Book of the Month May 2020

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A Fun Change of Pace. I, like most of you, I’m sure, am struggling at times with the uncertainty of all we face. When will I get to go fishing again? With whom will I be able to fish? If I do fish with someone, how do we distance properly? Can we use my boat? Lots of such questions…

This week is (among other things) National Library Week. One more in what seems to be a horde of cruel ironies. Yet, one thing we surely can do is READ! While I have a considerable personal library, I hope you all have fishing reading material available, especially because we can’t get to our club library right now. When the time comes that we can, perhaps we will all appreciate such seemingly mundane things as libraries a bit more. I know I will.

Thanks to the generosity of one of our donors, I have had the pleasure of reading Float Fishing Strategies by Neale Streeks. This volume is a real eye-opener, especially for someone who has, like me over time, built up a bit of confidence about my own boat handling skills on moving water. Spending lots of my fishing life on coastal rivers, I learned to row from some real masters. I lived for a while with a retired Navy Chief, a blue-water sailor who could make our little car-topper dance silently over the surface and through disturbances with such apparent ease. He would admonish me sternly about my own rowing if I made even the tiniest splash with an oar. My Uncle guided for steelhead on the Cowlitz and I marveled at the quiet strength he brought to bear on that rugged, storied stream in the classic drift boat he and I painted. Then there is the high school friend with whom I have fished throughout life, on such streams as the Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Stillaguamish, and, most frequently, the Skagit. A true river boatman, he can slip his large, flat-bottomed johnboat up against a hole at the exact spot needed for ease in casting and water coverage at least as well as the best guide in a classic, rocker-bottomed Mackenzie River drift boat. Aside from catching lots of fish, we have recovered many valuable flies from snags because of his ability to maneuver that boat, even in possibly hazardous water. And, I will add, I have drifted the North Fork of the Stillaguamish by myself and still relish the silence and remoteness one experiences on solo journeys.

So, what could I gain from reading Float-Fishing Strategies? Well, as it turns out, lots! The multiplicity of drift boating equipment and its varied purposes, some of which I had never seen. Terminology and wonderful descriptions of different techniques and strokes for different situations – some, like the crawl stroke, of which I myself have used or seen used, but didn’t know they had a name. Perhaps most of all, one will gain a healthy respect for the water and the possibilities for mishaps and even disasters that can occur if one fails to properly anticipate and respond. In fact, the first three chapters deal with such topics in a straight-forward, admonishing manner that will serve to infuse the reader with growing appreciation of hazards she or he may not have really noticed before. There are, for example, drawings and photographs of rafts wrapped around large boulders being extricated by teams of anglers and guides. Others illustrate how a boat can flip and spill its contents (including anglers!) if pushed by current up against a boulder, broadside.

Chapter 3, Avoiding River Hazards, should by itself be required reading for anyone embarking upon their own boat-handling “career” on moving water in the west. Reading it reminded me of conditions I had seen and heretofore failed to appreciate (such as a near-stranding on a deadfall by the current on a sharp bend in the Stilly, or a near-capsize caused by a sweeper on the Skagit’s lower south fork). The strong emphasis on avoidance of trouble is accompanied by instructive illustrations, both photographic and pen-and-ink. The pen-and ink drawings By Oregon guide Dave Hall are wonderfully done, easy to comprehend and, by themselves, worth a look at this book. Check, for example, the sketches showing the proper way to enter moving water from the boat launch, and how to maneuver through a sharp river bend. The black and white photography may appear unremarkable but still shows fine examples of troughs, holes under falls, turbulence from hidden boulders, and other possible water hazards even more experienced drifters may not attend to.

Not all is doom and gloom. There are enjoyable chapters on fly-fishing various types of water, with rowing strategies and boat placement necessary for success. There are even discussions of fly casting, fish release, knot-tying, and reading the various types of water. Which, I guess, should be expected from the title, after all. There is comprehensive guidance on how to choose the right boat (including pontoon boats), with ample discussion of various designs and handling characteristics. Lastly, there is advice on trip planning and a nice discussion on boating etiquette. Partway through the book I was a bit perplexed. It seemed almost as if the author was trying, at first, to discourage all but the most dedicated and driven from float fishing on moving water, such was the degree of alarm and even dread conjured up by the discussions of lurking danger on the river. Yet, any discouragement created was then dissipated by the knowledgeable, enthusiastic discourse on gear, tactics, and planning.

Ultimately, reading Float Fishing Strategies created renewed respect and appreciation for the moving waters in which we fish and, ultimately, restored confidence in one’s ability to navigate and enjoy these wonderful fisheries. Like any skilled, stern instructor, the author takes the reader down and then builds him back up into someone more knowledgeable and respectful than he was previously. I trust that Streeks will do the same for you if you choose to read Float Fishing Strategies which, one day, will become available in your SFF Library.

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