fly fishing book review
Idaho may be best known for its famous potatoes, but it’s beans that are being spilled in author Chris Hunt’s recently-released book, Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters—or so one may think, based on the title alone. When I first heard that Hunt’s book was hitting the shelves my first thought was, “Sweet, he’s dishing out GPS coordinates.” My second thought was,”Oh, crap—sh#t is about to hit the fan!”
I’m lucky enough to fish Idaho a couple of times each year, but like many other visiting anglers I gravitate toward better-known rivers: after all, it’s not always feasible to do much prospecting when you’ve got only a few days at your disposal. In particular I love fishing the upper St. Joe and each time I’ve visited this gorgeous part of northern Idaho I’ve pondered the lesser-known backcountry streams—hidden gems that are tucked away, off the beaten path, in this part of the state (and elsewhere). I figured this new book would point me exactly where I need to go; maybe even tell me which rock to stand on. And so it was that I opened the book, hopeful the author had done all the legwork for me. After all, with a name like Hunt, certainly it was his job to track down the info and provide the goods. Conversely if you happen to be of the tight-lipped position that nobody should enjoy these resources other than yourself or maybe a scant few locals, you’re likely to cringe when you read the title.
The author breaks the state into 4 general regions: Eastern, Southern, Central and Northern Idaho. Despite offering some very good general information about several rivers and creeks and even some helpful information on where to find these reclusive waters in a Gazetteer, I was largely disappointed to discover that I will still have to do a lot of legwork should I seek them out. Finding these gems on a map is one thing; leaving the road and hiking a few miles to explore them is another. Most won’t go to the trouble and that alone should come as great reassurance to the territorial Idahoans who may not be quite as enthusiastic about having a few of their secret streams shared with the world. Furthermore, Idaho is home to an awful lot of river miles—clearly the author has only put a small dimple in the surface of all the water Idaho has to offer.
The author is a passionate conservationist—that comes across in his writing—and anyone who cares about a resource understands that rivers and fish need supporters. To keep these little gems of backcountry streams under lock and key would be a disservice to the waters themselves. If few people are aware of a particular hidden treasure, when that treasure needs advocacy who’s going to take up the fight? Those that care; those who have been there. By offering a glimpse at a few of Idaho’s “secret waters” the author is actually inviting readers to care.
Hunt writes real good and he weaves personal experiences and a bit of colorful history into his description of the backcountry streams mentioned in his book. This makes for a very enjoyable read and I found myself eagerly pouring over each chapter. At 128 pages I was left wanting more—not necessarily more insider information into the backcountry streams of Idaho—but more of the good stuff that makes this much more than just a ‘where and how-to fish’ guidebook. Like the state of Idaho itself, this book is a gem.
As winter nears and trout fishing slows to a crawl in most places, anglers do one of a few things:
- Switch gears and prepare for winter steelhead fishing.
- Develop a case of the “shack nasties” and hope to maintain their sanity until the Spring thaw.
- Reminisce about the glory days of the past and dream of troutier days ahead.
- Read about trout fishing.
Some may also hop a plane for Patagonia where it’s currently summer, but I’m trying to keep it real here, folks. Frankly I do a bit of all four. With regard to #1, admittedly I’m not a real avid steelhead fisherman because the older I get the less tolerant I become of the foul Pacific Northwest weather that must be endured in pursuit of these ever-increasingly imaginary fish. With regard to #2, cabin fever cannot be avoided—it just comes with the territory, although #3 and #4 help in dealing with #2. Let’s focus for a moment on #4: reading about trout fishing.
I don’t know how many tailwaters there are in the US and Canada, or whether they’re all worthy of fishing. But thanks to 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish (Terry and Wendy Gunn) I do know there are fifty tailwaters that should be on every angler’s bucket list. The publisher offered me a copy in exchange for my thoughts. I’ve no doubt I got the better end of the deal, but here are my thoughts as promised…
This book is a very comprehensive reference for the angler planning to travel to distant rivers, and if you live in a state without any of the listed tailwaters, you’ll be doing some research before you embark on your trip. But is the book necessary? With the internet, anglers can research most any water they wish to fish. Guides, local fly shops, recommended gear, lodging, maps, launch points, seasonal hatches and a score of other helpful information can likely all be found in cyberspace if you put in the time. The internet is, after all, an endless abyss of reference material, among other things. And because of that vastness it’s not always easy to navigate the internet in quest of all the information you may need for a trip. Fortunately the authors have done that for you and it’s all packaged neatly in one volume, divided into 4 sections: The West, Rockies, South, and East. Another thing you don’t get with the internet—something I love—is the smell of a new book when you crack open the cover. And books get better with age. Imagine the condition of this book after it’s traveled with you across the country several times as you check each river off your list. A road-weary book develops a personality all its own: bent cover, torn pages stained from early morning coffee spills—just try to dog-ear a web page…
Lest one should think that no single author (or in this case, two authors) can possibly be experts on 50 different rivers spanning the continent, don’t fret—each river in the book is covered by a chapter author. These folks are the local experts on the rivers listed so you get firsthand knowledge and information from people who have an intimate familiarity with the waters. It’s a very authentic way to cover so many locations. Each chapter includes photos of the river and the fish that beg the reader to come hither. Full-page, detailed maps showing roads, launch points, wading areas and campgrounds in the immediate vicinity are included. The chapter descriptions of each river are very comprehensive and supplemental information at the end of each chapter provides valuable information such as the closest fly shops, outfitters/guides, lodging, closest emergency medical help, eateries and perhaps most importantly, the best place to get a cold, stiff drink. Also provided is the quality of cell phone service in the areas you may be fishing. This is all great information to have. In one place. Try THAT on the internet.
Here is a list of the tailwaters covered:
West: Lees Ferry, San Juan, Provo, Feather, Lower Sacramento, Trinity, Upper Rogue, Deschutes, Owyhee, Henry’s Fork, South Fork (Snake), Upper Columbia (BC, Canada).
Rockies: Dolores, Cheesman Canyon, Dream Stream, Elevenmile Canyon, Arkansas, Taylor, Fryingpan, Gunnison, Blue, Yampa, Green, Grey Reef, Miracle Mile, Wind River Canyon, Madison, Beaverhead, Missouri, Kootenai, Bow.
South: Guadalupe, Chattahoochee, Toccoa, Little Red, Norfolk, White, Lake Taneycomo, South Holston, Caney Fork, Cumberland, Mountain Fork, Hiwassee, Clinch, Watauga.
East: Big Gunpowder, North Branch Potomac, Upper Delaware, Neversink, Farmington, Deerfield, Upper Connecticut, Rapid, Muskegon, Grand
I don’t know about you, but I’ve only got 46 more tailwaters to go before I’ve fished all 50 listed in this wonderful book. I better get busy. If you need more compelling reasons to pick up a copy of this book, the authors look like real nice folks—I’m sure they’d appreciate your patronage.
50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish is published by Stonefly Press and retails for $34.95
I received a copy of Chris Hunt’s book for Christmas, which wasn’t entirely a surprise given that I sent the specific link to my kids with very clear instructions that if they wished to appease their father, they would see to it that this book ended up under the tree. My kids rarely listen to me, but this time they did and for that I am grateful. FYI, here is the link I sent them which produced results: Get the Book.
Before we dive into all that I liked about Shin Deep, I feel I should divulge a little background about me, as a reader of books. I’ve always enjoyed a good book, and I really enjoy a good book when it has something to do with fly fishing. And it used to be that I was a rather compulsive reader. By that I mean that reading would throw my life out of balance: when I started a good book, most everything else in life would be neglected until I’d finished the last word (that neglect included things such as personal hygeine and basic nutrition). However, time changes a person and I have discovered that in recent years I’ve mellowed a bit when it comes to my voraciousness as a reader of books. Actually, I find that I’ve become more easily distracted by myriad other things in life, and thus am not good at taking time to sit down and finish books that I’ve started. As an example, I have
5 4 fishing-related books in a stack that I have every intention of finishing, some day. And I will get to them, eventually. Hey look–a squirrel!
Such was not the case with Shin Deep. While I did not compulsively tear through the book in one sitting, I did set aside time to read at least a couple of chapters each night and I got through the book in short order. My dog, Eddie, also gave his early approval of Shin Deep. I fact, he literally drooled over it. You see, Eddie has a certain affinity for eating kleenex and toilet paper. He must like the soft texture, or the fact that when he passes it there’s no need to wipe. At any rate, I had just recently begun wading into Shin Deep and was using a square of TP as a book mark (what–doesn’t everyone?). One evening while Mrs. UA and I were out to dinner, Eddie decided that my bookmark would make for a nice snack. Upon returning home that evening, Shin Deep lay on the floor next to the coffee table. The cover appeared to be slightly water-damaged (from canine saliva) and the edges of the pages bore the gentle teeth marks of a particular chocolate Lab. To his credit, Eddie is very soft-mouthed and was therefore remarkably gentle as he extracted the bookmark. Luckily I had dog-eared the page where I’d left off in my last session and was able to easily resume reading.
The author takes us on an intimate journey to a wide variety of destinations that span Connecticut to Montana; from West Virginia’s Potomac River to Henry’s Fork in Idaho, Hunt writes in an easy manner that makes one feel as though they’re sitting down over a frosty beverage around a campfire, listening to him tell stories. Each chapter is a personal reflection of a particular outing delivered without a hint of bravado. Hunt is not attempting to impress with awe-inspiring tales of catching trophy-sized fish in far off and exotic locales, but rather he shares his thoughts and appreciations for all that makes fly fishing so enjoyable, in places the average angler can imagine themselves fishing. From catching 7-inch brook trout in Appalachia to admittedly posting up on a pod of rising whitefish during a snow storm on the Snake River, Hunt reveals something about himself: he’s just an average Joe. In Hunt’s defense with regard to the whitefish, he proclaims, “some of them were respectable fish.”
I was particularly able to identify with Chapter 6: Prince of Wales, in which the author confesses to doing something
I’ve never done we all have nightmares about. While on a trip to Whale Pass in Alaska (which is apparently a long way from any fly shop) Hunt leaves his fly box behind and must go on a quest for replacements. His recount of having to scrounge for the only available flies in town is worth the price of admission ($14.95, with a 20% off code if you hurry); the sense of desperation to find any fishing flies emanates vividly from the pages and I felt as though I were right there with him (laughing). After snapping-off every fly he was able to scrounge up, Hunt ends up fishing a rusty orange Rapala lure that he finds only after nearly sitting on it. Good stuff.
What becomes apparent in the book is that Hunt absolutely loves fish and fly fishing. At the beginning of Chapter 3 the author recalls an exchange between he and his wife as he is preparing to leave on a trip in the nation’s capitol. While the trip for was business purposes, Hunt was keenly aware that he would be only 90 minutes from Shenandoah National Park and it’s native brook trout waters:
“You’re traveling to the cradle of the Republic, and you’re going fishing?” my wife asked, as I tucked a four-piece three-weight into my suitcase. “You’re pathetic.”
Amen to that.
In addition to being an author, Chris Hunt is an award-winning journalist and keeper of the Eat More Brook Trout blog. When he’s not doing all of this, or fishing, Hunt is the National Communications Director for Trout Unlimited.