Fishermen everywhere will understand Gierach's quest to discover and explore new waters (and then not to divulge the best locations to anyone), the unlikely appeal of winter fly-fishing ("the ice fishing shanty served the dual purpose of group therapy and the neighborhood tavern"), how impossible it is to predict the best fishing ("Everything that happens is entirely familiar, but I don't always see it coming"), or even the absurdity of the entire exercise ("day after day, you're casting a fly that doesn't look like anything to fish that aren't hungry and may not even be there"). Braving trips on small prop planes and down "Oh-My-God" roads alike, Gierach and his fishing buddies pursue bull trout in British Columbia, steelhead in the Rocky Mountains, and pike so fierce that a wise fisherman wears Kevlar gloves for the obligatory trophy photo.
But as with any activity that depends on unspoiled wilderness, change is constant. Gierach sees this happening both in the landscape ("You never get to point at a meadow full of browsing mule deer and say, 'You know, all this was once condos.'") and at lodges that now require guests to sign liability waivers ("[I] had a brief vision of herds of lawyers coursing over the tundra in search of litigation"). Just the same, he is always awed by the experience of nature, or as he puts it: "You're on a lovely, remote wilderness river in the Alaskan backcountry. There are people who would make this trip and not even bring a fishing rod."
Musing on the enduring appeal of fishing, Gierach theorizes, "We're so used to the fake and the packaged that encountering something real can amount to a borderline religious experience." Equal parts fishing lore, philosophy, and great fish stories, Fool's Paradise may not be a perfect substitute for actually being out on the water, but it's surely the next best thing.
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