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The Fishing Life: An Angler's Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors

"No one takes us deeper into the currents and culture of fly fishing than Paul Schullery. In The Fishing Life, his eighth book on this subject, he shows again why he is in a class by himself. This collection has it all: experience, erudition, wit, lively style, and most of all, wisdom and the kind of impeccable knowledge that only comes from lifelong attentiveness to angling."⎯Robert DeMott, editor of Astream: American Writers on Fly Fishing

"In these stories fishing is life—part predatory play acting, part poetry, part excuse for an adventure—but inseparable from daily existence. Schullery, so knowledgeable about so many things, is a wonderful and humble companion (not to mention funny), taking us on a beautiful watery journey through his stories. I love this book!"⎯James Prosek, author of Trout: An Illustrated History, Eels, and Ocean Fishes

"The Fishing Life is about just that: not so much the nuts and bolts of fishing as the life a fisherman lives and the things he can see and learn if he pays attention."⎯John Gierach, author of Trout Bum

Excerpt from The Fishing Life: An Angler's Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors, from the "Epilogue:"

If you fish long enough, eventually you’re going to get it right. You will unpreventably and perhaps to your eventual regret discover the joys of success. The first time, even the first few times, it happens you will probably write it off as proof of the aphorism that even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.

But if you keep fishing for a long time after that, you’re finally going to get it so right that you look like an expert. This has happened to me on a handful of highly visible occasions, and I have explored its awkward consequences in my book Royal Coachman. But I left a lot out of that story. The more I think back on my supposed trajectory of refinement as an angler, the more I puzzle over the course I have taken.

The first time I remember getting it right, visibly and for an important audience, was during my first years in Yellowstone. I had been fly fishing for three or four years, and I had a local stream where I could almost always catch something—not because I was such a hot fishermen but because this stream was generous beyond all human dreams of natural benevolence.

As it happened, I had invited some co-workers over for a trout dinner. During the day of the dinner, one of my invitees—an extraordinarily smart and beautiful one, by chance—asked me what kind of trout they were, and I was forced to admit that I didn't know because I had not yet reduced dinner to possession but intended to do so in the hour or so between when I left work and when I'd told my friends to show up. I was a little embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t yet ready to serve dinner, but her response was both gratifying and daunting⎯a wide-eyed expression that said, through its stunning grace and withering sharpness, that I was either an amazingly skilled outdoorsman or an arrogant ass, and that dinner would no doubt show her which.

This really was a good trout stream. Up until the moment when I mentioned that I had not yet bothered to catch the trout, it seemed like a minor detail, like stopping at the store for some milk. But once I experienced the expression on that magical face, the stakes changed. I have never before or since felt so much pressure to hook something, anything, as I did that afternoon.

In the hour or so that I had allowed myself, I did manage to pick up the absolute minimum number of trout needed to fill out the menu. But the pressure to do so was oppressive, and the desperate iffiness of the whole enterprise took all sense of accomplishment from doing it. Yes, there were the trout, right there in the pan. But they looked pretty small when I served them. I always wondered if she noticed that as much as I did.