South Africa’s most celebrated fly fishing author, Tom Sutcliffe, on the ability to create an imagined reality out of words. In short, living your fly-fishing in print. To illustrate his point, he makes a selection of the best fly fishing books ever written.

“If modern anglers aren’t reading angling they’re missing out on one of fishing’s greatest pleasures. It’s as simple as that. Because to live something you love through reading it instead of only experiencing it knee-deep in a cool stream, is just as exquisite.”

“In one of my recent newsletters I quoted a piece from Roderick Haig-Brown’s book, A River Never Sleeps, and it resulted in a long debate with a few friends about who the best angling writers of all time are, with more contest about who isn’t on anyone’s list than who is; the sort of debate that often ends up as useful as barking at the moon.

For example, my quickly sketched shortlist included, not in any order, Harry Middleton (The Earth is Enough), Ted Leeson (The Habit of Rivers), Nick Lyons, (Bright Rivers )John Gierach (Trout Bum), Robert Traver (Trout Madness), all very gifted, all very readable.  Bear in mind these are the non-technical writers, ie not the La Fontaines, or the Swisher and Richards etc. My friends and I differed here and there in selections, but we’re still pals.

Then, when I’d stopped barking at this particular moon, I realised I’d left out Ernest Hemingway (Big Two-Hearted River) and Thomas McGuane (The Longest Silence). And there are a few others; like Negley Farson (Gone Fishing), Steve Raymond (The Year of the Trout), James Babb (River Music), Oliver Kite (A Fisherman’s Diary), which is like leaving batsmen such as Don Bradman and Brian Lara out of a list of notably gifted cricketers.

So be it. The fact that I list only one book above against each angler is just a matter of space not selection.

But what was worrying and what prompted this article, was a discussion I had with Tom Lewin and Dean Riphagen of Frontier Fly Fishing a few months ago. Both suggested that any debate about who were the great angling writers of our time is probably irrelevant, because young fly fishers don’t read angling books that much anyway, at least not the classics. They suggested that if you mentioned the name Ernie Schwiebert in the company of a bunch of young anglers many of them would ask, ‘Ernie who?’

So what’s my point? Or as Sol Kerzner apparently often asks, ‘So what’s the bottom line?’

If modern anglers aren’t reading angling they’re missing out on one of fishing’s greatest pleasures. It’s as simple as that. Because to live something you love through reading it instead of only experiencing it knee-deep in a cool stream, is just as exquisite. That’s what I want to prove to any non-believers.

I’ll start with two quotes from the preface to Ted Leeson’s book, Inventing Montana, to give you an insight into his ability to describe a place. See how you like it.

…Montana begins in an arc of stony vertebrae on the long spine of the Americas, in the ribs of rock and veins of rivers, in a skin of soil and the pulse of seasons.

or …

Montana is a word that closes distances; a name for a curved roof of sky and the place fashioned beneath it.

 

For the rest of Tom’s article, check out issue 20 of The Mission below.