A great deal has been written about fly-fishing, perhaps more than about any other sport, and these literate anglers certainly show no signs of slowing down. In a recent month, for example, I found notices in my mailbox of at least half a dozen new volumes, ranging from a $30 limited-edition job brought out by a small Oregon publisher to works produced by such large Eastern houses as Lippincott and Macmillan.
The latest spate of publications follows the usual trend. Most are "how-to" manuals, the rest nostalgic looks at fishing in the good old days. Apparently none of these books—and in fact only one of the dozens I've seen in recent years—deals in any significant way with the conservation or rehabilitation of our lakes and streams and the life they support. The one book that does is The Stream Conservation Handbook, edited by J. Michael Migel.
This seems odd. As towns and farms drain water for their needs, as industry pollutes, as engineers dam, our fishing writers continue to tell us—and retell us—how to wade, cast, predict insect hatches, how to tie flies and how to cook the fish we catch. The truth is that all of these are matters that most fishermen of average coordination and moderate intelligence already know about or can readily learn on their own. The nostalgia books can be counted on to relate, often in purple prose, the glorious fishing of old with close friends on lovely, unspoiled rivers or remote mountain lakes. These joys of fishing are real enough, and there is certainly a place for them in the literature of the sport, but surely it has become as important to preserve such joys as it is to recount them.
Passing mention is given to conservation in some of these books, but it usually takes the form of regretting that things aren't the way they used to be; rarely do they explain what might be done to keep conditions from worsening, or to improve them. Yet fly-fishermen in particular are by necessity good amateur ecologists, and those knowledgeable and literate enough to write books should be capable of explaining to their less experienced fellows what the many problems are and what might be done to alleviate them.
The situation is unfortunate. Rather than teaching us how to catch the ever rarer fish in our lakes and streams, it would be encouraging to see some fishermen write and some publishers print a few books which could help assure that the next generation of anglers will have an opportunity to figure out how to do it, too.