“Fly fishing is considered perhaps the most reflective and graceful of outdoor pursuits, and author Jim McLennan agrees, for the most part. Trout Tracks includes pieces on flyfishing people and flyfishing places, plus stories of quiet successes and loud failures, in sum revealing the soul of ‘the quiet sport.’”
Picking up Jim McLennan’s Trout Tracks, I was excited. An anticipatory hum like the one you feel as you cast to a rising fish, that sense of a pending strike. Not unlike gambling. All of us, gamblers and anglers alike, live for that expectation of winning, optimism and hope of a catch. Plus, we all like to believe we have a system, a means of beating the odds, which separates us from the rest of the pack, those reliant on simple dumb luck.
Jim McLennan is one of those with a system, based on years of practice and a perpetual desire to learn. He does not – will not, in fact – rely on mere luck, tossing a lure into water in hopes of securing an Instagram photo. No, McLennan’s a technician when it comes to this artful sport. His analysis of flyfishing is its own unique science, one in which his knowledge is exemplary. Trout feeding patterns, insect identification, hatching and mating cycles, all of which circle back to imitating those bugs to lure trout to the end of his line. Or more accurately, the hook in the fly at the end of his tippet, leader, and line.
“Drawn from 55 years of excessive obsession with trout, water, streams, and flies, this collection of essays from Canada’s most widely read flyfishing author since Roderick Haig-Brown reveals the depth of engagement that this sport engenders. Poised and polished words reveal the flaws and virtues of humanity, the strength of Mother Nature, the beautiful mystery that is a wild trout, and the obsessed’s inexplicable need to outsmart a creature with a brain the size of a pea.”
I’m a reasonably seasoned fly fisherman. Fished plenty of lakes and streams, caught countless trout and been skunked enough times to consider myself an experienced angler. But I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how or when chironomids (midges) mate, what they look like when injured, or when they become more appealing to peckish fish. And I have no desire to learn. I put on bug spray and go fishing, for the pure pleasure of it or because I’m hungry. Afterwards, I’m more likely to tell you about an osprey I spotted or the iridescent blue of a dragonfly on a lily pad bloom rather than the size or number of fish that I caught. In other words, a different approach to that of McLennan.
Which brings to mind the time I was part of a group of young adults on a leadership retreat. The fact we were collectively being taught individualism has a touch of irony to it, but the sessions were excellent. My facilitator shared an experience, one I now realize was Socratic in nature, as much about introspective objectivity as anything. Her story goes like this. Two groups of people were on opposite banks of a river. One group was particularly boisterous, hollering and splashing about in the water. The other group was quiet, conversation in muted tones, listening as much as talking. My facilitator was part of the latter group.
When she told me the story, I didn’t know what to make of it. What group was I supposed to side with? Was I supposed to be angry at the rowdies? Envious? It was unclear. Which of course was the point of her story. There was no good or bad, no right or wrong. Just different people, all enjoying the river in their own way.
I’ll never fish like Jim McLennan. Nor do I want to. But I admire someone’s dedication to an activity they’re passionate about, striving toward excellence and sharing that with others. That’s a role model.
What I like most about McLennan’s Trout Tracks is that one of its first disclaimers is the book’s not intended to make readers better anglers, but instead to share experience with those who enjoy the sport. Not to mention all that goes with it: nature, scenery, wildlife. Of course I’d add that flyfishing is much more than mere sport. But that conversation opens another whole can of worms. And yes, I’m aware of the irony in that as well. But for a well-written collection of essays on one of the world’s greatest activities with gorgeous art by visual artist Lynn McLennan, Trout Tracks is a beautiful publication, whichever side of the river you enjoy.
Jim McLennan is the author of four books on fly fishing and is a past recipient of the Andy Russell Nature Writing Award, Trout Unlimited Canada’s Bob Paget Memorial Conservation Award, and the Outdoor Writers of Canada Best Book of the Year Award. He is contributing editor for Fly Fisherman and Fly Fusion magazines, and his writing has also appeared in The Canadian Fly Fisher and Outdoor Canada. Jim is also co-host, along with Derek Bird, of Fly Fusion Television, a series broadcast on the World Fishing Network. He is a frequent speaker on fly fishing and conservation topics at events throughout the U.S. and Canada. Jim and his wife, Lynda McLennan, live and work in southern Alberta, where they fish, hunt, write, and manage McLennan Fly Fishing (mclennanflyfishing.com).
About the Illustrator: Lynda McLennan was a founding director of Casting For Life, a fly-fishing retreat for breast cancer survivors, and has been teaching fly fishing in various formats since the 1980s. She is a skilled photographer whose work appears in magazines, books, and on numerous websites. She has been a photographer for Highfield Stock Farm since 2013.
- Title: Trout Tracks: Essays on Fly Fishing
- Author: Jim McLennan
- Illustrator: Lynda McLennan
- Publisher: RMB | Rocky Mountain Books
- ISBN: 9781771603652
- Pgs: 256 pp
Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.