For a decade my pal Barnaby Conrad III and I wrote and published The Royal Coachman, an eccentric fly fishing travel journal equally focused on good sport and good creature comforts. We turned a little profit every year, advertising in The New Yorker magazine.
But not such a profit that we could pay a writer and expenses. So we hired ourselves for free. I really should have been paying The Royal Coachman a nice fee for my experiences. Magically I found that going in search of good successful fishing followed by a good successful dinner with good successful wine made a new creature of me. I suddenly looked at everything involved with intensity. I wanted our readers to know where and what and when, and what not and when not. To deliver best advice I could give.
That was the benefit of our journal since it is so easy to go exploratory fishing and become miserable due to ignorance. I once flew with my long-suffering wife from her beloved Istanbul to the Turkish Black Sea coast to try two rivers favorably mentioned in an old English travel book, only to find them diverted down to trickles in which ladies were washing undies with very smelly soap and upstream was a barriered Army base.
This penetrating journalistic inquiry, a big step for an impressionistic fellow like me, changed how I fished. I went into bars and sought out local fishers, working them like a seeming casual but meticulously memorizing spy. I studied the topography, driving the extents of streams so I knew where what types of water lay. I got the season laws straight and how to get permits when needed. I switched hotels and restaurants to recommend the best, with contact information. I found where the fly shops and guides were.
Years ago Simon and Schuster hired me as The Royal Coachman to write the introduction to its primer on fly fishing. My basic message was what in Ruin Dr. Arbuthnot tells depressed Frank: Go, just go fishing. Don’t worry about how others do it, make the experiences your own uniquely.
But by the time of writing Ruin, I had the good doctor add even better advice. It draws upon what I learned from The Royal Coachman days. Go and really observe, then write it down straight to remember. Frank does evolve to being a fishing writer.