The Habit of Fall

by Scott Sadil

The best time of year?

Even if it’s not, you’d be foolish not to be out there in it.

Of course, life conspires to keep us in our places.  Firewood.  Canning.  Pickling.  By the way, when’s the last time you got a haircut, sharpened knives, had the truck’s oil changed, the tires rotated? What about that little medical procedure you’ve put off for about, say, the last decade or so?

My response?  Nine times out of ten, I figure it can wait.  Especially at this time of year.

The lists are long, the reach of possible destinations all but absurd.  So what if it’s going to be spring in Australia?  Isn’t it always better to go now than later?

Then again, it’s also a good idea not to lose one’s head.  Whine and worry as I might, those are salmon and steelhead swimming up the neighborhood rivers right now.  And nothing reminds me of just how lucky I am to find myself calling Oregon home than yet another reading of Ted Leeson’s eloquent and unsurpassed The Habit of Rivers, in its thirtieth year since publication, and one of the few great books in all of fly-fishing literature, regardless whether you live in Oregon, Timbuktu, Key West, or Last Chance, Idaho.

Leeson, as most readers know, even at this late date, arrived in Oregon to teach English at the state university in Corvallis, 130-some miles up the Willamette River.  Raised in Wisconsin and already an avid fly fisher, he was surprised to discover what his new home had to offer.  “If you employed a little imagination and the right gear,” Leeson writes, in the introduction to THR, “the angling year never ended.”

Leeson made the state his own, traveling to all four corners, finding fish in all of them, one season after the other.  The Habit of Rivers follows, or at least traces, Leeson’s first decade in a place blessed with both resident and sea-run salmonids, an all but bewildering choice of waters that lead him, inevitably, to the oldest questions in the literature:  What are we fishing for?  And why?

Worthwhile questions as I spread out maps on the dining room table, wondering exactly which direction to head in this, the most fruitful of angling seasons.  Leeson, in case you’ve missed him up to now, has the licks to delve into these and other questions that all of us in the sport eventually ask ourselves.  And also, thankfully, the humor and sense of cosmic irony that takes any such questions and stands them on their ears—before booting them out the door and into the river, where they really belong.  I’m sorry, but until the next cast, it often seems there are no good answers for this silly nonsense we pursue with such hope and vigor, this merry-go-round ride to oblivion.

The best we can ask for might be an answer like Leeson’s own:  “There is always more to fishing than meets then eye, and often enough the invisible parts are the most compelling.”

Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, recalls skipping school to watch Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third and final game of a playoff series for the National League pennant, after the two teams finished the regular season, tied, in the fall of 1962.