E. P. Dutton, 2 volumes, $75.00
Ernest Schwiebert had a head start on most of us, for at an early age his father, a professor in Chicago, took him along to the April Opening Day as well as on weekends of hooky in May, and all summer, heading north to the streams in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which were more abundant and less flogged than today. Even so, it is miraculous that in less than four decades one man should have traveled so far, fished so many streams in such pleasant company, and acquired such knowledge.
Everyone should begin by reading his first chapter, “The Genesis of a Fisherman”; thereafter you are drawn to the unfamiliar—to the Chinese who fished with bamboo rods and silkworm gut in the first millennium; to what Walton, Nowell, and John Donne contributed to fly-fishing in the classic age in England; and to the kinds of trout with which one has had the least experience.
Schwiebert was in his teens when he was sternly reproved by an elder for killing too many fish in a single day. The words sank in, and today they apply to those of us who now depend on put-and-take. Brook trout, says the author, are a poor long-term investment for stocking: 50 to 60 percent of the brookies stocked in our marginal eastern waters are caught within a few days, barely 5 percent carry over. And toward the close of the second volume, before one gets to that fine chapter on “Ethics, Manners and Philosophy Astream,” there is an excellent piece on “Nymphing.”
Mr. Schwiebert has done his own illustrating—the color plates of flies with their delicate distinctions, and the black and white portraits of the famous anglers. The best is of Roderick HaigBrown, that great Canadian; the worst is of Ernest Hemingway looking like a Mexican bandit.
Fly fishermen are of two grades: those who fish to fish, and those who fish to eat. The one serious omission in Schwiebert’s dictionary is the delight of smelling and tasting a fat spring-run brook trout. There’s nothing here for the taste buds.