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A Global History of Fly Fishing and Conservation

With a Foreword by Jen Corrinne Brown and Epilogue by Chris Wood


A Global History of Fly Fishing and Conservation

With a Foreword by Jen Corrinne Brown and Epilogue by Chris Wood
“Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”-Norman Maclean
Though Maclean writes of an age-old focus of all anglers—the day’s catch—he may as well be speaking to another, deeper accomplishment of the best fishermen and fisherwomen: the preservation of natural resources.

Backcasts celebrates this centuries-old confluence of fly fishing and conservation. However religious, however patiently spiritual the tying and casting of the fly may be, no angler wishes to wade into rivers of industrial runoff or cast into waters devoid of fish or full of invasive species like the Asian carp. So it comes as no surprise that those who fish have long played an active, foundational role in the preservation, management, and restoration of the world’s coldwater fisheries. With sections covering the history of fly fishing; the sport’s global evolution, from the rivers of South Africa to Japan; the journeys of both native and nonnative trout; and the work of conservation organizations such as the Federation of Fly Fishers and Trout Unlimited, Backcasts casts wide.

Highlighting the historical significance of outdoor recreation and sports to conservation in a collection important for fly anglers and scholars of fisheries ecology, conservation history, and environmental ethics, Backcasts explores both the problems anglers and their organizations face and how they might serve as models of conservation—in the individual trout streams, watersheds, and landscapes through which these waters flow.

400 pages | 64 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology

Earth Sciences: Environment

Sport and Recreation


"[Backcasts] offers a historical and contemporary perspective on how anglers' have figured in the preservation, management, and restoration of trout and other salmonids."

Nina C. Ayoub | Chronicle of Higher Education

“[One of] the ones that got away: good books. . . . OK, so this book is actually brand spanking new, but I just had to put it on the list because it’s at once so unique and so important. Published this year by the University of Chicago Press (the very press that brought you A River Runs through It), Backcasts provides a cross-cultural, trans-historic look at the conservation practices, people, and obstacles that inform modern cold water conservancy. . . . This anthology is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the history and participate in the future of the attitudes and policies that shape our watersheds. Get it while it’s hot.”

Dave Karczynski | MidCurrent

“The University of Chicago Press is publishing Backcasts exactly forty years after they published Norman Maclean’s famous A River Runs through It and Other Stories. That publication was seminal, not only because of Maclean’s fine writing, but also because Chicago had never published a non-academic book before (though Maclean, a professor at Chicago, was an academic himself). Backcasts certainly qualifies as an academic book, but it should appeal to a much broader audience. The writing is accessible and the topics are wide-ranging.”

Kenneth H. Lokensgard | Literary Fly Fisher

“The Wild Steelhead Coalition and our thousands of members are proof positive of the inextricable link between fly fishing and conservation. There exists a litany of reasons that can explain why this link exists, but the short and simple explanation is that without fish and clean water our cherished sport would not exist. Our friend—Alaska-based fish conservationist Snyder—has taken a decidedly deeper dive into this subject with the publication of his new book Backcasts. Backcasts is a collection of writings from notable authors that celebrates the centuries-old confluence of fly fishing and conservation as well as explores the role anglers have played preserving, managing, and restoring the world’s coldwater fisheries.”

Paul Moinester | Wild Steelhead Coalition News

“How we experience nature shapes how we value nature. Backcasts argues that the values held by fly fishers have evolved from utilitarian self-interest toward biocentric, ecosystem-based conservation, with today’s guiding principles including stream management based on sound science, not political pressure, an emphasis on wild trout, even if they may not be native, and a commitment to protect and restore coldwater habitats. Bringing together a disparate literature from history, philosophy, religion, gender studies, and ecology to focus on the past, present, and future role of fly fishers in coldwater conservation, Backcasts will appeal to scholars and practitioners in all of these disciplines, as well as to coldwater fisheries specialists, conservation biologists, policy specialists, and trout and salmon  enthusiasts. This volume, because of the depth and breadth of its research, will have a very long shelf life.”

Donald J. Orth, Thomas H. Jones Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Backcasts offers essays and original research on the subject of fly fishing and its role in conservation from an American and global perspective, which is usually lacking in such works, as well as articles detailing contributions of Native Americans and women. Both the fly fishing community as a whole, especially conservationist organizations, and students in fisheries biology will find value in the essays that deal with the historical background to fishing and conservation and those that deal with contemporary problems, with a special emphasis on the impact of invasive species. Backcasts flows. It will be a fine contribution to scholarship. The editors and authors should be proud of their hard work.”

Todd E. A. Larson, Xavier University

Table of Contents

Foreword: Looking Downstream from A River
Jen Corrinne Brown


Introduction. A Historical View: Wading through the History of Angling’s Evolving Ethics
Samuel Snyder

Part One: Historical Perspectives
1 Trout and Fly, Work and Play, in Medieval Europe
Richard C. Hoffmann
2 Piscatorial Protestants: Nineteenth-Century Angling and the New Christian Wilderness Ethic
Brent Lane
3 The Fly Fishing Engineer: George T. Dunbar, Jr., and the Conservation Ethic in Antebellum America
Greg O’Brien

Part Two: Geographies of Sport and Concern
4. Protecting a Northwest Icon: Fly Anglers and Their Efforts to Save Wild Steelhead
Jack Berryman
5 Conserving Ecology, Tradition, and History: Fly Fishing and Conservation in the Pocono and Catskill Mountains
Matthew Bruen
6 From Serpents to Fly Fishers: Changing Attitudes in Blackfeet Country toward Fish and Fishing
Ken Lokensgard
7 Thymallus tricolor: The Michigan Grayling
Bryon Borgelt

Part Three: Native Trout and Globalization
8 “For Every Tail Taken, We Shall Put Ten Back”: Fly Fishing and Salmonid Conservation in Finland
Mikko Saikku
9 Trout in South Africa: History, Economic Value, Environmental Impacts, and Management
Dean Impson
10 Holy Trout: New Zealand and South Africa
Malcolm Draper
11 A History of Angling, Fisheries Management, and Conservation in Japan
Masanori Horiuchi

Part Four: Ethics and Practices of Conservation
12 For the Health of Water, Fish, and People: Women, Angling, and Conservation
Gretel Van Wieren
13 Crying in the Wilderness: Roderick Haig-Brown, Conservation, and Environmental Justice
Arn Keeling
14 The Origin, Decline, and Resurgence of Conservation as a Guiding Principle in the Federation of Fly Fishers
Rick Williams
15 It Takes a River: Trout Unlimited and Coldwater Conservation
John Ross

Conclusion. What the Future Holds: Conservation Challenges and the Future of Fly Fishing
Jack Williams and Austin Williams

Chris Wood, CEO, Trout Unlimited

Appendix. Research Resources: A List of Libraries, Museums, and Collections Covering Sporting History, Especially Fly Fishing

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