Stu Farnham

May 12th, 2003

A Fly Fisher's Library
By Stu Farnham

The Internet is a powerful resource. It provides us instant access to information, and brings us together via email, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging. FAOL is a wonderful example of the Internet at its best. The Internet, however, will never replace the printed page.

I've loved books and fishing since my youngest years, although I did not start fly fishing until 1993. This column will give me an opportunity to share reviews of some of my favorite fly fishing and tying books (and some that are not such favorites) with my friends here at FAOL. My library reflects my tastes and interests, and so will this column. It will be heavily slanted towards cold water fishing and tying for trout and steelhead, and won't touch much on areas of which I know little, such as warm or salt water fishing.

I hope that these reviews will motivate some of you to pick up a good book, on this or any subject, and read. ~ Stu Farnham

Two By The Stream Doctor

In this week's column I'll review a couple of books by Colbert Cushing, aka "Cush" or "Bert", aka the Streamdoctor here on FAOL. Cushing is a retired stream biologist from Colorado State University and an avid fly angler. These two books represent those two intersecting aspects of Cush's life.

Cover Streams: Their Ecology and Life
by Colbert E. Cushing & J. David Allan
Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Academic Press; 1st edition (September 2001)
ISBN: 0120503409

Fly fishers spend an inordinate time thinking about the fish they pursue, the food they are tying to imitate and the gear and techniques they use to pursue their quarry. Very little thought is given to ecosystem in which they pursue their prey: the stream. In Streams, Cushing and his colleague J. David Allan (from the University of Michigan) provide a comprehensive look at the ecology of moving water.

Dr. Bert Cushing

The first few chapters explore the basic physical realities of streams: the cycle by which water goes between its liquid, earthbound form, into the atmosphere by evaporation, and back to earth as precipitation. The nature of streambeds and the seasonal effects of runoff and drought are explored. The other inorganic physical factors of light, geology, chemistry, and temperature are discussed.

Life is, fundamentally, about the exchange of energy in the form of food. Cushing and Allan describe the complex feeding relationships in a stream in terms of food webs, including prey and predator, and food sources ranging from dissolved organic matter to in stream and terrestrial foods.

Following the first five chapters, which establish context and conceptual background, we get to the heart of the matter: trout streams. The general characteristics of trout habitat are discussed, and specific example from the East (Beaverkill), Midwest (AuSable), and West (Madison) are presented. The many environmental challenges facing our trout habitat are discussed: mining, logging, grazing, and the impacts of urban development and drought are presented, as well as potential solutions to these problems.

Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest sees the dramatic differences in productivity between the swift flowing freestone streams of the Pacific slope, and the rich tail waters east of the coastal mountains. Cush provides us with the scientific underpinnings of these differences in a discussion of biomass.

The bulk of the remainder of the book walks up the food chain, from algae and plants through insects, crustaceans, and other invertebrate life forms. We then get to the heart of the matter: fish. Not all of the families presented are of direct interest to the fly fisher, except to the extent that they inhabit the streams and rivers we love. Chapters on land-born life forms (amphibians, reptile, birds, and mammals) the live around flowing water round out this part of the book.

The most important chapter comes right before the extensive bibliography. Humans are deer trapped on the island earth, and like a herd of deer on an island we are rapidly using up the resources that sustain both body and soul. Cush and Dr. Allan detail the threats faced by rivers, both in North America and around the world. They provide a call to action for those of us who love the outdoors, and a blueprint for riparian protection and restoration.

This book is a valuable resource to the fully informed fly fisher and lover of the outdoors. Along with our love of sport comes the responsibility of stewardship. Effective stewardship must be based in understanding.

Dr. Bert on Henry's Fork

There's a class of books for which I have a fondness that goes beyond the quality of their writing or the events and facts they describe. For example, my good friend Ron Johnstad is a retired Lutheran minister who, with his wife Mary Ellen, runs a bed and breakfast in Montana's Paradise Valley, Ron has written a memoir of his life outdoors under the Big Sky. His book is not great literature, great sporting literature, or even very good writing. But I cherish it because Ron shines so clearly on every page.

The Kelly Creek Chronicles
by Colbert E. Cushing
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Majestic Press; (September 15, 2002)
ISBN: 0962531170

The second book reviewed in this column belongs to that same family. It is Colbert Cushing's memoir of 18 years fishing Idaho's Kelly Creek.

Along with the Lochsa, Selway, and St. Joe Rivers, Kelly Creek is at the heart of the Gem State's wonderful wild cutthroat trout country. These streams run crystal clear, deep, and cold, and full of beautiful, willing wild and native trout. The book details the minutia of successive summers fishing Kelly Creek with friends. We get to know Cush and his friends, including Don Watson, Bill Rickard, and others as they fish the Bridge Pool, the Rock Pool, Tree Pool, and Rickard's and Cushing's Pools.

The stories in this memoir will be familiar to anyone who has spent their time away from work and home chasing trout in the woods and mountains of the northwest. There's a comfort in that familiarity, as well as a resonance with the trips we've each taken, and the friends with whom we have taken them. ~ Stu Farnham

About Stu

Stu tying Stu Farnham is a New Englander by birth, who was transplanted to and put down roots in Oregon in the early 1990s, now residing in the Seattle area. A software engineering manager by vocation, he can be found in his spare time chasing trout and steelhead in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, chasing his four Gordon Setters (who in turn are chasing chukar), tying flies, reading, or working on his website. Colleen, his long suffering wife of 28 years, is a professionally trained personal chef.

Previous Stu Farnham Book Columns
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