Welcome to Week XXXVIII of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access a boat a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.
Have you ever picked up a book from a new author, and weren't sure what to expect?
But you dig into it anyway.
A couple of chapters in you find yourself pausing to check the first couple of pages to look for a list of other books by the author. You see an extensive list and you smile to yourself. Its smile of contentment in the knowledge there are more books like the one you are holding, and then you turn back to your bookmarked page and devour the rest of the book like some hungry pike hitting a red and white Len Thompson spoon.
By the time you read the last passage you sit back basking in the sheer joy of the read, knowing you must now reassess your list of favourite authors since there is a new contender for a spot in the top-five.
I've had the feeling a few times over the years, Frank Hebert's Dune, the first time I read a Sherlock Holmes tale by Arthur Conan Doyle, the great Saskatchewan author Guy Vanderhaeghe, the Hobbit which left me drooling for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a young teen, or the pure joy of Tom Sawyer the first Mark Twain book I read.
And to that list I now add the name John Gierach.
What makes Gierach so amazing is that he writes generally about fishing, more specifically fly fishing, and most often fly fishing for trout.
I will admit I wondered if you could read an entire book about fly fishing and not find it repetitive, and maybe by the end, downright boring.
Boy did Gierach dispel that notion in a hurry.
My first Gierach book was 'Another Lousy Day In Paradise' and as the title might indicate, it is a book written with a good helping of humour. Gierach manages wry humour at times, while at others he simply relates circumstance and the smile happens naturally.
The book, a collection of essays of fishing, well there are a couple on hunting, but floating flies and hungry trout are the heart of the work, was an absolute joy.
I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book, and often pausing to mute the Baroque music I like to read too, yes I meant to say Baroque, in order to read a passage aloud for the joy of the significant other.
Gierach had hooked me as deftly as any trout he had recounted in the book, and I wanted more even before being finished 'Paradise'.
Now in that regard I was a lucky man. The copy I had of 'Paradise' came with a companion book within the same pages.
And so I quickly tore into 'Dances With Trout'.
It was more of the same, stories that transcended the catching of fish to encompass the experience of fisherman and river joining in something more intimate than the simple act of presenting a fly and hoping a hungry trout would rise to the offering.
"I didn't measure the fish, but I'll guess him at a heavy nineteen or maybe even twenty inches. I took a quick snapshot and released him. He seemed tired, but okay," Gierach wrote in Dances With Trout. "Then I waded over to a convenient rock and sat down for awhile. Catching a big, difficult trout after two days is the kind of thing you have to get straight about.
"At first it's a glorious rush of egotism and you begin to feel like death from above. Then you allow that, although you are getting to be a pretty damned good fisherman, there was still that element of dumb luck about it. A dozen things could have conspired against getting the right drift at the moment the fish was there to see it, and even then he might have decided he didn't like the fly or he might have taken a natural right next to it. In other words, the spiritually profitable attitude here is not pride but humility."
From there Gierach contemplates what many of us do about why we fish, or why we do any of the other hobbies we have such passion in, disc golf, steel-tip darts, crokinole, arimaa, blood bowl coming to my mind.
Gierach offers that the question comes down to the joy of the act, and that is hard to argue.
"Of course, wondering how you should feel about this gets you into the area of why you fish in the first place," he continued in Dances. "That's always been an interesting question to me, but I'm beginning to think the only people who really care are a handful of writers and some idly curious non-anglers. The fishermen who don't worry about it are the ones who seem to be having the most fun …
"It's tempting to launch a psycho-sociological theory here about the fly fisher as cowboy in modern American sporting mythology, but then my old friend A.K. says the proper response to hooking a big, difficult trout is the most primitive one you're capable of, or, as he puts it, 'Me fool fish'."
You quickly realize for Gierach fishing is not about catching fish, well sure that is the goal or you wouldn't put a hook on the line, but if the fish don't cooperate he is not exactly heartbroken. He takes more from fishing than fish. In fact he releases almost everything he catches.
The act of fishing is simply part of a greater experience, one which is about being face-to-face with the natural world and appreciating it in all its grandeur.
"Fly-fishing is solitary, contemplative, misanthropic, scientific in some hands, poetic in others and laced with conflicting aesthetic considerations. It's not even clear if catching fish is actually the point," wrote Gierach in Dances.
It is spending time with friends who share themselves on long drives to favoured fishing spots, and then leave you in solitude to appreciate the river, and the opportunity to fish.
"The real truth about fly-fishing is, it is beautiful beyond description in almost every way, and when a certain kind of person is confronted with a certain kind of beauty, they are either saved or ruined for life, or a little bit of both," he wrote in Another Lousy Day in Paradise.
By the time I had finished 'Dances' I was on eBay looking for more books by Gierach. He is a prolific writer, so there is no shortage of books on the Internet seller.
But it was a little like fishing perch. There were a lot of throwbacks, those books from American sellers unwilling to ship north of the 49th parallel, or thinking $25 was a reasonable shipping fee for a book.
Fortunately there are Gierach books to be had at reasonable cost and sane shipping rates, so I click 'Buy-it now' on copies of his 'The View From Rat Lake' and then one of his earliest offering 'Trout Bum', the latter apparently being his most recognized work, and dating back to 1988. I count about a dozen books which appear in the same vein, essays on the life of a fisherman, and the good news is Gierach is still writing, with 'No Shortage of Good Days' a 2012 release.
While Gierach made me a fan within a few pages, an avid one who is likely to search out more and more of his books as time and cash allow, he did something else for me, actually a few things.
To start his writing introduced me to the amazing world of fishing nonfiction. I had an idea of nonfiction being generally split into one of two categories, books designed to teach you skills, Ice Fishing by Tim Allard as an example, and those scholarly works on fish that are important for their science, but as a casual reader would have equated to tedium by the tome.
Gierach writes neither how-tos, nor scholarly books of science. Instead he relates the highs and yes lows of fishing. There are essays on a stolen fly rod, and a trip to fish salmon which netted only one fish among a cadre of fishermen, and was still a trip so memorable it stands out for me even now.
In showing me this sort of book existed, Gierach has set me on a course of discovery. What has followed is a myriad of Google searches, looks through Amazon.com lists, and investigation of eBay sales, in pursuit of similar books.
I suspect Gierach may be my favoured author, like the first channel catfish last summer, ever memorable, even is not a giant of the species, but there are others with their own visions of the relationship of fisherman, river and fish. I want to read their words so that I might join them on stretches of river I will never have the opportunity to fish firsthand.
But maybe that doesn't matter if I am taken their by well-crafted stories.
And so I have ordered a few other books, earmarked a few others and 'must-haves' in the future. I look forward to each as much as a trip to a new fishing hole.
I will also note Gierach has humbled me deeply. I have never fooled myself into thinking I am a great writer, I am a solid journalist, but that does not also equate to more than solid writing covering the news of the moment.
This weekly fishing article is not news of course, and so there is greater freedom. At times I think I've managed to turn a good phrase, and to share the experiences of my fishing efforts.
But compared to Gierach it's like I am writing a grocery list for some fish dish, while he is penning Hamlet, well more A Midsummer Night's Dream since he writes with such easy humour. He has shown me much about my own writing, and I just hope some of the lessons take, and help me be a writer just a bit closer to his calibre.