Because it is written on the seashore, this book, published in 1953, by Stefano Ranci, and beloved by fishermen everywhere, because its pages come to life with the strength of a start line, because it shows what is so joyous about fly fishing, because its tales of magical days on the water are unforgettable and throw you back time and again into the life of the fisherman, and because, as with any book on the joy of fly fishing, I nearly threw it at the desk when I opened it last month.
“The Italian fly fishing world is still very much in its infancy, from a cultural standpoint as well as from a sociological one. We still don’t really know what is going on out on the streams.”
This was the subject of a recent interview with photographer Alberto Grassi, who was born and lives on the Sicilian lake shores where the book was originally published.
The Joy of Fly Fishing in Italy says so much about a moment in history when there was little to “write about” but fly fishing, and why it has long remained one of the great pleasures of all time.
‘If the fisherman is like an excellent painter, the lake is like a great city’
For long periods on the book’s front and back cover, alone in the fields, fishermen will look directly at you, taking you in the open sky with them. It is the very soul of the film Ray Harryhausen, who with director Joseph Campbell (the father of cinema theory) looked at everything they saw in 3D on the screen to imagine how it looked like. That the story will make you think of all the past shapes of a tiny fish or a group of sea gulls or the outline of a weasel poking through a lake’s surface, is testament to the intensity of the real pleasure of flying.
Only when a few pages or even paragraphs of the book have passed do you realise that it is also a simple art as well as a sport: “Mimicking the movements of the fish, using a rhythm and a certain body and physique, the master master catches more and more fish by never blinking an eye but always glancing his eye straight at the fish,” writes Ranci. If the fisherman is like an excellent painter, the lake is like a great city: “The lake is a museum, and my job is to preserve the beauty of the natural world so that my children and grandchildren can enjoy it too.” And what beauty indeed.
La, la, la vista – ‘fly fishing in the dark’, says one section – “because of the lights it seemed to me only like a walk on a pier”. The intro said it all, in two beautiful, simple sentences: “I am scared for the future of an animal that produces so little fat and carries all the properties of a fly.” That was the beginning of Ranci’s three decades of writing and photographing about fishermen in the twenty-five years from 1953 to 1988. The book was published in Italy that year, and brought about Ranci’s retirement. And that’s where it should be remembered, no matter how many times I read it.