Trout Eyes and Slack Line Strategies

Trout Eyes and Slack Line Strategies

Trout Eyes are what you need to see in a special way, a feat mostly of training the mind to detect lines, shadows, anomalies.

Trout Eyes - True Tales of Adventure, Travel, and Fly Fishing
By William G. Tapply
(Skyhorse Publishing: 2007; 212-643-6816;
240 pp.; hardcover; $24.95
It feels wrong to say it, but there's something different about books written by authors who took to fishing so young and completely that every line they've thrown seems woven through their lives, impossible to extract from life's other threads: adventures with friends and family, careers, even romances.

"Bill Tapply is genetically predisposed to turning his mastery at fly-fishing into honest and insightful writing," observes Cliff Hauptman about Trout Eyes, a collection of essays and a short story. Could be-my doctor says something similar about my DNA, mouthing "OMG" while looking at an EKG; but Tapply's musings about his famous fishing father speak to larger lessons learned, often with laughter: About generosity of spirit, and appreciation for the wild, growing up and getting old; about our foibles and grace.

Take "Thinkin' Mean," for example, wherein the author admits to enduring a psychic cramp when, having worked years to unmask a hatch on a homewater-one of those subsurface "What the hell?" events God spared Job because that would have been too cruel-he's greeted by a frustrated newcomer who's asking for an instant insight. He wrestles, but instead of saying something like, "Size 32 left-whorling aphids, in, you know, that blue vertical phase" he visits the memory of a role model:

"I knew what my father would do if somebody asked him for advice. Dad never thought mean when he was out fishin'." Translate that memory to action, advice and shared flies and, "A few minutes later his rod arced, and when he laughed into the gathering darkness, I found myself smiling."

Not all such threads are bright, certainly. They fray and fade, in a fishing life. You lose a river, and those with whom you fished it, watch as an ever-generous fly tier's hands are knotted at last by arthritis. And there might even be a moment when, maybe in fiction, a boy loses his best, last shot at a four-foot striper, when obliged to gaff a corpse.

Trout Eyes are what you need to see in a special way, a feat mostly of training the mind to detect lines, shadows, anomalies. A related vision is required to sift special moments from our own currents and Tapply reveals both here.

Did I mention there's also a fair bit of fishing craft here for those who need a "sporting"" reason to look at this book?

Slack Line Strategies for Fly Fishing
by John Judy
(Stackpole Books: 1994; 800-732-3669;
196 pp.; softcover; $14.95
Several issues back I wrote that I needed to check out Slack Line Strategies for Fly Fishing. The book kept coming up, not in common conversation, but as a reference cast by anglers of uncommon skill. At least once I suspected the title was dropped too casually, as if Somebody-in-the-Know wanted to see if I, too, was a Well-informed-Fishing-Dude.

"Hey, it's all in Slack Line anyway, right?"

"Chapter Three," I said, almost certain that was the (only) one I'd perused while standing at somebody's bookshelf circa 1997. "Maybe," replied my inquisitor, impressed, then we each loosed a twinkle from a gimlet eye while I wondered whether there was a secret handshake and if this is how Freemasons feel.

Yes, I should check out the rest, I wrote. And so, post haste, arrived an envelope from the publisher and a letter saying, in essence, "We're calling you on that," in a friendly evil sort of way.

So beyond reading it, what was I supposed to do?

First, I'd place Slack into my own top five. Then, I might ask have you read it? Don't, if you're one of those dryfly purists or a strict traditionalist of any sort. That's not a highhanded dismissal: There's material in Slack I'm sure you'd find valuable. It's just that author John Judy politely but firmly demonstrates in each chapter his belief that, "In any definition of fly-fishing, there has to be room to explore and to discover new ways of doing things. For me new knowledge is at the heart and soul of fly-fishing."

Now in fly-fishing, as a general rule, statements like that apply to new flies, tying styles and materials, rod and reel technology, lines, exotic species and destinations. Much more controversial are novel or newly developed methods of presentation-especially if we're talking trout streams. But that's what Slack is really about, albeit not to the exclusion of everything else; and "presentation" here encompasses a small galaxy of difficult skills. To put it all together-your read, wade, cast, mend-ensuring the slack required to reduce unnatural movements that will turn a trout's head away, even as you somehow keep enough control to strike, at last…

There are books that add new ideas to your repertoire, or improve on those you own. Then there are books that change the way you think, challenge assumptions that you've taken for granted (and, frankly, aren't eager to abandon), or maybe confirm suspicions you rarely voice.