Would you have liked to go fly-fishing in the Adirondacks with Winslow Homer? For sure I would, despite total lack of interest in fishing. I would just loll around watching the action, like the implied action in this painting; the colors; the sparkly light; the beautiful lines of the canoe. The bright white hat does imply blackfly season, though. Would he have been so foolish as to go up there during blackfly season? Maybe it was just somebody’s favorite hat.
This is one of many engravings by Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851,) whose satirical sketches of the actors in “sporting life” were very popular, appearing often in Punch. Engraving technology, with colors and everything, was figured out by English engineers in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and boy did it become popular fast. For the first time, color images could be reproduced cheaply and in quantity.
Note the top hats, two black and one light grey, worn by the gentlemen anglers. Are they beaver or silk? Michener, in Centennial, dramatically introduces the reader to the voyageurs, rulers of the North American continent, who hunted the beaver to supply the fashion demands of London. Then he tells of a toff deciding one day that beaver was no longer the thing; a hat had to be silk. The voyageurs’ beaver pelt market evaporated.
The gentleman in green is reaching for pike. Now there is a sport; pike have teeth and temper! Isn’t pike-grabbing a popular sport in the southern US? I have seen photos of scarred forearms of participants.
When Kipling was in Vermont in the 1890s, he wrote short stories, including my all-time favorite, The Brushwood Boy. The hero, on leave from Army service in India, returns to his boyhood fishing haunts:
The black gnat was on the water . . . a three-quarter-pounder at the second cast set him for the campaign, and he worked down-stream, crouching behind the reed and meadow-sweet . . . he had known every inch of the water since he was four feet high. The aged and astute between sunk roots, with the large and fat that lay in the frothy scum below some strong rush of water . . . came to trouble in their turn, at the hand that imitated so delicately the flicker and wimple of an egg-dropping fly. Consequently, Georgie found himself five miles from home when he ought to have been dressing for dinner.
And that fact was of great and good consequence. What a story.
Ken Young painted his friend and got some fly-fishing lessons in return. This is in Columbia County, New York: east of the Hudson, in Sleepy Hollow Country. Ken Young’s friend’s hat might be felt, but then again it might be a true beaver-pelt Stetson. You can still get those on eBay.
Anybody know this song: I’m goin’ to town, honey – what you want me to bring you back? – Bring a pint of booze – and a John B. Stetson hat!
There are quite a few animated GIFs of Michael Kitchen fishing for trout as Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. The Chief Superintendent is never without his felt fedora. On a few precious occasions, his RAF pilot son shows up, on a short leave. The son doesn’t fish, either. But he shows up.
I’d love to see Ratburgian fishing favorites: paintings, photos, hats, songs, prose. As long as I don’t actually have to go and try to catch a fish, it would be delightful.