With the holidays upon us and winter setting in, now might be the perfect time to look at some reading material for the fisher in your life. Books make a great last minute Christmas present, and are really a thoughtful gift for any occasion, especially for fishers. We are always looking for new ways to practice our sport, and many of us simply enjoy curling up by the fireplace and reading about the more esoteric aspects of our most cherished of pastimes, partaking in a story that revolves around both its function and art.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at just a sampling of the wide array of books available.
There is a long tradition of great literary works tied to fishing. While many of us have read Hemingway’s, “The Old Man and the Sea,” Kenai Peninsula College English professor and avid fisher, John Messick, suggests finding a collection that includes one of Hemingway’s more obscure stories, “The Big Two Hearted River.” It is a tale, he says, that is typical of the type of fishing we might be doing ourselves and at the same time conveys the great healing power many of us find within the natural world.
Messick says he would also recommend just about any work by Thomas McGuane, specifically, “An Outside Chance,” a collection of his essays not only on fishing, but on topics such as sailing and shooting as well.
Another of his favorites is “The Habit of Rivers: Reflections on Trout Streams and Fly Fishing,” by Ted Leeson. It contains some fantastic essays, he says, about topics such as fishing in the desert and an ode to the McKenzie River Drift Boat, not only as a means of transportation but also as a fine work of art.
One my own favorite works, and one that has been a favorite of sport fishers for decades, is “A River Runs Through It.” This seminal work by Norman Maclean first appeared in 1976. I especially like that it pays tribute to our connection to wild places and their connection to the metaphysical, in this case through the art of fly fishing.
Residents of the Kenai Peninsula don’t have to venture far to find some of the very finest writing on fishing available. Richard Chiapponne, who lives in Anchor Point and teaches creative writing at UAA, is the author of several collections of short stories and essays. While many of the stories in his collection “Water of an Undetermined Depth” may not be directly about angling, fishing does weave in and out of a majority of them.
His recent book, “Liar’s Code, Growing Up Fishing,” is a collection of personal essays that does rely more heavily on angling as a backdrop while also, beneath the surface focusing on many of life’s trials and travails.
Either of these books would make a fine gift for any fisher who appreciates fine storytelling.
Where to, how to
In recent years there have been a proliferation of texts describing where and how to fish in Alaska. While certainly pleading extreme bias, I must mention my own book, “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” which was designed to be a comprehensive guide not only for those new to fishing the Kenai, but the state in general.
The idea was to focus on techniques that are often unique to Alaska, while at the same time giving anglers a taste, through anecdotes and stories, of what it is like to wet a line in the 49th state.
For a wider perspective, my recommendation is the guidebook “Alaska Fishing: The Ultimate Angler’s Guide,” by Rene Limeres. It is a nuts-and-bolts compendium of where to fish and the most comprehensive statewide guide I’ve seen.
Science and conservation
Anyone interested in learning more about our favorite fish, the salmon, should pick up a copy of “King of Fish,” by scientist David Montgomery. The author does an excellent job of relaying, in an accessible and entertaining manner, the natural history of salmon, including its demise around the world, at the same time providing a valuable lesson on what could happen here in Alaska, the last stronghold of wild salmon, if we don’t take care of our environment.
Another excellent book, this one on the relationship between fisheries and economics and how we, as a people, manipulate both, is “Four Fish, The Future of the Last Wild Food.” In it, author Paul Greenberg delves into what has happened and what the future might hold for four different species of fish, including salmon.
Another recommendation from Professor Messick is “Eels,” by James Prosek.
“It’s rare,” says Messick, “that I read a book for a second time, unless it’s something that REALLY strikes me, and this is one of those books.”
For those unfamiliar with Prosek, he also happens to be a splendid artist and author of a variety of beautiful art books that would make excellent gifts for fishers, such as his highly acclaimed work “Trout, An Illustrated History.”
But Messick also praises his writing. “Eels,” he says, is simply an engaging story, the author making this long lived and very mysterious animal come to life.
The king of fun and funny fishing stories is John Gierach, author of such classics as “Trout Bum” and “Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders.” While Gierach writes about all topics fishing, his best works, in my opinion, are his very wry, often tongue-in-cheek, “ain’t-life-odd,” essays and stories. His most recent collection is “All Fishermen are Liars.”
Some additional books that I haven’t read yet, but am hoping I might find under the tree this year are Ninilchik resident Mike Chihuly’s new book “Alaska Fish and Fire,” as well as “Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from the Salmon Project,” a collection of essays and stories written by authors from around the state and edited by former Alaska Writer Laureate Nancy Lord.
This is only a smattering of the many titles available, most of which can be found at our local bookstores. So, please go out and support our bookstores, our local authors, and have a very Merry Fishmas!
Dave Atcheson’s latest book is “Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas.” He is also the author of the guidebook “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” and National Geographic’s “Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond.” For more info:www.daveatcheson.com.
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Tight Lines, the Peninsula Clarion’s fishing page, publishes on the third Thursday of the month through April and returns as a weekly feature in May. Have a fishing story to tell or photo to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.