The Fly Fishing Classic on My Nightstand

In episode 19, Steve and Dave talked about some of their favorite outdoor authors. Here are Steve’s reflections on a classic that is charming and full of wisdom:

A slender volume with a faded dust-jacket sits in my nightstand. It is slightly thicker than my cell phone. My wife wonders how I can read its small print. A friend who loves old books picked it up in England. He recently gave it to me with a note that read: “When I acquired this, I knew it wasn’t for me. I just wasn’t sure who it was for. Now I know.” I’m guessing he realized it was for me after hearing me talk for the umpteenth time about my love of fly fishing.

A fly fishing classic, my nightstand edition was published in England in 1950. But it’s a reprint of a book that was originally published in 1653 and brought to its current form in the fifth edition in 1676. It’s a classic by Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler. This book expresses one man’s love for fly fishing. I suspect that like the Bible, it gets talked about more than it gets read. I have to admit that I have never read The Complete Angler by Izaak Walton until now.

Wisdom from the Fly Fishing Classic
One passage that particularly struck me was the first stanza of “The Angler’s Song.” So allow me to reflect briefly on that stanza. If you’ve not used to reading literature, let alone poetry, here is your chance to taste it.

    As inward love breeds outward talk,
    The hound some praise, and some the hawk:
    Some better pleas’d with private sport,
    Use tennis, some a mistress court:
    But these delights I neither wish,
    Nor envy, while I freely fish.

Pure wisdom. It’s an insight into people like me who would rather fly fish than do almost anything else. Even when I’m in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs take on my Cardinals, I find my mind wandering to fishing a high mountain lake in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. When I play with my grandsons and pretend to be Captain America (or whatever Super Hero they assign me to be), I love every minute of it. But in that moment there are wistful thoughts of helping my grandsons drift a fly down a favorite run on Montana’s Madison River.

The odd thing is that I never experience this sensation in reverse. When I’m fly fishing, I don’t wish I was at Wrigley Field or some other major league park watching baseball. If I’m fly fishing a mountain stream with my boys, I don’t wish we were playing football in the back yard. No, the one time I avoid any struggle with envy is when I’m fly fishing. There’s no other form of recreation in which I would rather engage. Alright, there is bow-hunting for elk. But I remember times when I was elk hunting and I’d cross a stream and wish I had my fly rod in hand.

I don’t envy my cousin who spends weeks in Florida alternating between sky diving and sitting on a beach with a drink in hand. I don’t envy the friend who spends a week at a posh resort and plays eighteen holes of golf every day. In fact, I feel a bit sorry for these folks. They probably feel that way about me. To each his own.

You can have Cancun or Hilton Head. I’ll take the Firehole in Yellowstone National Park. Enjoy that week on a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean. I’ll gladly spend my week in a drift boat on one of the great western rivers. You can have your 9-iron. I’ll take my 9-foot fly rod any day. Run that marathon, polish that ’68 Corvette. Head to a tailgate party before the big football game.

    But these delights I neither wish,
    Nor envy, while I freely fish.