The Next Valley Over: An Angler’s Progress


By Charles Gaines
Crown Publishers, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171 Hardcover; $23,
Here’s another in the seemingly endless series of well-traveled-angler-tells-all books, a regurgitation of the author’s favorite fishing memories. Charles Gaines has many, and although they aren’t all about fly fishing, seven of 14 essays in this book are mostly about salt water.
The first, however, is about freshwater fishing in Tasmania, where Gaines was participating in something called “the World Fly Fishing Championships.” If you’re among those who believe competition has no place in angling, this is like being served rancid soup for the first dinner course: It doesn’t exactly make you look forward to the rest of the meal. But stick with it; you’re bound to find something tasty before it’s over.
Some of Gaines’ angling experiences are beyond ordinary. While tarpon fishing with Billy Pate at Homosassa, Gaines decides to take a turn at the other end of the line. “In height (6 foot, 2 inches), girth at the widest point (46 inches) and weight (192 pounds), I am very close to the size of the tarpon Pate was looking for in Homosassa; so to learn something of what such a fish might endure at his hands, I hooked his fly into my scuba regulator and fought him underwater as hard as I could for as long as I could. He could have either released or killed me at the end of 11 minutes.”
His description of his first meeting with a black marlin also is memorable: “I had no idea of how a thousand-pound black marlin, rising as suddenly and menacingly as a revolution behind a teaser 20 feet off the stern (with its stubby, wicked, baseball-bat-thick bill slashing the air, its great brown and indigo shoulders pushing a wake, its infinitely wild and unconcerned eye as wide as a butter plate), can cause a grown man to drop whatever he is holding, experience incontinence, even cry out aloud for his mama.”
A few of Gaines’ trips turn out badly: A bonefish expedition in the Bahamas is hampered by horrible weather and a Florida “road trip” is tormented by the “black dog” of bad luck. Others are better, including an adventure off the Yucatan in which a former trout angler, driven from the sport by catch-and-release snobs, is born again by an encounter with a sailfish. An eating, drinking, dancing and redfish-seeking campaign in Louisiana also succeeds on all counts.
Speaking of such things, there’s almost as much eating, drinking and coke-snorting in this book as there is fishing. Gaines also drops names – of people, places and fish species – the way most people toss around peanut hulls. His tastes for food, drugs, booze and fish are strong. His idea of the perfect sporting lodge may give new definition to the word “soft.” Gaines could be your idea of the best sort of fishing companion, or the worst.
But even if you don’t always agree with his notion of fun, you’ll like the way he describes his adventures. Gaines writes with practiced skill, and his fishing yarns are provocative and entertaining.