Speaking of the elusive, note “The Big One: An Island, an Obsession, and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish” (Grove, 2009), the marvelous chronicle of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. The book opens with derby legend Lev Wlodyka asking whether author David Kinney has brought beer. “If we can’t catch a derby winner, at lease we can catch a buzz,” says Wlodyka, who is a reporter’s dream, a sort of garrulous Zen master party boy who visualizes his bait drifting below and the bass approaching. “That’s why a lot of people miss,” he says. “They’re just on the surface. You’ve got to be three-dimensional about it.”
And so Kinney covers this famed derby, meaning 838 hours of fishing passion in which sleep-deprived plumbers, teachers, doctors, electricians, the old and the young deploy skill and luck in pursuit of glory. Surprises abound: One year, a 12-year-old girl won. Meanwhile, everyone conceals their choicest fishing spots with hot paranoia (many not-so-jokingly threaten to kill Kinney if he reveals locations). If bass have hooked you irredeemably, turn to “On the Run: An Angler’s Journey Down the Striper Coast” (It, 2003). Author David DiBenedetto travels from Maine to North Carolina, following their migration, artfully splicing natural history with spot profiles of various fishing obsessives. My favorite? The guy who wades out so far in the waves to cast for bass, he ends up “skishing” (as in fishing plus skiing, since the huge stripers tow him like a water skier).
“No Shortage of Good Days” (Simon and Schuster, 2011) is the latest collection from master fly fisherman John Gierach. To return to our father-and-son theme, I like the passage where Gierach’s dad spells out the superiority of artificial lures to real. Live bait is bush league because the fish “thinks it’s a worm and it really is a worm. Where’s the skill in that?” Whereas tied flies elevate fishing to spycraft. These 20 little jewel essays coast from Gierach’s home state of Colorado to Wisconsin, Canada, and Mexico. He praises milky-sky days perfect for blue-winged olive mayfly hatches. He says it’s always a good sign if a stream has no trails beside it. And he loves when “the known world consisted solely of brush and water, [and] fat, eager trout . . . ” A lovely image, that. Maybe I’ll see it in my dreams.
Katharine Whittemore is a freelance writer based in Northampton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.