There’s something about fly fishing that makes people want to put the thoughts they have as they experience a river down on paper. And I think that’s great. I adore words, especially when they spring from rivers, and most especially when they are on paper.
I actually think that desire to “express and share” is a core attribute of fly fishing. It explains why the written tradition of fly fishing is so deeply rich and raw… often beautifully unfiltered and honest. Compare the library of fly-fishing “literature” to any other outdoor pursuit, and the sheer volumes, from Dame Juliana Berners and Isaak Walton to Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway, to Ted Leeson and John Gierach, are uniquely astounding.
Before I ever became a “writer,” I kept journals as I fished. I thought maybe a great-great grandchild might unlock them from a dusty box someday, long after I was gone, but they weren’t for public consumption. Funny thing though… I did somehow end up being an outdoor writer, and many of you have read little nuggets from those same old notebooks woven into stories in Field & Stream magazine, and The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing, now TROUT magazine and elsewhere, whether you realize it—or I originally intended it—or not.
It’s worth capturing your thoughts on the river, always, whether you want to write professionally, just see your name on a story somewhere, or (maybe best of all) merely for the sheer satisfaction of writing. Archiving those deepest thoughts isn’t always possible through the lens of an iPhone, so stuff a notepad or some folded pieces of copy paper and a pen in the pocket of your waders because you never know what that might morph into.
As the editor of a magazine that focuses on trout fishing and conservation (they go hand-in-hand), I’m often—and I mean really often—approached by folks who want to write a piece and see themselves “published.” It’s the part of my job that can fuel the soul and also be quite challenging.
I’ve always thought it important to endeavor to be a writer who fishes, and not an angler who wants to write stories. The world is chock-full of people who love fishing and want to write about all that. But there are fewer gifted writers—people who understand the “craft”—who also happen to know a bit about fishing. Endeavor to be a writer who fishes. Read through that dog-eared copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style you had in high school or college. E.B White is still my favorite writer of all time, and he knew darn well how to make lean sentences and paragraphs that ultimately matter.
If you want to make money with your writing (though you certainly don’t have to!), land on an angle that helps an editor be successful with their job. You may have something to say, and that’s great. But understand that editors have a plan also. It’s nothing personal. Book publishers produce books they think people will buy. Magazine editors want to reach as broad an audience as possible with service content (stuff that entertains or informs readers). Know what an editor’s agenda is vis a vis serving the interests of her/his audience and you are half-way home.
I’ll never forget the three words a dear professor scrawled with chalk on a blackboard during my senior year of college: Clarity. Honesty. Simplicity. Those three words have influenced my entire professional career, from writing to editing. If you’re lean with your words, clear with your thoughts, honest about the experience, and simple in your approach, well, that’s the formula. Any decent editor will immediately pick up on those aspects of your writing, and your audience will also—even if that’s an audience of one!
As a final footnote, remember that the best fly-fishing writing often has less to do with the fishing or fish themselves, and more to do with the miles you roll, the people you meet along the way and the beautiful places you experience.
Everyone has a writer inside them. The thing is, you’re more likely to meet that writer when you are fishing, so go ahead and seize those moments on the water and set your imagination free. You’ll enjoy fishing even more when you do that, trust me.