- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 23, 2014


By John Gierach
Simon & Schuster, $24, 224 pages

John Gierach is something of a legend among fly fisherman. His books are eagerly devoured by his fans because he tells a good story, knows his craft and seems to his readers to be living a life that they dream they could live.

He’s not a prissy, arrogant fly fisher who quotes Latin, thinks that anyone who catches fish on a spinning rod or with live bait is beneath contempt because he’s dug a worm or two in his day, and fishes with a fly not to prove he’s better than anyone else but because he enjoys it.

Eric Engberg, a former CBS television reporter and a pretty good fly fisherman in his own right, told me after a vacation trip to Colorado some years ago that while his wife went shopping for a day in Denver, he decided to drive to Mr. Gierach’s hometown to see if it was as Mr. Gierach described it in his many books.

It was, and when he went into the local fly shop, there were Mr. Gierach and his buddy A.K. Best, who more than a few readers of his books think is a fictional character, sitting around a wood stove drinking coffee. Mr. Engberg was dumbfounded. “It was like stepping into one of his stories,” he told me.

Mr. Gierach was as he imagined him from his books, but when Mr. Engberg introduced himself, he was tongue-tied. “I’ve interviewed presidents and kings,” he told me, “but I just couldn’t think of what to say.” In the end, he was able to blurt out, “Mr. Gierach, I just want you to know that I love your books.”

So do millions of other fishermen who, by buying them, have made it possible for Mr. Gierach, born in the Midwest, to live in the Rocky Mountain West and spend his days writing, fishing and hanging out with friends. His latest, like those that have come before, is partly autobiographical, partly common-sense advice from his own experience, partly a report on his experience chasing trout, steelhead, small-mouth bass and numerous other fish from one end of the country to the other with occasional forays abroad, and partly a celebration of the world he gets to roam.

He celebrates growing up in a small Minnesota town, recounting experiences familiar to any boy who grew up not just in the Midwest, but anywhere in America during the days when, as he puts it, you could “experience the kind of freedom that will be unknown to future generations.”

“This is the 1950s,” he says, “when kids are still allowed to run wild as long as they’re home by dark.”

He recounts roaming around after college, doing odd jobs and finally ending up in Colorado, where he fished, guided others and tried his hand at writing, but without much success. He says he discovered that it was difficult to successfully write about what he knew best because, well, he didn’t really know much about anything.

Except maybe fishing. He began writing fishing stories. Not how-to articles, but stories drawn from his personal experiences and eventually they began to sell. Now 35 years and more than a dozen books later, he’s not only established, well known and prolific, but comfortable enough to be able to do the two things he loves most: fishing and writing. He says he was once asked by an interviewer whether he considers himself “a fisherman first and a writer second or vice versa and answers, ‘yes.’”

That he is pretty good at both is clear to any reader of his latest book, “All Fishermen are Liars,” as from his previous works. He dislikes know-it-alls, values the friends he meets on the streams he haunts, and enjoys himself. This, too, is obvious from his writing. He says he tells people that “I have to go fishing; it’s my job.”

Some job, some life. Mr. Gierach says writing about fishing doesn’t make a man rich, but “you have a better day at the office than most.” In his latest book, he takes his reader lake-trout fishing in Canada’s Northwest Territories, trout fishing at fancy and not-so-fancy lodges around the country, discusses the fly rods he’s craved and never uses, and a sort of esoteric take on fly fishing imported from Japan. It’s yet another Gierach masterpiece and well worth a read, even if you aren’t into fishing.

John Gierach may not have gotten rich writing about fishing and the outdoors, but his many readers and fans are richer for the choices he’s made.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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