Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of Henry Winkler's "I've never met an idiot on the river"

My grandfather explained the difference between the words "fishing" and "catching" to me at a very young age. This was after an outing in which the only thing I hooked that day was a tree limb. I was 5 or 6 years old, and my grandfather tried to untangle the hook from that limb, and instead he turned over the boat, dumped out all our gear as well as both of us. He never panicked. He turned the boat over, picked me up, and put me back in. He taught me another important lesson that day. "Never stand up in a small boat." As he pushed the boat a good 300 feet across the pond in chest deep water to the shore, he never got angry at me for hanging up in the tree. He was a quiet man that demanded attention anytime he said something because he would rarely open his mouth unless he had something hilariously profound to say.

"If you will it, it is not a dream." - Theodor Hezel, Old New Land

This quote appears more than once in this book. At under 150 pages filled with photos of picturesque scenery, this book is a light read you can enjoy a little at a time or easily finish in an evening. Winkler begins with an opening introduction written by his wife, titled "Stacey Winkler's Side of the Fish Story." Chapter one talks about his personal battles with dyslexia, academic struggles, and self-esteem. He tends to approach all of these subjects with a realistic insight of the fear, anxiety, and depression many of us face as we continue to age. The quick mention of these items is closely followed by triumphs, personal victories, and of course, "Happy Days." Patience, persistence, and learning are a great deal of what it takes to not only enjoy, but be successful at fishing (or catching). Both are thought intensive practices. When a fly is tied, thought goes into weather patterns, seasonal hatches and spawning runs. The conditions of the water are considered to apply different color scenarios that will attract or avoid spooking the fish. Special adhesives finish the wrap of thread that holds everything in place to avoid unraveling the fly when it bounces off the cobblestones on the river bottom. The excitement to get on the water when preparing for an outing the night before feels a lot like the night before Christmas. The river creates a creates a strange release from everyday anxiety that no benzodiazepine can compare to. Henry Winkler puts this release into words in chapter two of this book: "The River Is a Washing Machine for My Brain." He explains that "If you allow your mind to wander anywhere else, you will neither catch nor land your trout." The meditation that stems from focusing on the water and the task at hand is why people go fishing. Catching is just a bonus.

"Go With The Flow," (Chapter 5) describes Winkler family outings that don't go exactly as planned. There are many moral lessons to be taught in a day of fishing, but I can speak from my own experiences that the values that are instilled during these outings last a lifetime. There's an old saying that you can "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach him how to fish and he can feed himself the rest of his life." This only scratches the surface of divine inspiration the river (or pond or lake or ocean for that matter) provides. When the rivers are high and so are your tensions, this book is a spirit lifter. The only anxiety you will experience from this read will be to get to the river.

Commentary from the back cover:

"...he covers a lot of emotional territory with humor, wisdom, and visual beauty." - Ron Howard, filmmaker

"The most entertaining and introspective fly-fishing memoir I have ever read." - David Ondaatje, filmmaker and owner of R.L. Winston Rod Co.

"When I first met Harry, we were working together in Florida. There were easily ten lakes within driving distance and I think Henry fished every one of them at least twice. That being said, this isn't just a book about fishing. Henry has written a book about life, family, relaxation, and love. And the only reason he has never met an idiot on the river is because he refuses to take me with him." - Adam Sandler, actor

This article was published by The Good Men Project on November 29th, 2014:

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