“Shall we go to heaven or a ‘fishing?”
Henry David Thoreau
In his new book The Fish’s Eye, Ian Frazier has compiled 17 essays which have previously appeared in various periodicals over the past 20 years.
When I first heard that fishing in New York City was one of the main topics in the book, my reaction (being a true Son of the Red Clay Hills) was like that of two young girls Mr. Frazier chronicles in the first piece in the book, “Anglers”:
Upon seeing a bucket containing four catfish that had been caught in a New York City lake, the two girls had the following exchange.
‘ “These boys should let the fish go,” one girl said.
“Are you kidding? Those fish could die out there in that water,” the other girl said.’
My thoughts exactly. There isn’t any water in New York City clean enough to fish in, is there? Well, evidently there is, and there are many fishermen (and women) who stalk their finny prey within the city limits of New York City. The author chronicles several tales about fishing in New York City, most of them hilarious, all very entertaining and containing bits of insight into life in the big city that only a native could provide.
The longest tale, “An Angler at Heart”, is actually several essays in one; all chronicling tales about Deren Scott, proprietor of a tackle shop at 141 East 44th Street called “The Angler’s Roost”. Reading about Deren, his store, the people who visit, the items he sells (Mr. Frazier dedicates 2 pages just to the inventory of the store), and the sheer incongruity of a tackle shop smack dab in the middle of New York City is alone almost worth the price of the book.
Not all of the stories are set in New York City, however. Several of the tales involve rivers out West, more like where you’d expect a collection of fishing stories to take place.
In many of the essays, “Catching Monsters After Dark” for example, Mr. Frazier explores and tries to explain to the non-fishing layman the mysticism of fishing. The struggle of man with his collection of feathers, glue and hooks tied into flies trying to coax a fish into believing he’s getting the real deal, the oneness with nature one feels when wandering into a new stream alone and finding a spot where the big fish lie, and eating bugs are all part of the fishing experience. Yes, I said eating bugs. In “It’s Hard to Eat Just One”, Mr. Frazier tells of his fondness for mayflies and says “I would not go so far as to call mayflies delicious, but they do have a satisfying crunch and a taste like the soft part at the bottom of a stalk of grass.” Uh . . . yeah . . . Whatever you say, sir.
Mr. Frazier’s fishing world, consisting mostly of fly fishing, is completely alien to the fishing world I grew up in. His Dad didn’t fish at all and when Mr. Frazier actually caught a fish while his Dad watched, his Dad “would croon, in pitying tones, ‘Ohhhh-let it go.'”
My Dad, on the other hand, was a serious fisherman and my fishing adventures always consisted of a souped-up, hot rod boat, several rods and reels, and about a million different lures, worms, and other bait. There was none of the peaceful solitude and communion with nature Mr. Frazier speaks of. It was more along the philosophy of “Early to bed and early to rise, fish like hell and make up lies.”
Reading the stories in The Fish’s Eye takes me back to the reason that I enjoyed fishing in the first place and for that, I thank Mr. Frazier. If you are a fishing enthusiast, an outdoorsy person, or just enjoy well told stories, then The Fish’s Eye should be on your must-read list this summer.