Tom McGuane has had a storied career as a writer and wild man of some renown.
Six years after graduating from Michigan State University, he published his first well-received novel, The Sporting Club. Selling the screen rights enabled him to buy a ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley; he later sold that ranch and moved to the Boulder River Valley, near McLeod Montana.
Over the years, he divided his time between Montana and Key West, Florida, and continued to write. His third novel, 92 in the Shade, won The National Book Award in 1973. He went on to write five screenplays (including Rancho Deluxe and The Missouri Breaks), short stories, essays, and 10 novels in total.
Throughout, he has been a dedicated fly fisher, writing The Longest Silence – A Life in Fishing, that is still considered one of the best collections of essays about angling and its meaning to life.
(As an aside, the wild side of his life – at one time in his younger life he was called Captain Berserko – will not be recounted here – you can look it up).
In 2016, he was recorded giving a talk about the meaning of fishing at Montana State University in Bozeman.
This was not a formal speech, but more of a one-sided conversation with someone who has experienced much and has much to say.
To Tom McGuane, angling is a calling, as he said don’t call it a sport.
He begins with stories of Craig Fellin and Lefty Kreh – two well known fly fishers and veterans of different wars (Vietnam, WWII) who found their way back from the traumas of war by fly fishing. And he draws his talk to a close by recalling a young Russian who was still healing from his wars in Chechnya. Healing on a river transcends nationality.
Mixing personal anecdotes with portions of his essays and often humorous memories of conversations with other anglers, he reminds us the depth of his literary talent draws on his reflections on things experienced.
He mentions Roderick Haig-Brown (the Canadian conservationist and writer) who said one could only know one river – and even then only a part of it. So, the question is why the rush?
Maybe the meaning of fishing is in learning not to rush, to recognize that when we are fishing we see that we are part of a much larger system, and then when we can bring a fish to hand – to be able to actually see it – is to be reminded of the perfection of nature.