Dylan Tomine calls himself the worst fishing guide in the world.
He was frequently impatient and sarcastic and irritable as he wondered whether those under his care deserved to catch fish just because they could afford to stay at an expensive lodge. He secretly relieved the discomfort his clients felt when mosquitoes dove in. He played it up when women hooked more fish than their husbands. And he often sought out the windiest spots for those having trouble casting.
“If I were a doctor, you might say I had a lousy bedside manner,” he writes about the five summers he spent as a fishing guide in Bristol Bay.
That said, Dylan Tomine has had a lifelong love affair with fish and fishing. And he happily shares his big fish tales in his memoir “Headwaters: The Adventures, Obsession and Evolution of a Fly Fisherman.” The book features 35 essays that chronicle his journey from a fishing-obsessed boy to a conservationist chagrined by the declining steelhead population in the Skykomish River near his home in Seattle.
Tomine will discuss his fishing adventures, which have taken him to such far-flung places as the Russian Arctic, Patagonia, Japan and Cuba, at 7 pm Thursday, June 23, at The Community Library. The conversation will also feature Frances Ashforth, who illustrated his book, along with Jim Norton, a trustee of the Idaho Conservation League.
The free conversation will be held outside on the Library’s Donaldson Robb Family Lawn. It will not be livestreamed, but it will be recorded and available for later viewing.
Tomine grew up in Western Oregon where he watched his father fish for salmon for the sheer enjoyment of fishing and to supplement the family’s diet. When he got old enough, his mother would drive him to his favorite fishing holes and study in the car for her PhD while he fished.
“I was just born with a strong interest or obsession in fish,” he said. “I loved seeing them at a fish market or the Steinhart Aquarium. Fishing was a way to bring fish closer so I could see them and touch them.”
Fishing has taken Tomine around the world, including to Japan where he held his breath as his guide sped through the Japanese Alps on roads that he said would scare a mountain goat.
“He spent thousands of dollars on our meals which feature high-end sushi—just an unbelievable level of generosity. And, when I told him I was going for a walk to go shopping, he insisted on driving even though the traffic was terrible. There was nowhere to park so he went around in circles while I went in to buy toys for my children. Then, when I went to check out, he called in his credit card and paid for everything. I found myself hoping the whole time that he would never come to visit me because there was no way I could repay him,” he said.
Tomine said he chose the title “Headwaters” for his book because headwaters are a source of things. His essays explain the source of his obsessions and traces the evolution of his interest in preserving the fish he loves.
“Early on in my fishing life I had an obsession to catch as many fish as possible. But in 2000 my home river closed because the population of wild steelhead had gone down so far. I hadn’t thought much about conservation until then but that was a wakeup call. I’m still just as crazy for fishing but it’s taken a different form,” said Tomine, who became a fly-fishing ambassador for Patagonia after meeting the company’s founder Yvon Chouinard.
This is Tomine’s second book. Ten years earlier he wrote “Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table.”
It chronicled a year of seasonal pursuits with his children—then 4 and 7 years old. It began with picking oysters at low tide in February and progressed through the year as they planted a garden in the spring, fished for salmon and picked berries in summer and headed into the forests after a fall rain to pick mushrooms.
“All the adventures were related to food so there was a lot about preparing and eating food, such as putting pots out for spot prawns and crabbing. We are fortunate to live in an area that lends itself to gathering wild food pretty easily. In fact, a half dozen people told me they moved to our area because of reading book,” Tomine said.
Of all the places he’s fished, Tomine loves British Columbia the most.
“The people are great and the rivers beautiful. It’s easy to access fishing with just a car. And it’s nice for me not to look like a tourist when I’m there because I have a familiarity with the place,” he said.
Despite his misgivings as a fishing guide, Tomine says fishing is a good excuse to go to beautiful places and hang out with “really cool people.”
“I think fishing travel is the best travel because it keeps you from standing around looking like a tourist because you’re participating in an activity. In fact, fishing almost becomes besides the point.”