All Fishermen Are Liars: John Gierach and the Soul of Simplicity

“We seem to have a real affection for a beautiful insect that only lives for a single day," John Gierach writes about the mayfly in the opening of his book Sex, Death and Fly-fishing, "and whose only mission is to make love just once.”  My father, a romantic and a fisherman, would have applauded the mayfly's life mission (except for the just once part). 

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.  

Usually, though, my father fished like he wrote—with simple equipment.  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.

Someday, I’ll give both books to my son, and perhaps someday he’ll pass them on to Carly.  When she reads the inscription she might ask, “Did Grandpa Loren know the man who wrote these?”  I hope Matt tells her that all fishermen know each other - in the ways that matter, at least.  Through the simple feel of river rocks beneath the felt soles of your waders.  Through the tug on the fly at the end of your line forty feet downstream.  Through the stories we tell.  True or not.


Gail Storey said…
This post, one of your most beautifully direct yet, really spoke to me, Page. I feel increasingly drawn to live tenkara style, letting go of what's not needed, internally and externally. Thank you.
Page Lambert said…
Gail, I so appreciate your comments. Yes, tenkara style living - paring down, simplifying. I've yet to succeed at that, in my domestic life or my writing, but it's a pure and simple pond to cast towards.
Julene said…
Love the parallels you draw between writing and fishing, Page. Thanks for bringing this wonderful book to my attention.
Page Lambert said…
Glad you liked the parallels, Julene. I haven't been fly-fishing in years, and sure do miss it!

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