“Calm, Cool, and Collected”

Many of the autographed books in my library contain typically inane inscriptions, but there are also some pretty good ones, and a few that have special meaning for me. The late Stanley Bascom, who, under the pseudonym Milford Poltroon, edited the extremely funny “piscatorial periodical” known as The Wretched Mess News, sent me a copy of his 1971 book, How to Fish Good, with the following inscription:  “Steve! This is the best book I ever wrote. Milf Poltroon.” At the time it also was the only book he’d ever written. Milf and I had some good times together and I wrote a number of goofy stories for the Wretched Mess. Since I lived in Washington State, he always identified me as his “Washington correspondent.”

E. H. “Polly” Rosborough, the famous, talented, and sometimes irascible Oregon fly tyer, published several editions of his book, Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs. I don’t now remember what I said, but evidently I reviewed one of the early editions in less than glowing terms, so when Polly published the fourth edition he sent me a copy inscribed: “May this time meet with your approval.”

As I recollect, it did.

Ralph Wahl’s One Man’s Steelhead Shangri-La is his memoir of a great stretch of steelhead water on the Skagit River, now long gone, and a copy of the published work occupies a place on one of my shelves. Right next to it is a copy of the original typescript of the book bearing this inscription by Ralph: “Steve: You were born a generation too late. I would have been delighted to share it with you.” Of course he did share it, vicariously, through his words and vivid descriptions. As one of my steelhead fishing mentors, he also shared much more—the gift of his priceless knowledge.

My copy of Sparse Grey Hackle’s classic Fishless Days, Angling Nights is not autographed, but it does include a letter from Sparse (whose real name was Alfred W. Miller). The letter, on stationery from the Anglers Club of New York, was written after I reviewed his book in The Flyfisher magazine. “Thank you kindly for giving me a generous and friendly review,” he said. “It was gracious of you and I appreciate it very much.” That was a much nicer letter than the kind I usually got from authors whose books I had reviewed.

I never met Sparse in person, much to my regret, but he occasionally corresponded with my friend Al Severeid, who shared many of his letters with me. Severeid, incidentally, was one of those highly addicted book collectors mentioned earlier, one who eventually quit fishing in favor of books.

My copy of Lefty Kreh’s Fly Fishing in Salt Water bears a rather standard inscription: “For Steve Raymond—I hope that this book helps you catch many of these grand fish. All the best, Lefty Kreh.” But Lefty added something else, something very special—a fly taped to the page, with this notation: “A favorite baby tarpon fly of the author, tied by Lefty for Steve.” It’s a handsome fly, and I can scarcely think of anything more personal that an author could add to an inscription. If only I were a better fly tyer, and not so ashamed of my ragged-looking patterns, this might be a solution to the problem of what to say when I’m asked for a personal inscription. I could just sign my name and paste a fly in the book.

Unfortunately, that won’t work for me.

Maybe, if the publishing industry continues to shift toward electronic books, I won’t have to worry about personal inscriptions any more. I’m definitely no fan of electronic books, but as far as I know, nobody has yet figured out a way to sign names or write personal inscriptions on them.


The books that crowd those sixty feet of shelves in my office contain many other memories—and much more. They enrich the days when I cannot go fishing and their teachings help me on the days I can. Some of them I’ve read at least a half-dozen times, and they still seem fresh each time I turn to them.

Will books survive in the electronic age that now seems upon us? I think a more relevant question is whether we can survive without books. In any case, I believe traditional books, printed on paper and bound between covers, will be with us indefinitely. I think they will survive because their authors can sign them and say whatever they please (or can think of); because we won’t need batteries to read them; because we will always need the tactile feedback they give us; and most of all because of their sense of permanence. Electronic books, by their very nature, have none of these features. They do have one advantage, though: They will never develop the musty smell that old books have, although some people grow to like that aroma.

Yet another reason we will always have traditional books is because they sometimes combine the printer’s and binder’s arts with the writer’s prose to make a book something of real and lasting beauty, a work of art unto itself—something like my copy of Scotcher Notes, for example. That’s also something electronic books will never be able to duplicate.

Take it from someone who ended up a book collector in spite of himself.


Excerpted with permission from A Fly Fisher’s Sixty Seasons: True Tales of Angling Adventures (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018).  Copyright 2018, all rights reserved.