Having just finished a fairly harrowing biography of wartime Resistance hero Nancy Wake, I was uneasy about the dark title of Greg French’s new book. Call me shallow, but I just wasn’t in the mood for an apocalyptic prophecy regarding my favourite fish.
I needn’t have worried. ‘The Last Wild Trout’ is Greg’s most enjoyable, most engrossing book since the acclaimed ‘Frog Call’.
It’s a challenge to describe this book when it doesn’t neatly fit with genres or categories. Partly it’s a travelogue – Greg claims in the introduction that the main reason he fishes, is it gives him the chance to explore. I’m not so sure – the excitement and exuberance that shines through when he describes actual fishing, calls that claim into question! In any case, Greg is a keen observer and recorder of travel; almost as fascinated by people, cultures, landscapes and other wildlife as he is by trout and related salmonids.
It’s taken this book to make me appreciate just how many countries Greg has visited and fished. From his Tasmanian home, he’s journeyed to destinations as far away as Iceland and as isolated as Mongolia. It’s difficult to pick a favourite tale: obstinate Irish ghillies, bizarre lake ladder fishing in Nevada, savage bull trout? But without exception they’re all wonderful stories.
The line running through this book – and pretty much the motivation for it – is Greg’s quest for wild trout, or more correctly, wild salmonids. A passionate advocate for wild fish and fisheries, Greg has set out to encounter as many salmonids as he can. Not just the ‘mainstream’ species and subspecies, but also the fish at the fringes, so to speak, which often also happen to be the most vulnerable.
As per the book’s title, Greg sees the prognosis for some salmonids as fairly bleak. However, he holds out hope – particularly through the power of advocacy by anglers and stakeholders who ‘use’ and therefore value their trout and salmon fisheries enough to fight for them. Among other things, he makes a strong case that hatcheries and hatchery fish are often the problem, not the solution. Where wild salmonids are concerned, there’s no substitute for good habitat and good management.
Somehow, this more political/ ecological part of the book flows along easily beside the great fishing yarns. So the result is foremost an enjoyable read, but with some pause for more serious thought along the way.
In presentation, ‘The Last Wild Trout’ is soft cover with a striking image by Peter Broomhall. There are scores of beautiful full colour images inside – a nice surprise. (A few of these are reproduced in this review.) Overall, this is a world-class book by one of our favourite local writers.
Published by Affirm Press, RRP $29.99. Available from all good bookstores and fly shops.