on flood recovery work.

Accompanying the letter was a copy of the Flood Issue of the Redstone Review, the area newspaper owned, edited and published by Susan de Castro McCann, Gierach’s partner or spousal facsimile, as we used to say in my old family law days. The issue contains a long Gierach story taking you there, telling you what an all but biblical flood is like, and describes what you and your neighbours do to survive and get on with your lives.

Two days later, I received a publisher’s proof copy of Gierach’s new book, All Fishermen Are Liars, which was due for release on April 1.

As usual with Gierach, the catchy title has little relevance to the contents of the book. I dove right in and, once again, was taken away by this author’s rare gift; reading Gierach is like being there with him on his fishing trips around home in Colorado, to Wyoming, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Washington state, Alaska, our Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Most of the 22 hybrid story-essays in the book are reworked from Gierach’s long-running Sporting Life back-page column in Fly Rod and Reel magazine, which is no longer available on Red Deer newsstands because not enough copies of arguably North America’s best fly fishing magazine were being sold. So I have subscribed just to keep up with and go with John, having first and last actually fished with him in west Central Alberta in 1999.

One exception may be the first piece in the book, A Day at the Office, which I don’t recall reading before anywhere, and which, even though written in the second person, is obviously autobiographical and about how the young “Trout Bum” (title of his now-classic first fishing book) came to earn his living doing the two things he loved to do most: fly fishing and writing.

Gierach immediately transports me back to my own youth in Brooks in the 1940s with this: “Chances are you’re raised in the country, or in a small town surrounded by country. … You experience the kind of freedom that will be unknown to future generations. This is the 1950s, when kids are still allowed to run wild as long as they’re home by dark.”

Because he is known to be a rare fishing writer who can and will keep his mouth shut, Gierach is ”sometimes taken to secret glory holes that few ever get to see.” (Did that myself.) “The worst that happens,” Gierach writes, “is that you occasionally go fishing without turning a profit: something normal people do every day.”

There’s only one of the pieces in the book that I didn’t enjoy, Tenkara, about the latest fly fishing fad, alleged to be an ancient Japanese method of fishing with a long, limber rod, no reel and a short line tied to the tip of the rod, leader and single fly.

I kept thinking that never-trendy John had been cornered and conned by a promoter peddling tenkara equipment, and that the piece should have been titled Zen and the Art of Losing Trout … or left out of the book.

John Gierach is known for his laconic, funny, acerbic one-liners, and this new book has more of them than in his last two books. As a lawyer, I loved his take on counsel for big business in environmental matters: “the kind of lawyers who … could get a sodomy charge reduced to tailgating.”

Out and about, we meet all kinds. This Gierach writes of a landowner with some prime water:

“Roy reminds me of a character in a James Crumley novel who ‘had a heart as big as all outdoors — and a liver as big as a salmon.’ ” Or this: “In a blue-collar cafe down there I get a cup of coffee that doesn’t cost seven dollars, doesn’t come with whipped cream and sprinkles, and isn’t served by a blond girl named Tiffany.”

Gierach’s Colorado home waters are much like ours and that explains some of his travels: “By the time it’s what most would think of as fishing weather, with green grass and birds singing at dawn, the rivers are in full runoff and it’s time to pack your stuff and blow town in search of clear water.”

Or go with Gierach simply by staying home and reading this enjoyable book. …

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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