Hemingway on Fishing
by Ernest Hemingway
The Lyons Press, 2000
Two years ago, nearly 30 years after he silenced his lobotomized brain with the dual barrels of a shotgun, Ernest Hemingway published a new novel. True At First Light, a meditation on his safari days on the African continent, was honed from 850 pages of rambling prose into a publishable "fictional memoir" largely by the work of Hemingway's middle son Patrick. And this was the salient criticism railed against the effort, the one appearing in virtually every published review that came in its wake. To most critics, it was a blasphemous form of nepotism, profiteering on scraps from Papa's wastebasket.
A far cry from True at First Light in both success and form, Hemingway on Fishing, a recent compilation of the writer's enduring pursuits with rod and reel, fills a much-needed void in the Hemingway canon. It presents Hemingway the angler in the prose not of a literary celeb but of a brash yet capable sportsman who set big game world records aboard the Pilar and authored introductions and chapters in American Big Game Fishing, American Game Fishing and Game Fish of the World.
Long-time fly fisherman Nick Lyons, who edited the collection, is perhaps the most significant angling publisher ever and undoubtedly the man most qualified for such a venture. After abandoning a career as a fiction writer to pursue a masters and later a doctorate in English Literature, Lyons began investing his rather meager salary from his years teaching at New York's Hunter College in book-publishing. He focused on fishing books continually spurned by the New York houses, often re-issuing out-of-print angling classics.
His gamble soon reaped handsome dividends. Lyons Books evolved from a basement operation into Lyons and Burford, a major publisher of outdoor books and a reservoir of long ignored yet talented sportswriters. During this time he developed his own loyal following with the publication of essay collections like My Secret Fishing Life and The Seasonable Angler.
In 1997, around the time Lyons was awarded Angler of the Year by Fly Rod and Reel magazine for his commitment to fly rodding, Lyons and Burford became simply the Lyons Press and his eldest son Tony took the reins.
In "Hemingway on Fishing," Lyons has carefully selected the best of Ernest's love affair with the water: the boyhood narratives detailing Nick Adams' pursuit of trout in "Big Two Hearted River," the mid-career articles for Esquire and Look and his final crowning achievement, the award-winning novella Old Man and the Sea.
"A fight with a truly big fish was a test of self," writes Lyons. "'Il faut (d'abord) durer' he liked to say, about life and a fight with some mammoth fish--one must, above all, endure."
With the assistance of John Hemingway, the writer's eldest son and a fly-fishing legend in his own right, Lyons has culled never-before-seen images from the family archives of Papa. He is shown flanked by massive tuna and marlin, in old haunts like Havana and Key West. That these images have been unearthed and shared is an achievement in its own right.
Where True at First Light failed in its attempt to refashion Hemingway's grace with words from a manuscript never intended for publication, Hemingway on Fishing succeeds in its sense of purpose. It re-issues, at long last, Hemingway's sport journalism, the magazine and newspaper non-fiction portraying the eerie beauty, radiant grace and equine power exerted by trophy billfish when locked in combat with man. The reader is left with an undeniable axiom--he was writing about more than a bullish fish fight but about man's war with himself. And his inevitable demise.