California Literary Review

Man vs Fish: The Fly Fisherman’s Eternal Struggle by Taylor Streit

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March 25th, 2008 at 9:24 am

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Man vs Fish by Taylor Streit
Man vs Fish: The Fly Fisherman’s Eternal Struggle
by Taylor Streit
University of New Mexico Press, 177 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★★

Tales of a Fly Fisherman

This is the tough time of the year for those such as myself who love and live to fly fish, to cast haphazardly-tied amalgams of fur and feather to wild trout while standing knee deep in the middle of a gorgeous trout stream surrounded by jagged mountains and vast native grass prairies that drift off in all directions. Late winter and early spring are often cold, wind and snow swept or foggy and drizzly. I’ve done my time in the weather over the decades and no longer subject myself to this form of mad misery. Instead I read or write or tie flies.

The last two nights I occupied myself with Taylor Streit’s Man vs Fish – The Fly Fisherman’s Eternal Struggle. Streit makes his living guiding sports in his home state of New Mexico and in exotic locales like Argentina and Andros Island in the Bahamas. I’ve been fortunate to fish both places over the years so I enjoyed revisiting them through the author’s words.

As writer John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War, Dancing on the Stones) says in his introduction to the book:

Taylor has been to exciting places I’ll never visit, and he has written about these places. He’s caught peacock bass in Brazil. And he has witnessed people wrestling alligators. He’s bagged a 28-inch Brown Trout in Patagonia while red stags kibitzed from the background…All the tales are good fun and great writing. There’s some wonderful satire to boot…These stories catch fish. And all of them are hefty lunkers.

Sadly fly fishing has devolved from the arcane pursuit and avocation a number of us have devoted unseemly portions of our lives to into big business where bean counters squeeze every last buck from the swells who want to be a part of the in thing. Real guides and outfitters, the ones who love rivers and fish as much or more than their families, are being overrun by newcomers who know nothing of fly fishing’s traditions and innate values. These disreputable thieves are only interested in running as many clients (I love this term) down the river each season as possible to turn as much money as they can and the hell with the health of the riverine system or stressing out the trout.

Taylor Streit is not one of these bastards. He’s the real deal, one of the last of his kind. A dinosaur. He makes a marginal living from guiding out of Taos and Chama, tying flies and writing books that also include Fly Fishing: A Guide’s Guide to Better Fishing and Fly Fishing New Mexico. I can tell. In my own way I’ve been and am there. He lives for being in good country and fishing for whatever is lurking around the next bend in the river. Getting rich or famous are off his map. As he says:

Being one of those souls born a couple of hundred years too late, I search for wild spaces to keep my blood flowing. Thankfully, there are still enough waters and woods to explore in the surrounding mountain ranges. When I have looked into every nook and cranny it will be time to move on. But there seems to be little chance of that, because I grow older each year, while the list of waters that I have yet to visit only lengthens.

Notice he uses the word “visit” instead of “fish.” This says a lot to me. The land, the river, the experience of being there mean as much or more to Streit as catching fish. My kind of guy.

There are sections on the Rio Grande, New Mexico, South America, Salt Water, even Hunting, one titled Collateral Damage and finally Which Way’s Upstream. All of them are illustrated with a solid selection of color and black-and-white photographs. And he can take a reader to these locations with ease.

The roar of the rapids grows stronger as I drop into the box. The view up-canyon is a dramatic blend of angles and bends; the river makes a huge S curve as it crashes through jumbles of basalt. That rock has sloughed off cliffs that rise up in shelves until meeting the forested plane above. Bright green stands of cottonwoods mark several springs here and there. Above the canyon a pyramid-shaped volcano stands in opposition to the V of the gorge, its sharp angles highlighted against the much older and rounder Pot Mountain.

The splendor slows me up, and I lean against a ponderosa to watch how it all sits there. I press my nose to the yellow bark and take a deep whiff of vanilla, then I reach down and grab some of the ever-present sage and rub it over my face.

I didn’t give Man vs Fish five stars because it’s written as well as say Trout Madness or Trout Magic by Robert Traver or anything by Roderick Haig Brown, though I suspect that as Streit progresses as a writer he will approach these two in delivery. The book received the top rating because of its honest, humble approach to something I care deeply about. A rare thing these days.

  • anonymous

    Out kayaking one day, I asked a fisherman if he had to throw his catch back
    Guy: Yep, it’s catch and release.
    me: I’ll never understand why guys find this fun.
    Guy:That’s OK. I’ll never understand why women like to window shop.

  • Karen

    Dear Anonymous,
    This book captures the beauty, serenity and Zen of fly fishing. Of course we catch and release, and many women, like me find the sport perfect to our temperament. Try it you’ll like it.

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