Almost half a century ago, Ray Camp, who wrote the Wood, Field and Steam column in the New York Times with more insight than anyone before or since, set to work with his friend Art Flick, a flyfisherman who knew one stream in the Catskills as thoroughly as an accountant knows his client's finances.
There wasn't a pool, riffle or whitewater pocket of Schoharie Creek that Flick wasn't intimate with — not only from the viewpoint of the angler, but from those of the trout, the aquatic insects and the terrestrials. He took notes on the stream's behavior at all hours, all year.
The result was a tightly composed little book called "Art Flick's Streamside Guide" that chronicled a year in the life of one stream in astonishing detail. Flick knew to the hour of the day what hatches to expect and where to expect them. He wrote of March browns rising in a snowfall, explosions of mayflies thick as a blizzard and midnight feeds that sounded like hogs at a trough.
The book has endured as the standard for all trout-fishing chronicles that aspire to be definitive. Now, there's another. Called "Fly Fishing the Henry's Fork," this 139-page gem by Mike Lawson and Gary LaFontaine takes the reader deep into one of North America's greatest trout streams.
In language as clean and fluent as the river it speaks of, this thoughtfully organized book never bores, seamlessly mixing anecdote with fact in simple, often illuminating prose. Ernest Hemingway once observed that much of American literature can be characterized as how-to. But in our best how-to writing the instruction goes undetected, working just beneath the surface like the best of our acting.
Read "Fly Fishing the Henry's Fork" and you'll learn in spite of your enjoyment; and what you learn will filter through your own experiences on streams you have fished far from the one in the book's title.
Written in Mike Lawson's first-person voice, the book guides you through the seasons of the main river and all its tributaries. It suggests, never directs, what flies to use and how to use them. Nothing important about the Henry's Fork is left unwritten in this miniature masterpiece. Along the way, from one stretch to another, Lawson, through his Boswell, LaFontaine, tells stories of his life on the river.
Recalling younger days in Box Canyon, the first of dozens of great stretches down the twisting, often plunging 100-mile length of the Henry's Fork, Lawson writes that he used to fish an old Montana pattern called the Triple Bar X that had a woven-hair body and a squirrel-tail wing.
One passage stirs my blood and recalls times spent long ago.
"We would just wade wet down the river in our jeans and Converse All-Stars, casting toward the bank and teasing the fly along. We didn't use backing so when we would hook a big trout, we just went down the river chasing it, bouncing off rocks and treading water if it was too deep to wade."
A living river runs through this book, and it's called the Henry's Fork. Buy it, read it through the winter, and in the spring you will see all trout streams with a deeper clarity. It's the next best thing to feeling the current press against your legs.
Unveiled in 2000 by Greycliff Publishing Company, of Helena, Montana, "Fly Fishing the Henry's Fork" can be purchased online at www.greycliff.com. The price is fifteen bucks, but it's worth volumes. Of course, you can always buy it at the Trouthunter Fly Shop in Last Chance, Idaho, hard by the banks of the great river.
Tight lines, folks.