Trout Eyes: True Tales of Adventure, Travel and Fly-Fishing, by William G. Tapply
William Tapply is an American treasure. He is an American treasure because his voice reflects in cadence and efficiency, in measure and metaphor, and most importantly in integrity, the voice of the common man. The tone of Tapply’s voice is not that of a single citizen, but instead it is the echo of the combined aspirations, daydreams and wishes of all who grew up in the rural America of the mid-twentieth century. His is the voice of a golden age that has come to bring us news that the golden age itself is alive and well and in each of us. Even now it is painting our sport in new colors of poetry and prose for the next generation to appreciate. Tapply is an American treasure because his dad was, and remains, such a priceless asset to the outdoor sports. H.G. “Tap” Tapply was a larger than life figure, but Bill Tapply does him justice by carrying a son’s awe of his father’s ability safely ensconced in the confident, polished and professional writings of a talented communicator where it can be freely shared. I feel the touch of my grandfather through Bill’s reminiscences of his own father. Spontaneous empathy is the earmark of a true writer.
Trout Eyes is an easy read. I took this book on a business trip and read it cover-to-cover in two evenings. I read it slowly and savored the stories I’d heard before. I read it closely and consumed fresh detail from new material. Largely a collection of columns published in American Angler and Gray’s Sporting Journal, this is a work that transcends angling as a sport in order to speak directly to angling as a community of sensitive, sensible, contemplative human beings. As an aspiring essayist my eyes locked on the following quote: “Writers experience fishing with about twice the intensity and focus of non-writers. Not only do writers read the water, study the weather, observe the insects, experiment with flies and, in general, try to catch fish, but they also, with a different part of their minds, look for story ideas. Writers assume that every fishing trip offers a lesson, or an insight, or a new trick or tidbit of information, if only they are smart and imaginative enough to recognize it. Writers go fishing for fun, sure. But they also go fishing for stories.”
Tapply avoids saccharin because his remembrances and contemplations are naturally sweet. There is nothing forced or artificial. When he recounts the saga of a Belize tarpon we all know the taste of adrenalin just being connected to such a thing must muster. And we all know the bitter aftertaste of a fight cut short because of our own shortcomings. The painting becomes the mirror.
“Animal Wrongs” explores the misguided anthropomorphisms of a kooky bunch of PETA true-believers, yet Tapply takes nothing from them that they don’t lay on the table of their own accord. No malice is present in his recounting of the tale. None is needed. The characters and story are real and the teller need only keep out of the way for the inevitable conclusion to be delivered. Those folks are nuts. Perhaps not dangerously so, but nuts none-the-less.
I love this kind of book. The recounting of experiences of someone who has paid attention to the world around him makes for a rewarding read. William Tapply has “situational awareness” and the talent to share the stories he sees and the experiences he lives. Blessed with a father who could put him in a circle that included the likes of Lee Wulff, Harold Blaisdell, Ed Zern, Joe Bates, Frank Woolner and many others, Bill seems in constant awe of his own good fortunes. William Tapply is Professor of English and Writer in Residence at Clark University. He is also a man who’s written voice will allow you to feel he is a friend.
--Joe Cornwall, Fly Fish Ohio
Excerpted from Chapter 4:
HATCHING THE MATCH
Around the time Vicki and I figured out that a match might be hatching between us, she asked me to take her fly fishing. She'd never tried it, but she'd seen movies with hunks such as Brad Pitt casting graceful loops over wild Montana rivers, and she knew I pulled on waders now and then. She thought fly fishing looked altogether alluring.
We went to a little panfish pond not far from my house in the suburbs. I led the way over the winding trail through the woods, and halfway down the slope I stopped short. A fat snake -- a four-footer, at least -- was sunning itself on the path. It looked like a boa constrictor.
"What's the matter?" said Vicki.
"There's a rather large snake in front of us," I said. "I think it's a milk snake."
"I . . . hate . . . snakes," she said.
"Indiana Jones," I said proudly. Vicki wrote a weekly column of film criticism. I'd learned to be alert for her movie allusions. Most of them were way more obscure than this one.
"I don't mind bugs," she said. "Worms and frogs don't bother me. But snakes . . ."
When I opened my mouth to speak, she pointed her finger at me. "Don't," she said. "Don't you dare lecture me about all the beneficial qualities of snakes. I don't care how harmless that one is. I don't like 'em."
"I don't like 'em, either," I said.
We detoured around the snake to the pond, and after some trial-and-error casting (with way too much nit-picky instruction from me, which she pretty much ignored), Vicki managed to flick a panfish bug upon the water. Pretty soon one of those generous bluegills sucked it in.
"You've gotta set the hook," I said when she didn't react.
"Set the hook," I said. "Lift your rod when a fish strikes."
"Strikes," she repeated.
"Eats your fly," I explained.
"I was waiting for him to tug on my line."
The next time a bluegill slashed at her bug, I said, "Set the damn hook."
"You don't need to yell at me," she said. "I'm having a good time. I'm not an expert like you, you know."
I started to say, "I'm no expert," but I realized that wasn't her point, so I didn't.
A few weeks later, Vicki told me that she'd enrolled in the L. L. Bean fly-fishing school. It was quite sweet, the way she explained that she thought it would work better if someone other than I taught her, and I was pleased that she wanted to learn and that I hadn't already ruined it for her.
She came back from the school with an efficient casting stroke, the ability to tie a few knots, a solid, if rudimentary, understanding of fish behavior and aquatic entomology, and a fly-fishing outfit of her own.
For the rest of that summer, we spent many happy hours in my canoe casting panfish poppers toward lily pads and fallen timber and overhanging bushes. Vicki tied on her own flies, cast smoothly, set the hook gently but firmly, landed, unhooked, and released her bluegills, paused often to watch herons and ducks and muskrats, and insisted on taking her turn with the paddle.
For my part, I did my best to keep my mouth shut.
Once when she had the paddle, a four-pound largemouth engulfed the bluegill bug I was casting.
When I landed it and held it up, she said, "That was so cool, seeing you do that."
My thought was: I wish she'd been the one to catch it.
* * *
The following winter Vicki announced that she'd signed up for an all-female fly-fishing vacation out West with an outfitter called Reel Women. They were going to float the South Fork of the Snake and camp out on the river.
"I hope you're not doing this for me," I said.
She frowned. Her expression said: "Are you nuts?"
"I mean," I blustered, "I have a lot of fly-fishing friends whose wives don't fish, and it seems to work fine for them."
"I'm doing this," she said, "for me."
That summer, after her third day in Idaho, Vicki called me. "Hey," she said. "I caught a big one." Enthusiasm bubbled in her voice. "She was a cutt, almost nineteen inches. I spotted her rising at the tail of a riffle, and when I finally got a decent drift over her, she ate it. I did it all, except the guide netted her. It was way awesome." She paused. "I couldn't wait to tell you."
"That's terrific," I said. "What'd you catch her on?"
"Is it important?"
"Not really. It's just one of those fly-fishing questions."
"It happened to be a PMD parachute, size sixteen. Pale Morning Dun. A pretty name for a pretty insect." She took a breath. "I've made some wonderful friends. We laugh all the time. Yesterday we got caught in a hailstorm. Do you know where they got the name Grand Tetons?"
"Tell me," I said.
She did, and we both laughed.
"So are you having any fun?" I said.
"What do you think?"
Vicki has been taking a week-long vacation with her lady fly-fishing friends to various destinations in the Rocky Mountain West every summer since that one. There are countless long winter telephone calls as she and the friends she made on that first adventure on the South Fork lay plans for next summer's trip. I've overheard Vicki's end of some of those conversations. They talk about their children and spouses and pets and jobs and homes, and sometimes about where and when they should go fishing.
* * *
Last summer marked the tenth anniversary of the trip when Vicki and her fly-fishing gang of women first met. They arranged to hook up with Reel Women again for a float-and-camp reprise on the South Fork where it all began.
To honor this occasion in Vicki's fly-fishing life -- and in our relationship -- I decided to tie her an assortment of flies, all the flies she'd ever need for a two-day drift down the South Fork. I wanted her to be able to say to her guide: "Oh, I've got my own flies. My sweetie tied them for me. See?"
I consulted Linda Windels, the ringleader of Vicki's gang. Linda is as passionate and knowledgeable about fly fishing as anybody I know, and she lives close to the South Fork.
"We'll need tons of PMDs," she said. "Sixteens. On the South Fork their bodies are kind of pinkish. Emergers, of course, too. Don't forget Rusty Spinners. And we might run into some Baetis. Twenties and twenty-twos. Pheasant Tails and Hare's Ears, of course. All sizes. Um, tan caddis with a greenish body. I use peacock herl on mine. Don't forget terrestrials. We should see hoppers, and beetles and ants are always important. Woolly Buggers, naturally. What am I leaving out?"
"That sounds like a good start," I said.
After several weeks of feverish tying, I got an email from Linda. "I forgot to mention Yellow Sallies and Golden Stones," it said. "Toward evening there's also sometimes a little dark low-profile caddis, size 18, on the water."
The flies I tied filled two large boxes. I gave them to Vicki the night before she left for Idaho.
She opened the boxes and poked around with her finger, naming them. PMD. BWO. Caddis pupa. Midge larva. PT nymph. Yellow Sally. Sparkle dun. Hopper.
Ten years ago she didn't know what a dry fly was.
"They're gorgeous," she said. She hugged me. "That's a lot of work. Thank you."
"I like the idea of you catching trout on flies I tied for you," I said.
* * *
"It was great," Vicki said when she got back. "We laughed all the time. I fell out of the boat. The guides were terrific. Amazing food. I'd forgotten how spectacular that canyon is. It rained the whole first day and we got soaked. We saw loads of eagles and a pair of moose . . ."
"And how," I said when she stopped for a breath, "was the fishing?"
"Oh," she said, "it was pretty good. The water was a little high and off-color after the rain. The PMDs came off in the afternoon, but the fish weren't really up on them. I got a few nice ones, though, casting from the driftboat, hitting the seams and foamlines."
"What'd you catch 'em on?"
"Chernobyl Ants." She touched my cheek. "I wanted to use your flies, but Lori Ann thought . . ."
"Always listen to your guide," I said.
"I hope I didn't hurt your feelings."
I shook my head. "If you've got to choose between feelings and trout," I said, "go for the trout."
"Yes," she said. "You taught me that."