1564 Fishing for home water

Reading the Water: Fly Fishing, Fatherhood, and Finding Strength in Nature
by Mark Hume

Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2022
$34.95 / 9781771645690

Reviewed by Ron Verzuh

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Fishing for “home water.” About a dedicated fisher-father and his metaphor for life

 Ever hear of a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear? How about a Mickey Finn? A Pumpkin Head anyone? A Black Doctor? Me neither. That’s because I’m not a fisher. These are fishing flies. Meet Mark Hume, a man who knows how to tie them and exactly where to drop one in a creek or cast one into a dark forest pond.

Journalist Hume’s memoir, about his lifetime search for what he calls his “home water,” gives us non-fishers a way to vicariously join the thrill of seeing a Coho salmon gobble a fly with a hook in it. And we don’t have to don hip waders.

Before fish rights activists get upset, Hume spends much of the book almost apologizing to the fish. His sensitivity to them and his respect and adoration for their underwater world is infectious. He almost made me want to join him on one of his back-river adventures into B.C.’s wilderness.

In the “Catch and Release” chapter, for example, Hume explains that most of his catches get released. That’s part of the pleasure for him. “If you play and release a fish carefully, I don’t think you’d do any lasting harm.” Maybe not, but that still has to hurt. Freedom has its price, I suppose.

Hume devotes much of the book to teaching his two daughters, Emma and Claire, to be fishers. Growing up with their angler dad, they benefitted from his guidance and developed an early appreciation for fly fishing. This was not merely as a pastime, they learned, but also could be a spiritual experience. Unlike me, they weren’t at all squeamish, and they got good at it.

“They had come to know about the amazing beauty of fish because they had held them,” Hume explains, “and they had embraced the rituals of fly fishing: the vestments, the prayers, the sacrifice.” They also picked up detailed descriptions of the best angling techniques, the best way to determine where to find the fish, and respect for Nature.

Mark Hume. Photo by Margaret Munro

Time for a second disclaimer. Growing up in the Arrow Lakes district of the Kootenays, I had plenty of opportunities to experience what Hume so lovingly describes, but I was a book worm. Not for me the call of the wild. My reluctance to participate stemmed from a fishing trip with my Uncle Frank, the consummate hunter and fisher in my life.

After selecting his weapon from a shed full of rods and reels, Frank took me out on the lake in search of his coveted Dolly Varden. When he caught one and hauled it into the boat, the last gasp of life flapping and flipping out of it, I had an epiphany. As the fish lay dying at my feet, I admired its natural beauty. Then Uncle Frank clubbed it and the beauty almost instantly faded.

Hume’s book takes us on a similar journey, but this one leads us to recognize Nature’s preciousness. At times, he seems like the quintessential new age guy. There’s a touchy-feelie quality to some of his phrasing. At other parts of the book, he tells us about some of life’s difficulties; a failed first marriage, a journalist father who divorces Hume’s mother, and a late in life bout with prostate cancer. Through it all, fishing is his salvation, the water his sacred place.

Father Charles Brandt (1923-2020). Photo courtesy Campbell River Mirror

Although one of his inspirations is his friend Father Charles Brandt, “the hermit priest of Oyster River,” this is not a religious book of discovery. There is no proselytizing, no preaching the holy gospel. Yet one feels at times that Hume is worshipping at his self-made shrine. Thankfully, he never sinks to telling us what to believe.

The shrine is solidly constructed on Hume’s concern for the environment. Seeing “the diminishment of nature and understanding the loss,” he writes in describing a meeting with a First Nations fisher. His shrine is also constructed on land “guarded by spirits, so I won’t trespass their again.”

A second Hume inspiration is Roderick Haig-Brown (1908-1976), probably BC’s most famous naturalist and conservationist. He “preached environmental stewardship,” Hume notes, and that taught him to “let fish go.” Referring to Haig-Brown as “the master,” Hume credits him with helping him realize that fly fishing is not just a hobby, “it is a spiritual apprehension.”

Roderick Haig-Brown, 1962. Photo by Ken Oakes

There are moments of nostalgia in Reading the Water – memories of the old family home, when he caught his first fish in a creek near his childhood home in Penticton, his father’s absence, his bouts with depression and near-death. And there are flowery passages – “as soft and damp as a mermaid’s hair” – that a newspaper’s editor blue pencil might have struck off. But Hume’s deep passion for fishing gives him a certain poetic license.

He also shares some of his life philosophy. “If you have a home stream,” he says, “you have a reference point in nature, a benchmark against which you can measure change and time.” He then adds, “You know the stream’s moods through the seasons, you know the movement of its fish, and that connection moves in you like a tide.”

He means in him, of course. His sensitivity touched me but I am not a fishing convert. I have no desire to find that stream. But wait. Why does our stream need to be water at all? In his stream, “it’s about going where the river takes you. It’s about singing grasshoppers, jumping deer, and bears doing flips.”

In ours, it might be a path, a highway or a jet stream that takes us where we want to be. Hume’s love of fishing encourages us to find it, whatever it is, and follow it.

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Ron Verzuh

Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian and documentary filmmaker. His forthcoming book Printer’s Devils (Caitlin Press, 2023) tells the 30-year social history of the Trail Creek News, a feisty pioneer newspaper in Trail. His recent book, Smelter Wars: A Rebellious Red Trade Union Fights for its Life in Wartime Western Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2022), is reviewed here by Bryan D. Palmer; an earlier book, Codenamed Project 9: How a Small British Columbia City Helped Create the Atomic Bomb (2018), is reviewed by Mike SasgesEditor’s note: Ron Verzuh’s work has appeared in The British Columbia Review since it was founded in 2016. He has contributed an essay to The British Columbia Review on trade unionist Harvey Murphy, and has recently reviewed books by Michael Gates, Jesse Donaldson & Erika DyckMichael ConeBob WilliamsLarry Gambone, and Terry Gainer. Ron lives in Victoria.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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