A Sign Of The Times, Literally

When I saw the cart and sign pictured above in our local library, I was shocked. After inspecting the titles resting thereon, I had to be assisted up off the floor. Here were books by Lyons and Traver, Brooks and Bergman, LaFontaine and Schwiebert. For anglers of a certain age, those names resonate. They mean something. Their books mean something. To see these volumes selling for a buck each was unthinkable. Yet there it was: Trout, Ernest Schwiebert’s magnum opus, ready for the taking at a mere $1.00.     

As a kid growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there were two ways to learn about fly fishing. You could have someone show you, or you could read books. I suppose teaching yourself was also possible, but that’s never been an ideal approach to fly fishing. Not being fortunate enough to know anyone that actually fly fished, I read books. All that I could get my hands on, all of them multiple times. Their influence was immense, Schwiebert’s in particular, what with his copious stories and lessons from around the world (I live in West Yellowstone, Montana, largely as a result of Schwiebert’s writings).

Raise the name Schwiebert or Brooks nowadays—there were two Brooks, Charlie and Joe, no relation—and you’ll be met mostly with blank stares, or perhaps a vague acknowledgment of having heard the names. To find someone under the age of forty that has actually read anything by either author is quite rare. Same for anglers of all ages if they’ve come to fly fishing in the last fifteen or so years. This is not a criticism. I point it out merely to highlight how very different the path is today for accumulating information about the sport. Indeed, video has killed the radio star (see Google).

The books on the library cart cost one dollar for the simple reason that there is little demand for them, or most other fly fishing titles, regardless of how old they are. People are no longer reading books about this sport. OK, the publishers and booksellers I know tell me there are a few exceptions: guidebooks to specific areas, occasional volumes of stories by noted authors, maybe the odd book dealing with specialized tactics. But on the whole the fly fishing book market is struggling, perhaps even on life support. Has been for awhile, and the prognosis doesn’t look good.

There are times I find this disconcerting, because I know that the incredible joy I found in so many books is still with us, shelved and patiently waiting to be discovered by others. I especially want younger anglers to experience the wisdom and depth of knowledge that past masters possessed—knowledge that resists transmission through an internet connection, no matter how speedy it might be. Yes, times are different now; I get that. After all, at one time books themselves were disruptive technology, drastically altering how information and knowledge changed hands. So I’m not going to get too teary-eyed about the whole thing.  

We all know the internet is an incredible bastion of fly fishing resources. It’d be foolish to suggest or think otherwise. (The irony of this piece being published online is not lost on me.) But there’s still plenty of good stuff awaiting us in analog form, too, if we’re curious enough to seek it out. Stuff that was never launched into cyberspace, can’t be watched on YouTube, and won’t be summed up in a hundred sound bites. So I encourage everyone to seek out and read “hard copies” that pertain to your own particular fishing interests. Let me know what you find, what you learned, and what you enjoyed.  

Via email, of course.

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