Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How People Who Fish and Read Spend A March Weekend

by Frank Boles

March 10 and 11 Robert Kohrman and I spent the weekend representing the library at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. That may sound like a peculiar place for us to be talking to people about the Clarke Historical Library, but with over 3,000 angling books in the library which taken together make up what is arguably the strongest collection of fly fishing books in the Midwest, spending a few days talking about our holdings among people who enjoy the sport is a sound outreach strategy.

Bob, who is a true expert on the sport and the literature, and I, who can kind of talk the talk if I have to but have never walked the walk (that is, gone fly fishing) have attended the show for several years with three goals in mind. The first is simply to let people interested in the sport know the collection exists. The second is to find individuals with book collections on the subject and encourage them to think about donating those books to the Clarke. And the third is to reach out to individuals interested in the sport to support the endowment within the Clarke that allows us to continue to grow the collection.

One of the intriguing aspects of sitting for 14 hours on the floor of the show is that you never know to what topic the next conversation will turn. Over the course of the weekend we talked to a number of Chippewa alums who groaned when they realized that for four years all those books were just a few steps away – and who we encouraged to make a trip back to campus. We also talked to a hobbyist boat builder absolutely fascinated by a model of the original Au Sable river boat that we had on display, and was interested in possibly building a full size replica. And we talked with a gentleman who may have the only surviving notes about rod construction left by one of Michigan’s most famous rod makers.

And of course there were the book people. John D. Voelker, one of Michigan’s most celebrated authors and fly fishers, once wrote, “Old fishermen never die, instead they write books about their passion.” In truth, fishermen read books about their passion rather than write them, and are equally passionate about their book collections. Those passionate readers are the reason two book dealers routinely set up shop at the show – they know there is a market there for their wares. Those passionate readers and collectors are also people to whom we like to talk.

Fly fishing in Michigan is deeply linked to the state’s history. The “holy water” of the Au Sable River is steeped in fishing lore, as are many other Michigan streams. There is also a practical aspect to documenting the sport – fly fishing is a major recreational activity and an important factor in the state’s tourism industry. The Clarke’s angling collection gives researchers, a state, national, and international perspective on the sport.

As always, my thanks to the Michigan Fly Fishing Club, which sponsors the show and again this year kindly granted us a complimentary vendor table, and to Bob Kohrman, who volunteers to spend those long hours at the table with me, and who saves the day whenever someone asks a real question about fishing or the fly fishing literature.