Upriver and Downstream : The Best Fly-Fishing and Angling Adventures from the New York Times
Upriver and Downstreamgathers seventy columns about fishing—from freshwater to saltwater, from small ponds to the Great Lakes, from the Pacific Northwest to post-Soviet Russia—written for the “Outdoors” column of theNew York Times. Contributors include such celebrated names as Nick Lyons, Thomas McGuane, Nelson Bryant, Peter Kaminsky, Ernest Schweibert, and Robert H. Boyle. Short, evocative, informative, and entertaining, here are pieces about fly-fishing for wild brook trout, bait-fishing for striped bass, casting into tailwaters, or angling in midwinter. The settings range from Hudson River piers to the Florida Everglades, from Iceland to the Amazon, and the fish include everything from the common sunfish to the esoteric paddlefish. These engaging essays remind us of what fishing is all about: companionship and solitude, challenge and relaxation, nature and technology, from coast-to-coast to around the globe. Rich with the particulars of water, light, and air, as well as a keen awareness of, as Verlyn Klinkenborg puts it in his introduction, “what is happening out there—in the deep, in the shallows, at the end of the line,” these reflections and recollections beautifully capture the natural world and one of life’s most challenging, perennial pursuits.
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April 02, 2007
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Excerpt from Upriver and Downstream by New York Times Staff
A Glorious Show of Striped Bass Without a Catch BY NICK LYONS MORT SAID, POSITIVELY, ABSOLUTELY, “There is no bait in the surf at Amagansett, and no fish.” So, with the bones in my right hip feeling as though someone had rasped away all of the cartilage, I wasn’t much up for fishing. I had slipped in May, gone under in a river, smacked my head on a stone. Now it was August and I would get a titanium hip in three weeks. It would be a quiet family jaunt is all, son-in-law driving, granddaughter beside me in the backseat singing, no fly rods to complicate my life. Mort said there were no fish in the surf, and Mort is an honorable and wise friend who is never wrong on matters piscatorial. On the first morning, at the gentleman’s hour of eleven, I limped to the beach and surveyed the vast, gray ocean. The tide was out, the white breakers were a hundred yards offshore. A few terns flew swiftly overhead, head and beak slanted down, searching; three seagulls foraged what the sea had left. I dug my cane deeply into the wet sand, like Ahab with his wooden leg, and saw a hundred yards to my left a few birds clustered in the sky. Ah, birds. To an angler anywhere they are icons and emblems, harbingers of drama, so I hobbled north and saw that they were dipping, darting, plunging hard into the sea. I had seen this before, but never at midday. There had to be a little bait in the water was all, perhaps a few two-pound bluefish among it. In fact, the low tide, the particular cross-movements of the waves, had built a vast trough or wash, some three football fields long, one wide, and when I got close enough I could see that there were really forty birds, careening and plunging, making my old heart flutter, and that some of the birds came out of the sea looking like aerial Fu Manchus, with a curled mustache hanging from either side of their beaks, and on the beach there were sand eels flopping, four or five inches long, so that was what all the fuss was about, sand eels. At first I thought the two forms in the foam and vying currents, moving parallel to the shore, were skin divers. Then I thought they might be seals. Were there seals in Amagansett? Or walruses? They kept moving irregularly back and forth, fifty feet in from the breakers, their great bodies bulging the surface at times, then disappearing, then protruding above it, now closer to the shore, now no more than eighty feet from me—and I was twenty feet back from where the water reached. Wading in the suds, I could reach whatever was out there with merely a modest fly cast. Striped bass. That’s what was out there. Two, possibly three gigantic stripers, perhaps fifty pounds, maybe sixty, as happy as tarpon eating Cuban sardines, in no hurry whatsoever. They and some of the smaller fish I now saw—stripers, not bluefish—had herded the sand eels in against the shore and were systematically gorging on them. It was a glorious sight—once in a lifetime: bull or cow stripers, perhaps world records, within casting distance, glutting on sand eels, oblivious to all else, vulnerable, a little like me when there’s a table full of strawberry shortcake. I happen to own fifty-three of the finest sand-eel imitations made. Lou Tabory had given me a sample many years ago, on a long shank hook with silver body, short red tag, long green spade hackles—and I had wisely had a fine tier in Maine make me a lifetime supply. I had caught blues and stripers on them and knew with absolute certainty that they would take fish in this trough. It was comforting to know that they were safe in my fish closet, in New York City. For a moment I thought wildly about gimp-hopping back to the room, corralling my son-in-law into driving me to town, buying a whole new outfit, rushing back. No. Even a dumbbell knew that would t