Tess Wheelwright ’05 never thought she’d be standing in front of Sterling Memorial Library holding a fly-fishing reel while a guy in waders instructed her.
But when she happened to walk by the Yale Anglers’ Journal casting clinic Saturday afternoon, she decided to give it a try.
“I’ve never fished before — I guess I was romanced by the movie ‘A River Runs Through It,'” she said. “I wanted to see if I could [cast] like Brad Pitt.”
Wheelwright was one of several students who benefited from free fly-fishing lessons offered Saturday by the Yale Anglers’ Journal. Plodding around in their waders, flies pinned to their vests, Journal members demonstrated casting technique while explaining one of Yale’s littlest-known publications to interested passersby.
The editors were happy to set down their poles for a moment and tell the story of this “New Yorker of angling journals,” as staffers call it. While passing notes in an architecture class, avid fly fishermen Joseph Furia ’00 and James Prosek ’96 thought of creating a literary journal devoted to the sport.
First published in 1996, the journal has come out twice a year since then, containing literary and artistic contributions from an international range of “fishermen who write and writers who fish,” said Journal Editor-in-Chief David Haltom ’04.
While they welcome student submissions, Haltom said that “Yale lacks the critical mass of fishermen writers.” So the editors go off-campus to seek contributions, soliciting anyone from famous part-time fishermen such as Tom Brokaw to writers from the editors’ hometowns who fish on the weekends. Contributors are far-flung; the Journal announced a writing competition last spring and received submissions from across the country.
“The Journal is actually better-known outside of Yale than on campus,” former editor in chief Alexis Surovov ’02 said. “We have subscribers and contributors all over the world — in Ireland, Italy and Japan.”
Johannes Wurm, an exchange student from Germany at the School of Forestry, first encountered the Journal while surfing the Internet at home in Munich. Now a student here, he came to check out the casting clinic. As he perused the pile of back issues, he said that the Yale Anglers’ Journal is a unique breed of angling publication.
“The usual angling journals are just about who caught the biggest fish. Here, the whole philosophy of fishing is presented,” Wurm said.
Indeed, a glance through any issue of the Journal proves contributors are not just interested in the technical details of angling.
“My [fishing] trip is really a sounding for spiritual refreshment, for life. It’s more than catching exotic fish … rather, it’s my affaire de coeur, my consummation devoutly to be wished, my annual rendezvous with a courtly paramour, a fellow actor in this alpine morality play,” writes Michael Rutter, a professor at Brigham Young University and contributor to the spring 2001 issue.
The current editors came to Yale sharing this deep-seated love for fishing. Surovov began subscribing to the Journal while still in high school and brought a copy to his Yale admissions interview; he credits his enthusiasm for angling as an important factor in his acceptance. All the editors were quick to extol the merits of the sport.
“I come from Mississippi, where it’s all slow-water catfish-grabbing. This is more strategic and graceful,” Haltom said. “It’s really a whole different culture. You can’t sit back and crack a brewsky with your friend Bubba while you’re fly fishing.”
When a novice fisherman at the clinic expressed doubt at ever catching a fish, Surovov emphasized that fly fishing is not about the end results.
“Fly fishing clears your mind. Some people are actually annoyed when they catch a fish — but I’m not at that level yet,” he said. “That’s Zen-fly fishing.”
These enthusiasts are not content with simply publishing a literary journal twice a year. Once a month, the editorial board embarks on fishing outings around Connecticut — ocean fishing, river fishing and even ice fishing, depending on the season. This year they plan to coordinate with the Yale Fishing Club to enhance their weekend expeditions.
To fund all this, the Journal hosts a fund-raising banquet every April. Alumni, subscribers and contributors fly in from all over the country to pay $100 per plate for an elegant dinner in the rotunda of Woolsey Hall. The editors hire guest speakers and auction off prizes such as a fishing trip with James Prosek, one of the founders of the Journal who is now a world-famous author on fishing.
The dinner usually nets about $18,000, Surovov said, which provides for a good chunk of the Journal’s $35,000 yearly operating budget.
The editors have big plans for spending that money this year. They will attend a fly fishing convention in Denver this January and set up a booth to publicize the Journal. Many fly fishermen are familiar with the Journal and associate fly fishing with Yale because of Prosek.
Surovov said his involvement with the Journal has allowed him to meet famous anglers such as New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, whose ink drawings of the fly fishing realm have appeared in the Journal.
“It’s a close, well-informed community,” he said.
The Journal is expanding in other directions as well. Fishing was once an intercollegiate sport at Yale, and the Journal editors want to revive this tradition by challenging Harvard to a fishing tournament “somewhere on neutral waters,” Surovov said.
He explained that both schools would send a team of five members, each of whom would chose a fly and fish all day. Whichever team catches the most fish will win.
The editors are also planning a Swedish fish-eating contest in November. They promise cash prizes to the Yale student that consumes the most candy fish (quantities will be measured by the pound).
“This is the only collegiate literary angling journal in the world,” said faculty adviser Nelson Donegan. “It’s about good literature, good art and good times spent fishing.”