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The Rise: Streamside Observations of Trout, Flies, and Fly Fishing

Fly fishing brings out the naturalist in anglers. There is so much about wild water and wild fish that raises difficult and endlessly engaging questions that it could hardly be otherwise. One of the grandest traditions in the sport's literature is the study of how trout feed. For centuries, anglers have studied trout behavior, trying to sort out the hows and whys of it all. Since the turn of the Twentieth Century—the time of the great British writers G.E.M. Skues and Frederic Halford—a procession of insightful and ever-more scientifically informed angler-naturalists have studied the feeding activities of trout. Paul Schullery's The Rise: Streamside Observations on Trout, Flies, and Fly Fishing honors and advances that tradition. What began as a casual effort to photograph trout quickly turned into a discovery-rich study of the intricacies of trout feeding that were unavailable to many of those earlier generations of observers simply because they lacked the photographic technology to "stop" the fish in their lightning-quick feeding motions. Beginning with hundreds of remarkable photographs of rising trout at Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park, Schullery applied his natural-history background to a careful review of recent advances in the scientific study of fish feeding physiology. The result is a pathbreaking book that should be as much of interest to nature enthusiasts generally as to anglers. Having established a new perspective on how trout feed, Schullery then devotes the second half of this highly acclaimed book to evaluating a host of fascinating ideas and traditional wisdoms about the flies we tie and fish.

"Eminent naturalist Paul Schullery uses a series of photographic studies to reveal the subtleties of trout-feeding behavior and provide new insights on how, when and why a trout takes fly. Fun, fascinating reading for any devoted angler."—Trout

For serious anglers seeking to enrich their understanding of trout feeding and fly fishing, The Rise is a must read.—Dr. Robert Behnke, author of Trout and Salmon of North America

"How can something so good be written about a subject that has apparently been done to death? Well, for all the time, effort and words that have been spent on the analysis of trout rise forms, much of what has been printed in the past is based on speculation, rather than observation. . . . With dogma so deeply entrenched, there is plenty of room for a new approach to the subject and true to form, Paul does not disappoint, treating the reader to the best set of pictures I have ever seen of trout rising to naturals, before explaining what you are seeing with the aid of a good old-fashioned bit of science. By the time the author begins a demolition job on current thinking about hooks and leaders the old boys will be ready to drum him out of the club, but I can't find fault with any of it and if you are looking for some new ideas on fly fishing, this is the only game in town."—Andrew Herd, author of The History of Fly Fishing

"Historicizing the intuitively simple as well as the determinedly complex is Paul Schullery's unparalleled forte as an angling writer. Part scientific treatise, part empirical observation, part fly fishing history, part autobiography, The Rise is one of those books that unsettles traditional assumptions, makes us look again—harder and longer—at the most basic and nearly invisible elements of the sport."—Robert DeMott, editor of Astream and Afield

Excerpt from The Rise: Streamside Observations of Trout, Flies, and Fly Fishing, from Chapter One, "Feeding Frenzies:"

It was about noon on a very hot, bright, early July day. I walked out on the bridge and discovered that quite a few fish were feeding steadily on small mayflies and stoneflies. Eagerly rising trout are as exciting to me as the sight of a grizzly bear, and I was immediately caught up in the scene. Art for art's sake went straight out the window, and I went into my own little feeding frenzy. Rather than looking for a fish tastefully holding over just the right color of bottom vegetation so I could get my evocative trout picture, I spent the next hour or so banging away at these eager risers.

If you're already a fly fisher, you know what happens when you come upon a scene like this. Even when you're not fishing, you feel a powerful need to engage the scene somehow. The camera was my way in.

Even as I was taking pictures, I wondered if my nice-but-none-too-fancy autofocus camera and 300 mm lens were up to the challenge of stopping the action, and what I might find when I could finally examine the pictures. I went from feeding frenzy to the suspense of waiting for the film to get processed.

What I found was as exciting as watching the risers. In that first couple hundred images, a surprising number of which weren’t just blurry splashes, the camera stopped the action at many distinct stages of the rise and take. What was just a quick flash of action when I watched it was revealed as much, much more. The more I looked the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I needed to go back and take more pictures.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, almost a joke, really, was that I inadvertently discovered that the best time to take pictures of these trout was the worst time by the standards of most wildlife photography. Photographers like the richly saturated and moody light of dawn and dusk, not the glare of midday. During my outings on Fishing Bridge, the sunlight came straight down onto the water.

But I wasn't after art; I was after information. The great gift of all that light was in a series of revelations—of subtle features in the surface of the river, of telling details in the behavior of the fish themselves, and—perhaps most surprising of all—of the distinct, halo-edged, powerfully diagnostic shadows on the streambed directly beneath the fish.

And because this was wild nature, and because wild nature becomes more provocative and graceful the better we observe it, the pictures were beautiful in a way I had not dreamed of matching in my artful ambitions.

Each subsequent visit to the bridge led me back into the angling literature and, perhaps more fruitfully, into the scientific literature on the physiology of feeding fish. I would look through each new batch of pictures, notice something new, think about it until I wondered about something else, then look through the pictures again, and again, and again. I’m still not done looking, and the more I find the more I realize I’m a long way from being done taking pictures, too.

Subsequent trips and a growing file of slides have turned into the most exciting new part of my Yellowstone life since the late 1980s, when a couple biologist friends taught me the basics of long-distance wildlife observation, and I ratcheted up my capacities as a passionate observer of the landscape and life in this special place. Now, ironically, I had taken my own long-standing advice, so often given to others, about watching trout as carefully and appreciatively as we watch other wild animals. I had begun a whole new exploration of Yellowstone's freshwater wilderness.