Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dreams Of Robert Traver Are Still Alive


Trout fishermen who have read my many pieces on John Voelker (Robert Traver) always ask for more. Voelker, who passed away many years ago, wrote words that touched the lives of countless trout fishermen.

This man was the Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula and the Bard of Frenchman’s Pond, and trout anglers loved him and his written words.

He died while driving his beloved Fish Car. His magical typewriter and green-inked letters were stilled forever on that day. However, in my mind and that of many of his adoring fans, he lives on in their thoughts.

“Death is just one small part of life, and we are as inevitably linked to it as we were to the umbilical cord at birth,” he told me during one of a series of interviews two decades ago.

As Man measures time, Voelker led a long and fruitful life. But now, his cheerful grin, twinkling eyes, short but snappy one-liners delivered around a Parodi cigar or a tin cup of bourbon old-fashioned, are now nothing but grand and wonderful memories.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could turn the clock back 25 years and relive some of the memories of our days together. He was a one-of-a-kind writer.

However, the legacy of this man who became so famous as the author of the novel and subsequent movie “Anatomy Of A Murder” lives on because of his writings, trout fishing philosophies and his nurturing of the Upper Peninsula’s secret places that live deep in our heart. His fishing thoughts will endure through his many writings which are eagerly sought after and cherished by those who live to fish for wild brook trout.

“Death doesn’t scare me,” Voelker told me several years before his death during a fishing visit to his beloved Frenchman’s Pond. “But living with ill health is something that scares the hell out of me. I’m still as active as ever and feel good, but when the day comes when I can’t cast a fly to one of my little speckled beauties (brook trout), then and only then will I consider moving on.”

Life for Johnny Voelker was one of law, trials and administering justice on a county and state level. When his best-selling novel, written under his pen name and based on a true story, was published in 1956 it became an instant success and was made into a 1957 movie starring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and countless other famous movie stars.

It paved the way for what was to become his life’s work: trout fishing and eloquent writing about it.

“This is the house Anatomy of a Murder built,” Voelker told me on our first meeting while he escorted me through his home office. “Anatomy brought me security, and more important than money, it gave me the chance to fish when and where I choose and as often as I want.”

And invariably his fishing holes were remote trickles of running water or beaver dammed and secluded ponds in the central Upper Peninsula. It was on those ponds and streams, and through his written words, that he could cast a lifelong spell over anglers who love trout fishing in wild places.

Voelker could put into words the inner thoughts that few trout fishermen can express. He could draw word pictures of rising trout, the slash of a brookie to a fly, and the mystery of what trout fishing is all about. He taught millions of anglers that trout fishing was much more than a limit catch or a lunker (which he usually detested because they ate his smaller brook trout).

“Catching a limit or a big fish is no more a part of trout fishing than love making is to creating children,” he once said. “There’s so much more to trout fishing than catching them but many people never learn to appreciate the difference.”

He lived to fish and to write, and prospered on good friends and good bourbon. Voelker thrived on a daily habit of cribbage, and hated to lose. I once had him down two out of three games in cribbage, and then lost the next two sets to give him a best three-of-five victory.

He gloated momentarily, and then a hatch came off on the pond outside his fishing cabin. He promptly celebrated the event (the hatch and my loss) by catching and releasing a 10-inch Frenchman’s Pond brookie.

This back-of-beyond pond was his Holy Water, and his cabin on its banks, was his chapel in the pines; a place for spiritual renewal and a oneness with nature. To reach it was to travel near-vertical roads with his old Jeep Fish Car leaning against gravity on a back-woods two-track, then a short stop to pick mushrooms, and then talking about what was right and wrong in the world of trout fishing.

He cherished good friends, and didn’t like people who acted stupid. Whenever he found a kindred spirit who loved trout, and who fought to protect the fish from exploitation, he was generous to a fault. Those people who were pompous, or who put themselves above trout and the game fish’s environment, were discarded faster than a well-worn fly line.

“Life is too short to waste on fools,” he said. “Brook trout are a barometer of Man’s future, when pollution, over-fishing and man’s wanton land grabbing and over-utilization threaten these delicate game fish, we will soon find ourselves on a perilous path of self destruction.”

Heavy thoughts, but, oh so true. Voelker was seemingly possessed by eight or 10-inch brook trout, and he’d learned long ago that winning on trout waters was less important than how an angler played the game.

Johnny Voelker played the game very well. He lived for trout, loved them, and fought for their natural reproduction and their environment in a manner other anglers would be wise to adopt before it’s too late.

His rich legacy will live on in the memories of millions of unknown friends. His words and deeds touched all trout fishermen deeply, and among those people whose lives he personally enriched, he will be missed.

I toast your memory, old friend, and miss our all-too-infrequent visits.

Note: I have numerous fiction and fishing titles by Traver, and many are signed by this great writer with his real name and pen name. Go to Scoops Books at < > and scroll down to the T’s. Copies of all of his books currently in stock are available while my supply lasts. Email first before sending money. Deals with other buyers may be pending.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/08 at 05:41 PM
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