When Gierach’s new book All Fishermen Are Liars brought him to Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore, I wanted to meet him. I tucked my worn copy of Sex, Death and Fly-fishing into my purse and we headed down the mountain. Listening to Gierach’s stories would no doubt rekindle memories of fishing the channels of Montana’s Madison River with my father. One of my father’s greatest thrills was the day he snagged three trout in a single cast after tying on three flies. No lie.
A Big Chief yellow pad and a pencil, an old bamboo rod, an old fishing vest with the same set of clippers hanging from it, maybe a few nymphs and wooly worms (or whatever was hatching), the same old creel, same old green net. But as far as I know, my father had never fished tenkara style, at least not since a boy fishing with stick and string.
Gierach describes this traditional Japanese method as “the soul of simplicity.” A light rod, a fixed line attached at the end, a single fly with a simple pattern. The tenkara purist doesn’t ask in the way of tackle, “How much do I need?” but “How little can I get away with?”
As a writer, I should be asking myself the same thing: How little can I get away with? How few words? How simple a story? Murky, turbulent water is hard to fish—trout aren’t tempted by what they can’t see.
Several years ago, in a four-day juried workshop, Tom Jenks, editor of Narrative Magazine, gave us this directive: “Aim for the absolute version. Write the story so that anyone can understand it.” Do we really need more than a stick and string? Can simple yearning be enough? “I can teach your granddaughter to fish with a tenkara in two minutes,” Gierach quotes a well-known fisherman, “and she’ll catch more than you.”
My father will never be able to fish the Madison with his grandchildren, though I know my new granddaughter Carly will learn to love the wilds of Montana just like I did, and just like her mother and father already do. After Gierach autographed his new book for me, I pulled the worn copy of Sex, Death and Fly-fishing out of my purse and handed it to him. “Sign it to my father please,” I asked, “to Loren.