In sync with our recent weather, a drought of Greg French books has been followed by a comparative flood; first ‘The Last Wild Trout’ a few months ago, and now ‘The Imperiled Cutthroat’. To my mind, despite stiff competition, both are Greg’s best books since ‘Frog Call’. I reviewed ‘The Last Wild Trout’ here, so I’ll turn my full attention to ‘The Imperiled Cutthroat.’
Once again, the title is a bit grim and with some reason – the Yellowstone cutthroat trout population has shrunk alarmingly since the fish was abundant enough (we learn) to literally feed an army. And on the face of it, the book is about what happened to this beautiful fish. What or whom caused its decline? Superficially, the ‘smoking gun’ was the introduction of non-native lake trout into the last great Yellowstone cutthroat refuge: Yellowstone Lake.
But anyone who’s read Greg French’s other books and magazine articles will be aware he’s never been one to casually accept the company line, so to speak. As he delves deeper, the lake trout theory isn’t as tidy an explanation as it seems at first. And anyway, have Yellowstone cutthroat numbers really crashed to quite the catastrophic extent often reported? Greg’s determination to find out what has actually happened – and why – is the thread that runs through the book.
That investigation alone might have been enough for a good read, however in this case it proves to be the platform from which a whole lot of other lines depart. Yellowstone National Park and surrounds is the central setting for plenty of fine fishing adventures and all sorts of encounters with wildlife, not to mention entertaining characters. We also learn a lot about the local history, the somewhat scary geology and the Park’s ecology.
In turn, Greg asks philosophical questions such as what constitutes ‘wild’ and ‘wilderness’? What makes a separate species? How do we decide if something is to be valued – or not? What makes you a local compared to a visitor? Regulation vs freedom? Means justifying ends?
The themes end up being too big to confine to Yellowstone or even cutthroat trout, so we end up in places like Mongolia, Tasmania, and British Columbia. There’s plenty more great fishing, but also plenty more questions – and maybe a few answers too.
If all that sounds like heavy going, it’s not. ‘The Imperiled Cutthroat’ is beautifully written and at the risk of overusing the cliché, I couldn’t put it down. It doesn’t hurt that the book is handsomely presented in hard cover and Geoff Holstead’s colourful illustrations compliment the text perfectly. Essential – and thoroughly enjoyable – reading.
Published by Patagonia $49.95rrp. Available now at The Flyfisher, Melbourne. www.theflyfisher.com.au and all good book shops.