Review by Steve Raymond
The Derrydale Press, 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, MD 20706; hardcover, $19.95
A spate of new fly-fishing novels has appeared over the past year, and this one deserves the award for best title yet. But the first chapter's title - "The Last Good Day of Fishing Was the Day Before You Came" - is a better indication of what's in store in these pages. That's because the principal character of the tale, a Florida flats guide named Skip, is such a sourpuss you can't help wondering if he's ever had a good day's fishing in his life.
Skip hates other guides, other fishermen, the weather, his job, his life and, most of all, his clients. But if you stick with the story long enough, you learn that Skip does have some redeeming qualities: As a matter of principle he never eats fish. He hates jet skiers (as the entire civilized world should). He also hates fly-fishing tournaments, labeling them "the antithesis of fly fishing."
Still, Skip's virtues are mostly offset by his continual griping. Even the smallest things upset him: "He puzzled over how his motley array of fishermen could all manage to do the same wrong things, consistently ... Daily, clients would board his skiff, then apply sunscreen ... Why didn't, just by chance, half of them swab on their unguents at the hotel? Hell, it says to apply before exposure right on the tube.
"And tackle. Why bother to tie on that Clouser's minnow before the skiff whooshed down at the first flat? As if they couldn't possibly see any bonefish until, knots pulled tight, drinks sipped and replaced, snacks duly tasted and pocketed, they felt that deep inner readiness. Yeah. As if their guide had burned a steak dinner's worth of fossils in his outboard to gain this point, at this hour, on this tide, on a mission less urgent than bone stocking.
"And on to rain gear. Those clients who actually thought to bring some ... frequently left it in their motel room. Very handy there, keep that closet dry. Those who remembered to pack rainwear in their gear bags, more often than not, only brought the jacket. Skip had finally asked one guy, 'So, you suppose it will only rain on you from the waist up?'"
The story here is about the miserable life of a Florida fishing guide. Skip asks himself periodically why he puts up with all this agony. The answer doesn't come until the very last paragraph of the book, and it's a good one - but you have to put up with 215 pages of griping to reach it.
Well, actually it's not all griping. There are also plenty of well-described action sequences involving permit, bonefish and tarpon, most (but not all) on a fly. Rodgers is a high-energy writer. Her description of a fishing shirt: "One of those nifty pastel shirts with gussets and mesh and noodles to hang things on and pockets big enough for fly boxes or wallabies." Her account of a battle with a bonefish: "He yanged after the bonebullet with fire in his arms, kept an ear trained on Bill as he reeled backing in fast as technology goes obsolete. They gained line, but that meant the boney had knocked off, resting. Devilment in store no doubt, like a hair-club weave of fly line around the nearest coral head."
Well, yes, now that you mention it, she does get carried away sometimes, but these sequences do make Skip's griping more palatable. But somebody please tell us most real-life fishing guides don't hold their clients in such contempt as the fictional Skip.