The Fly Fisherman's Guide to the Meaning of Life

This little book, fifth in a series of "guides to the meaning of life," is more about the meaning of fly-fishing than life -although, to many of us, fly-fishing is life.

Kaminsky book_03

Kaminsky book_03

Review by Steve Raymond

Can the author of a book called Fly Fishing for Dummies be taken seriously? Peter Kaminsky, who lists that dubious title on his resume, makes an eloquent case in the affirmative.

But this little book, fifth in a series of "guides to the meaning of life," is more about the meaning of fly-fishing than life - although, to many of us, fly-fishing is life. There are no chapters; instead, the book offers a series of "lessons," mostly philosophical observations and homilies, with emphasis divided between freshwater and saltwater fly-fishing.

In the first lesson, Kaminsky asserts that fly-fishing is the artistic refinement of the primal hunting instinct of early humans. "Find food, make babies - isn't that the meaning of life?" he asks. "There may be more to it, according to what god or gods you bow down to, but without those drives there is no life. So fly fishing, that refined and tweedy sport first perfected by port-swilling rich English gents, is one of the very few things we can do that connects us directly to the emotions of our Cro-Magnon ancestors and their Neanderthal forbearers."

Other lessons:

On catch-and-release: "You may practice catch-and-release as a religion, but that doesn't mean the next person has to bow down to your god."

On fishing records: "Don't try to rewrite the record books. You probably can't, and it's not important anyway. No one, or at least no true angler, keeps score. There is no score, only the moment and the next fish."

On humility: "Beware of the swelled head or the equally un-productive self-lacerating depression. Just fish as well as you can."

Each pair of lessons is followed by an "insight." These are mostly lists, such as "Essential Traits of a Fly Fisher"or "A Fly Fisher's Heroes" (a list of Kaminsky's personal angling mentors) and so on.

It's easy to take issue with some of what Kaminsky says. With one or two exceptions, his list of "essential" reading titles for fly-fishers is so wide of the mark as to suggest a lack of familiarity with the literature. He also says that in casting, "slower is better," which might be true if only the darn fish didn't move so fast.

But these are relatively minor nits to pick in what is generally an erudite, entertaining little volume - the kind of book that would make a perfect gift for a friend in the hospital. Your healthy friends would probably enjoy it, too.