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The Compleat Angler: And Other Meditations on the Art and Philosophy of Fishing, 15th Century to the Present: Brautigan, Maclean, & McGuane

The exhibit is located in the Reading Room at Archives & Special Collections, 363 Hillman Library, Spring - Fall 2017.

Brautigan, Maclean, and McGuane page banner

Richard Brautigan

Trout Fishing in America front cover

Front cover of Trout Fishing in America, [1967]



As a child when did I first hear about trout fishing in America?

From whom? I guess it was a stepfather of mine. 

Summer of 1942.

The old drunk told me about trout fishing. When he could talk, he had a way of describing trout as if they were a precious and intelligent metal.

Silver is not a good adjective to describe what I felt when he told me about trout fishing. 

I'd like to get it right.

Maybe trout steel. Steel made from trout. The clear snow-filled river acting as foundry and heat. 

Imagine Pittsburgh.

A steel that comes from trout, used to make buildings, trains and tunnels. 

The Andrew Carnegie of Trout!

The Reply of Trout Fishing in America:

I remember with particular amusement, people with three-cornered hats fishing in the dawn. 

Brautigan, Richard, (1935-1984).

Trout Fishing in America: A Novel

[New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1967], p. 3. 

Private Collection 

Norman Maclean

Portrait of Maclean from A River Runs Through It

Woodcut portrait of Norman Maclean by Barry Moser, 1989

…Once, for instance, my father asked me a series of questions that suddenly made me wonder whether I understood even my father whom I felt closer to than any man I have ever known.  “You like to tell true stories, don’t you?” he asked, and I answered, “Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.”

Then he asked, “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people to go with it?

“Only then will you understand what happened and why.

“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t.  Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening.  Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters. 

Illustration of Maclean's hat from A River Runs Through It

Woodcut portrait of a hat with flies by Barry Moser

Maclean, Norman, (1902-1990). 

Moser, Barry, (1940-) illustrator. 

A River Runs Through It

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. 

University Library System - Hillman Library 

Thomas McGuane on Izaak Walton

The Longest Silence front cover

The dust jacket from The Longest Silence, 1999

The Longest Silence title page

The title page of The Longest Silence, 1999

Today’s faithless reader will be somewhat baffled by the long shelf-life of this unreliable fishing manual [The Compleat Angler], until he realizes that it’s not about how to fish but how to be.  Of this fact even Walton was unaware; thus its inescapable persuasiveness and the bright, objective picture the author has left of himself, without which all quickly deteriorates into the quaint or, worse, the picturesque.

…The evolution of angling has reached a precipice beyond which the solace, exuberance, and absorption that has sustained fishermen from the beginning will have to come from the way the art is perceived.  And here, learned, equitable Izaak Walton, by demonstrating how watchfulness and awe may be taken within from the natural world, has much to tell us; that is, less about how to catch fish than about how to be thankful that we may catch fish.  He tells us how to live.  

McGuane, Thomas, (1939-).

The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing. 

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999, pp. 229 & 234. 

University Library System - Hillman Library 

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