When first approached by one of the authors of a new book, The Confluence: Fly Fishing and Friendship in the Dartmouth College Grant, I was slightly confused. The first point of my confusion was, why would anyone select the Unaccomplished Angler to scribe a review of a book? Secondly, I wondered, what the hell is the Darmouth Grant?
I knew that Dartmouth is an ivy league college somewhere in New England, and I know what a grant is. But I was perplexed as to how one gets to go fly fishing in a grant? Likely a typo, I thought—perhaps the authors meant to title the book, “Fly Fishing and Friendship on the Dartmouth Grant”? If that were the case, how cool would it be to receive a college grant to pay for one’s fly fishing?! I wanted in on the secret, and so I agreed to review the book.
I soon learned, however, that it was I, and not the book’s title, that was in error. The Dartmouth Grant is not an allotment of funds that some group of guys received to cover their fly fishing expenses, but rather a ~27,000 acre woodland in the Northern forest region of New Hampshire. The area is actually known as the Second Grant, as there was a previous grant called the First Grant. The land was granted to Dartmouth College by the state of New Hampshire in 1807 and it has a long history of being used for timber harvest, but it’s not land to be lived on and thus the Grant has a permanent population of zero. It’s remote and rugged. A wild place. With rivers and trout. The Dartmouth website says this of the Grant, but I urge you to also read details given in the chapter of The Confluence titled, An Eddy in Time. It’s really quite an interesting subject—there’s nothing like the Grant out west that I’m aware of. We have land grant universities—in fact I attended, and graduated from, one (Go WSU COUGS!)—however that’s not quite the same thing. But I digress, let’s move on.
From way out here in my upper left corner of the continental US, the term “Ivy League” conjures up somewhat negative images of elitist preppies destined for undergrad degrees in English before pursuing masters degrees and beyond, soon thereafter rising to the top of the economic pay grade and living large. So, when faced with the prospect of reading about ivy league fly fishermen, I envisioned high-brow anglers wearing tweed and gently casting delicate dry flies on silk lines with their fine bamboo rods. You see, New England may as well be Jolly Olde England as far as I’m concerned, and don’t the British wear tweed while fishing? To be fair, I did some research into the perceived stereotypes of Ivy League schools and as it turns out, my perception was not far off the mark for Princeton and Harvard and Yale. But Dartmouth is perceived as being quite different: “Really small, isolated, outdoorsy, rural, party and drinking a lot, conservative, etc.” OK, that works for me. And so, armed with my new insight, I gladly waded into The Confluence.
The book is about seven friends with two common denominators: First, they all attended Dartmouth (a long time ago, mind you); second, they all fly fish. With an average age of 58.79 years (at the time of this writing) they’ve been around the block a time or two and have stories to tell from their experiences. Their stories reflect back on 20 years of tradition in which they’ve converged annually upon the Dartmouth Grant to do what fishing buddies do: fish. But we all know the popular cliche, “there’s more to fishing than catching fish” and that is certainly true with this group of guys who call themselves “The Boys”. Those of us lucky enough to have a group of buddies we fish with regularly know that traditions are life’s prized possessions, and for that reason alone this book will resonate with you. My own group of compadres, The Firehole Rangers, is a lot like the collective authors of this book, only the Firehole Rangers are undoubtedly a lot less intelligent (due to inferior breeding) than the Dartmouth contingent.
I soon learned that The Boys of The Confluence are guys most any of us regular Joes can identify with. They like beer (despite that as they’ve aged and mellowed they tend to drink more wine now), and they like to fish. For most of us, that’s all one needs to know. One of them prefers wet wading over his antiquated pair of leaky Red Ball waders (nothing high brow about that), while another makes mention of having used an empty Crown Royal bag to hold fishing doo-dads (who hasn’t done that?). These are guys that lead everyday lives, and once a year they head out into the woods, stay in rustic cabins that they share with mice and snakes, eat Veg-All® and engage in the sort of thing most of us reading this review engage in: fishing and good friendship, not necessarily in that order. There may be sophomoric indulgences from time to time as well, such as fishing naked (see the chapter, Standing in a River, for more on that).
Each chapter is the unique reflection on time spent fishing in the Grant and it feels as though each chapter were written by a different person. That’s because that is exactly what it is: a compilation of stories by each member of the group. It’s a rather interesting means of approaching a book , although divvying up royalties may get a little messy. I’d love to see stories written in a similar fashion about our Firehole Ranger trips, but with the exception of perhaps Morris (and maybe Nash), the Rangers are barely capable of writing their own names, let alone composing intelligible words than anyone would want to read. Granted, that’s not the case with The Boys in the book—they all write good.
The first chapter sets the stage for the annual trip, detailing how each of them arrives at the Grant from their prospective and mostly-distant homes. It’s aptly titled, Coming Together, and you begin to get a sense of who they are—and what this annual trip means to them—right from the start.
In chapter 2, titled, The Origin, the author, new to fly fishing at the time, writes of his first time fishing the Grant, during which they encountered epic hatches and numerous and cooperative trout:
“We had discovered fly fishing. It was going to be like this every time. Bugs galore, rises everywhere, catching fish, and drinking beer. With respect to the beer at least, we were pretty accurate. But in twenty-plus years, The Boys and I have yet to see another hatch anything like that first evening on the Grant.”
The rivers featured in the book are wild and free-flowing, inhabited by fully wild, native brook trout. Stocking hasn’t occurred in the Grant for decades, so this isn’t some domesticated put and take fishery (which may be a prior misperception I had of rivers in the eastern US). I fully admit my naivete when it comes to any trout fishing east of Montana so it was quite refreshing to discover that there are un-dammed rivers in the eastern part of the country that hold wild populations of brook trout. Brook trout are highly regarded as a native char in New England, whereas they’re largely considered an invasive, non-native scourge of the rivers out West. In the chapter, Of Wild Rivers and Wild Trout, the author writes words that hold true where ever one is:
“The most important thing about chasing wild trout in wild rivers is to enjoy every minute of it.”
That’s something we can all wrap our heads around.
At the end of the book we finally ‘meet’ The Boys, with photos and short bios of each contributing author. Of course, by the time you happen upon this section of the book you already feel like you know them.
The book is 190 pages with several pages dedicated to color photos and images displaying art and handiwork created by the authors.
Pick up a copy of The Confluence—I’m confident you’ll be glad you did, and I know The Boys will be glad you did. It launches, officially, on May 3rd (2016), but for those who cannot fathom to wait until then, you can sign up for a signed, pre-release edition on the website.
Also, I recommend you visit their website, which has a great deal of good information not only about the book, but about the Grant, and fly fishing in New England. Plus a lot more, including some enticing recipes that do not include Veg-All®.