John and A.K.

John and A.K.

Every so often, A.K. Best runs into somebody who is surprised to discover that he is an actual, walking-and-breathing human being-one who creates trout

  • By: Paul Guernsey
Every so often, A.K. Best runs into somebody who is surprised to discover that he is an actual, walking-and-breathing human being-one who creates trout flies and smokes little cigars, no less.

"I thought John Gierach made you up!" they'll tell him.

I think there are a number of things that account for this occasional confusion. The first has to do with Gierach: He is such a fine and fluid shaper of stories that his essays on fly-fishing often read like fiction. But the rest have to do with A.K. himself. Mainly, it's that the role he plays, not just in Gierach's stories, but also in the life of almost anybody he fishes or ties flies with, is one that we've all become familiar with through mythology.

A.K. is Merlin. He is also Doc Holliday, just as he is every other sage in lore and literature who ever used his wisdom and know-how to help a hero out of a jam, or at least to put the jam itself into philosophical perspective. Except, A.K. is real-and he has a real gift for summing up an experience in a few, pithy words, just as he did recently in Gierach's November/December Sporting Life column. John related how the two of them were discussing a particularly unproductive fishing day, and he quoted A.K. as saying, "Well, we said we were gonna go fishing, and we did."

If you are lucky enough to fish with A.K., instead of helping you gun down the Clantons or pull a sword from a stone, he's much more likely to notice that you are struggling, and hand you a fly.

"This one might work," he'll say. And it almost always does.

For a semi-mythological being, A.K. is unusually approachable. From the time I first met him at a 1995 fly-fishing trade show, I felt completely at ease around him. Gierach, though-through no fault of his own-was a different story.

If you've ever been a fan of Saturday Night Live, perhaps you recall the running skit in which Chris Farley-one of SNL's former prat-falling fat guys-would meet a rock star or an actor, and become immediately and moronically tongue-tied. Well, that moron was me when I first met John at that same '95 trade show.

Me: John Gierach? Wow! Hey…do you remember that book you wrote? Sex, Death, and Fly-fishing?

Gierach: Yeah…I remember it.

Me: (Staring and failing to blink) Uh-huh.

Gierach: (Somewhat impatiently) What about it?

Me: Well…that was AWESOME!

Of course, the above conversation took place only in my mind. The real one was actually shorter: We shook hands, I mumbled something and probably turned a little red, and John said something like, "Well, it's good to finally meet you." Then he was off to have a look at the show.

Why did I react that way? Well, I think it's natural to be awestruck the first time you meet a man who's not only living a life that you yourself would like to lead, but is making a living writing about it.

Since then, however, I've gotten used to John. I've even fished a few times with John and A.K., and not been a nervous wreck about it. On each occasion, they've both given me a few pointers along with a fly or two, and then gone on to fish circles around me-which, not only is all I would expect, but I wouldn't want it any other way.