These columns, articles, and letters from the late fly-fishing writer Sparse Grey Hackle (a.k.a. Alfred W. Miller) will delight those familiar with his work but will sometimes leave the newcomer in the dark. Hackle (18921983), who took his nom de plume in the 1930s when he wrote ``furious articles'' protesting the pollution of Catskill Mountain streams, is best remembered for his classic Fishless Days, Angling Nights. Several pieces from that book appear here, along with columns from the New York Times, Outdoor Life, and elsewhere. Sherwood, his daughter, intersperses these with excerpts from letters to a number of friends and fellow fishermen, including Nick Lyons, Lewis Hull, Howard Walden, and Henry Darbee. The letters are often problematic in that there is little or no background information provided; the reader must know who the correspondent is or the cheerful banter can sink like a lead weight. The columns are often quite entertaining, even if Hackle's folksy good humor seems dated. There's a good piece on Finger Lakes, New York, ``a lovely land of woods and waters,'' he writes, but nature has provided ``so little fishing for so much water.'' A delightful exchange in the 1930s and '40s with the editor of Rod and Gun finds Hackle wishing bumblebees could be designated ``a game animal'' along with backyard ``moochers'' such as robins and crows and woodpeckers. Another good piece, ``Murder,'' involves a Depression-era businessman who escapes his financial woes by going fishing. There's also a nice portrait of Harry and Elsis Darbee, owners of a Catskills fly and tackle shop (though no dates are provided as to when they operated). Some lovely writing (``a fine fly rod is a magnificent thing, a strain of music made visible''), but Hackle would be better served with a framework that does more than simply reprint columns and excerpts with little or no logical order or context.
Read full book review >