Thinking like a fish

  • Swimming with Trout Chad Hanson 128 pages, hardcover: $19.95. University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

  • ISTOCK

 

Chad Hanson used to wonder what music trout would listen to if they could: Brookies might like bluegrass, browns might prefer classical, while rainbows, he thought, would dig grunge tunes from the Pacific Northwest.

But he was wrong, he learns. And as Hanson looks for an answer to what might seem like a silly question, we share his growing intimacy with and concern for Western waterways. Ultimately, the 11 heartfelt essays in Swimming with Trout lift Hanson's experiences far beyond mere fishing stories.

Currently chair of sociology and social work at Casper College in Wyoming, this Midwesterner grew up before fly-fishing became a "big money-guzzling industry." Unimpressed by expensive trappings, whether rods, clothes or country McMansions, Hanson cares more about the well-being of fish than about bringing one to hand.

Long ago, he writes in "The Happy Whale," he learned to be respectful toward fish the day he and some friends rescued a steelhead stranded in a small pool below a new diversion dam. The boys used a T-shirt to carry the fish to a nearby lake.

In "A Sharp Reminder," he catches a brookie trailing someone else's line; unable to remove the fly, he debates whether it's kinder to kill or release the fish. He worries about the environment, noting, in "Carp Unlimited," how cattle leave nothing but "mud and damage" in a creek's weed bed, while in "Black Canyon," the runoff from newly plowed fields clogs a bordering streambed with silt.

To understand this underwater world, Hanson braves the cold water trout need to survive. In "Jonathan Livingston Brook Trout," he swims with a brookie that plays with flies like toys; in "Apache Trout," he is lured into the current by his desire to see Cloud Creek's endangered fish.

In the title essay, he bumps up against Wyoming water-rights law. Streambeds on private property are closed to trespassers; only floating a river is allowed. Lacking a boat, Hanson dons wetsuit, fins and mask. And he finds magic. One melody plays beneath waterfalls, another in eddies. It's river music, and the trout listen to it "day and night. ..."


Hanson, who doubts his new sport will catch on, still fishes in the traditional sense. But his experience swimming with trout - and the thoughtful essay it inspired - show there is more to be learned from fish than simply how to catch them.