Review of The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing

The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky

My rating: 4.3 of 5 stars

A thoroughly delightful read.

Mark Kurlansky always offers a narrative rich and replete with tangential context. Through a broad body of work, he has become known and loved for this. From Cod to the Basque History of the World to A World Without Fish, he has often written with a connection to water – either as means of journey or the environment of his subjects. In The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing, he truly meets and delivers on his purest passion. 

This lovingly crafted book is a deeply personal reflection on a pastime and pleasure that he has a deep passion for. There is the expected history and evidence aplenty – whether in the various components of the gear, the biological aspects of the salmonids, or the community of ‘fishers’ (a non-gendered term I had not previously encountered). Still, it is the experience that he keeps coming back to and what makes this one particularly special.

Fly Fishing is more evidently reflective than his past works – probably stemming from his long personal experience and passion for fly-fishing. From this, he draws us into this nearly timeless enterprise and explicitly attempts to answer the overriding question: why fly-fish at all? He has had to answer this one for himself and shares his own exploration with us. Kurlansky is not defensive in pursuit of this, and he is not out to convince anyone to take up the quest. He’s simply sharing his own thoughts and combining these with others – this is an oft-written undertaking. From earliest written history, there were references to fly-fishing hiding in plain sight. Kurlansky extracts from these, unpacks them, illustrates from them, and connects them skillfully into a compelling and engaging piece of work.

One is left very conscious – partly in answer to the big question – of how finding a profoundly personal challenge within a sense of broader community makes fly-fishing genuinely unique. It’s often solo enjoyment subjectively shaped through individual choices that create the pure joy of fly-fishing and finding our place within a complex, beautiful world.

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