I’ve known about Chris Hunt and his writing since law school. I first happened across one of his articles on the internet back in early 2001, which, with the hints he dropped (i.e. a horseshoe-shaped lake filled with arctic grayling next to a trailhead into a deep canyon creek containing five kinds of salmonid), sent me on a goose chase through my Idaho fishing books and Delorme Map to determine the creek of which he wrote. I was intrigued and impressed by his writing and just had to know where he fished. If you want to find out the name of this particular creek, you’ll have to do your own homework.
After law school, I learned that Chris worked for the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello and regularly read his excellent articles about fishing small creeks in Eastern Idaho. Chris’s writing still held my attention.
The first time I laid eyes on Chris―he’s hard to miss at 6’5” and wearing a goatee―I was fishing the Black Canyon of the Bear River in the dead of winter and we crossed paths on the foot bridge that spans the river. Although I knew who he was, I did not want to bother him with praise or detract from his day on the river, so I simply said, “Hello.” But I thought to myself: Now there is a man after my own heart. We were the only two people fishing the river that wintery day.
Chris no longer works in the newspaper industry (except for when he voluntarily contributes fishing articles), but now works full time to protect the objects of his affection: Trout. You see, Chris works for Trout Unlimited in Idaho Falls. I recently rediscovered Chris’s writing when I came across his two fishing blogs: Eat More Brook Trout http://www.eatmorebrooktrout.com/ and Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing http://www.yellowstoneonthefly.com/. Both are great blogs for the fly-fishing enthusiast.
With that introduction, let me tell you about Chris’s book, Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher’s Love for Living Water. In Shin Deep, Chris crisply describes experiences of fishing throughout North America for multiple species of fish including rainbows, browns, brook trout, bull trout, cutthroat trout, salmon, crappie, smallmouth bass, white fish, red fish and pike. This book is like a smorgasbord for hungry fishermen.
Chris begins the book with a disclaimer: “It turns out I’m not terribly introspective when I fish. This isn’t a recent revelation, or anything. It’s just important for you to know, so you won’t expect me to prop up the pages of this book with profound nuggets of wisdom I’ve somehow managed to acquire from my time spent on the water.” At first glance, one might assume that this is the case. After all, we are talking about the guy who forgot his box of flies at the lodge while fishing in Alaska and had to go on quest while on Prince of Wales Island to try to save what could easily have been a debacle of a day. I actually had a good laugh as the author describes humbly begging someone for flies explaining that he “very nearly dropped to a knee and swore fealty to this guy. Desperation does weird things to you, you know.”
But don’t let Chris fool you. This book is packed with plenty of depth. I’ll give you a few examples. First and foremost, Chris repeatedly writes about the importance of protecting the creeks, rivers and waters that hold wild trout and other precious fish. The theme of conservation resonates throughout this book and makes you want to do more to preserve and protect these wild places and finite resources for posterity.
Also prevalent in the book is the theme of family. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Chris’ stories about fishing with his son, Cameron, who he lovingly calls “Chief,” and his older daughter Delaney. I don’t want to spoil any of these touching stories for the reader. However, I will say that, although Chris pursues his fishing passion with great fervor, it is evident that he does not let his addiction supplant what is truly most important in his life: His family. Like I said, a man after my own heart.
I was particularly impressed with the book’s final chapter about his grandfather, Bill Muller, who taught him to use a fly rod and to appreciate the beauty of small no-name creeks and rivers and their speckled gems. At the end of this chapter, Chris states of his beloved Granddad:
I just hope that Granddad knows the legacy he left behind. He wasn’t a statesman or a huge business success. He didn’t motivate people to do great things . . . and chances are, he’ll only be remembered by those close to him.
But every time I or one of my brothers or cousins pick up a fishing rod, Granddad will be there with us. And if we take the time to give fishing to our kids, his legacy will have spanned another generation.
That is a lovely tribute to an obviously good man. Chris speculates that his Granddad “didn’t motivate people to do great things.” However, Chris may have overlooked one important factor. In the Introduction of Shin Deep, Chris tells of how he decided to leave forever the newspaper industry to work full time for Trout Unlimited. Of this, Chris wrote: “Years ago, my work drove me to fish. Today, those fish are the reason I work.” Undoubtedly Chris’s love for fishing and desire to protect this precious resource stems from the things his Granddad taught him as a kid. In other words, Chris’ Granddad motivated him to do great things and to make an important difference in the world, especially for us fisherman.
Last but certainly not least, in a nation where it is quickly becoming taboo to mention God or faith, I appreciated Chris’ sentiments on these subjects in his chapter about fishing for brook trout for the first time in Shenandoah National Park:
Now, I’m not a particularly religious fellow. I believe in God ― how could a fly fisher not have some faith in a higher power? . . . I believe there’s a grand plan for all of us and all the critters with which we share the planet. But I’m no zealot ― the more organized a religion gets, the less tolerant its practitioners become, I believe.
But at that moment, cradling a seven-inch wild Appalachian brook trout in my meaty palm, I openly thanked God. For there might not be a more beautiful creation than a wild brook trout hooked firmly in the jaw and pulled from crystal waters.
It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Truly, a man after my own heart. Along these same lines, I found intriguing the subtitle to Chris’ book: Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher’s Love for Living Water. The phrase “Living Water” obviously implies a healthy, diverse ecosystem that sustains the fish we all dearly love. However, in the Bible, we learn that the phrase “Living Water” is also is symbolic of and a title for God (see John 4:10-11 and John 7). Maybe this was intentional on Chris’s part, maybe not. I’ll let you be the judge. Only shin deep? I think not.
With that said, Shin Deep is an excellent read for both its fishing stories and for its underlying deeper messages. Without reservation, I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the fly rod, wild rivers, and wild fish.