Angler’s Coast by Russell Chatham

A classic and first edition by a stroke of luck
I’m probably not much different than you or the next person in line, meaning I sometimes question my luck in comparison to the rest of humanity. Then, one day, for no apparent reason, something happens that makes me feel like I was really fortunate and one example is when friends dropped off a book and left a note saying they’d found it at a Seattle-area garage sale and thought I’d like to read it if I hadn’t already. That book: a first edition of Russell Chatham’s classic West Coast fishing story, The Angler’s Coast (Doubleday 1976).

A classic hard-bound, first edition of Chatham's Angler's Coast.

I felt obligated to tell my friends that The Angler’s Coast is considered a fly-fishing classic and that they dropped off a first edition. I said, “You might want this book back,” and they said, “No, that’s great that it may be worth something. You keep it.” That book won’t be sold and it occupies a valuable position on my bookshelf that says as much about some people’s generosity as it does about angling.

Another edition of The Angler’s Coast is much easier to find and that version was produced in coffee-table style by Chatham’s Livingston Montana-based Clark City Press, circa 1990. That edition is a classic, too, and I owned it prior to the standard-sized first edition showing up. I retain that oversized copy because it looks great on the shelf or on a table next to Dec Hogan’s A Passion for Steelhead and Kaufmann’s Bonefishing, adequate stimulation to book a trip somewhere wild whether you should or not.

In his book, Chatham graces us with 14 chapters about various fishing adventure in the Northwest, ranging from steelhead and sea-run cutthroat on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to shad on California’s Feather and Yuba rivers, and more steelhead and king salmon in California. Especially entertaining are his entries on fishing for striped bass in San Francisco Bay and his run-ins with rats and the police and all sorts of characters. Throughout the book Chatham details his relationship with the late great angler Bill Schaadt who was recently documented in the  DVD, Rivers of A Lost Coast, produced by Skinny Fish Productions. It’s fascinating reading about slightly deranged, but highly proficient and dedicated anglers. In one sentence, Chatham says that Schaadt caught 800 steelhead in 1956 from, if I recall correctly, the Russian River. This is also a story about great fisheries lost, which can be a real bummer to acknowledge. However, with that said, this should stimulate anglers to protect what’s left, in California, in Oregon, in Washington where the Washington Department of Fish and Game still allows harvest of WILD steelhead, and in British Columbia where fish farming and netting influence the quality and future of steelhead and salmon fisheries.

In truth, Chatham’s writing style is lost in many modern day publications and books, especially in the fishing category. And that is a shame; these stories, rather than describing the very rock you might stand on and the number of thread wraps in a General Practitioner, and how to gain four more feet on your double haul—these stories, instead, delve into the

personal side of angling and the true value of a passion, be it fly fishing or something else. Chatham gracefully captures the intangibles and by doing so he created a lasting work that stands the test of time even while many of the fisheries that Chatham so loved evaporated in human greed.

If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on a first edition, which ranges in price between $70 and $250 on www.alibris.com, be stoked. You can find the Clark City Press version of The Angler’s Coast on www.amazon.com for prices ranging between $31 and $140.

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