For Colo. author John Gierach, fly fishing is just a day at the office

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Photo: Author John Gierach
The first chapter in author John Gierach’s latest book "All Fishermen are Liars" is called “A Day at the Office.” That “office” is any stream brimming with trout. Gierach has now written 17 books that are ostensibly about fly fishing, but are also meditations on travel, on the people he meets and on life. Gierach lives in Lyons, Colo., and is considered one of the nation's premier fly-fishing writers – perhaps because of his impatience with affectation and his embrace of the rustic, down-home characters he meets while traveling to write and fish, or the other way around. The Wall Street Journal recently called him “the voice of the common angler.”

Gierach – who with his white hair and beard bears a slight resemblance to one of his heroes, Ernest Hemingway – has spent his whole career holding a fishing rod, tying flies and taking notes about the equally avid fishermen who populate his travels. In the first chapter of "All Fishermen are Liars," he documents his rise from a virtually destitute, lost 20-something trying to figure out how to make a living to the celebrated author he is today. It's a rise that he makes seem almost, but not quite, accidental – a byproduct of his desire to find yet one more sweet spot where the trout are eager and the river hasn't yet been fished out.

But fishing for a living isn't without its concerns. Over the decades, the author has become more aware of population pressures – and as a result, more prone to secrecy about the rivers and streams over which he waxes eloquent.

"Sooner or later, you write a story and a bazillion people show up and everybody’s mad at you," Gierach says.

Now he writes: “So in your stories you begin to casually omit the name of a stream or river, or change its name, or move its location from one state or province to another in order to protect the innocent. You don’t really think you can single-handedly hold off the inevitable, but you do hope you can keep it from being your fault.”

It's a practice common among fly-fishermen who've been burned too many times. And when they do share their favorite spots, they do so cautiously. At book signings, Gierach says fans will approach him, voices lowered, and pull him off to the side so no one can overhear them. A fan will then offer him a tip to a new creek or river, making sure no one else gets to hear about that gem.

Though Gierach's work and pleasure take him all over the continent, he often fishes, as he says, "six minutes from home." The fishing hasn't been great near Lyons this year, a result of last September's floods. The floods stirred up the river bottoms, leaving little for the fish to eat. And, he says, the work that FEMA and the Colorado Department of Transportation did to repair Boulder-area roads, which he sees as a necessity, added insult to the flood's injury. He and other fishermen in the area are volunteering to repair local fish habitat, and have raised funds to help restore streams to health.