Dylan Tommen Confessions of a Fly Fisher

By Karen Busick

Dylan Tumin describes himself as the worst fishing guide in the world.

He was often impatient, cynical, and irritable as he questioned whether those under his care were worth fishing just because they could afford to stay in an expensive inn. He secretly enjoyed the annoyance his clients felt when the mosquitoes swarmed. He played it when the women hung more fish from their husbands. He often looked for the windiest spots for those who had trouble choosing actors.

“If I were a doctor, you might say I was dealing with shoddy bed,” he writes of the five seasons he spent as a hunting guide in Bristol Bay.

Having said that, Dylan Tommen has had a lifelong love affair with fish and fishing. And he happily shares his great fish tales in his memoir “Headwaters: The Adventures, Obsession and Evolution of the Flycatcher.” The book contains 35 articles chronicling his journey from a fishing-obsessed boy to an environmental activist disturbed by the low number of steelheads in the Skykomish River near his home in Seattle.

Tomen will discuss his fishing adventures, which have taken him as far away as the Russian Arctic, Patagonia, Japan, and Cuba, at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at the community library. The conversation will also include Frances Ashforth, who drew his book, along with Jim Norton, a trustee of the Idaho Conservation League.

The free conversation will take place outside at the Donaldson Rob Family Lawn in the library. It will not be broadcast live, but will be recorded and made available for viewing at a later time.

Tommen grew up in western Oregon where he watched his father fish salmon for the sheer enjoyment of fishing and to supplement the family’s diet. When he’s old enough, his mom would drive him to his favorite fishing holes and drive a Ph.D. while fishing.

“I was just born with a strong interest or obsession with fish,” he said. “I loved seeing them at the fish market or at the Steinhart Aquarium. Fishing was a way to bring the fish closer so I could see and touch them.”

Hunting took Tomen all over the world, including Japan where he held his breath as his guide speeded through the Japanese Alps on routes he said would scare off mountain goats.

“He spent thousands of dollars on our gourmet sushi meals – an unbelievable level of generosity. When I told him I was going for a walk to go shopping, he insisted on driving even though the traffic was appalling. There was nowhere to park, so he wandered in circles as I went to buy toys for my children. Then, when I went to leave, he called his credit card and paid for everything. I found myself wishing all the time that he would never come visit me because there was no way I could pay him.”

Tommen said that he chose the title “Sources” for his book because Sources are a source of things. His articles explain the source of his obsessions and trace the evolution of his interest in keeping the fish he loves.

“Early in my fishing life I had an obsession with catching as many fish as I could. But in the year 2000 my house river closed due to declining numbers of wild steelheads yet. I didn’t think much about conservation until then but it was an alarm bell “I’m still totally crazy about fishing, but it takes a different shape,” said Tommen, who became a fishing ambassador for Patagonia after meeting company founder Yvonne Chouinard.

This is Tommen’s second book. Ten years ago he wrote “Closer to Earth: A Family Year Outdoors on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table.”

He chronicled a year of seasonal pursuits with his children – who were 4 and 7. He began picking oysters at low tide in February and continued through the year as they planted a garden in the spring, fished salmon and berries in the summer and headed into the woods after the rains to pick mushrooms.

“It was all about the adventures with food, so there was a lot about preparing and eating it, like putting pots outside for prawns and crabs. We are fortunate to live in an area that allows collecting wild food quite easily. In fact, half a dozen people told me they moved into Our own because of reading the book.

Of all the places he fishes, Tommen loves British Columbia the most.

“The people are great and the rivers are beautiful. It is easy to get to fishing with just a car. And it is good for me not to look like a tourist when I am there because I am familiar with the place,” he said.

Despite his skepticism as a fishing guide, Tommen says fishing is a good excuse to go to beautiful places and hang out with “really cool people.”

“I think traveling fishing is the best trip because it prevents you from standing like a tourist because you are involved in an activity. In fact, fishing is almost out of topic.”

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