River Song

Rob Sloane reviews Mark Cloutier’s new book

To say I was impressed by Mark Cloutier’s book River Song would be an understatement. It’s a ripper, and a worthy addition to the best of our fly fishing literature. It has been a privilege to witness Mark’s development as a writer over the FlyLife years. And now I’m thinking the Cloutiers (Mark and wife Sharon) have been holding their best words and pictures back, and here they are in River Song.

This book hasn’t happened overnight. It’s a project that Mark has talked about over the years, ever since I’ve known him. Then again, a lot of people talk to me about fishing books and I find myself doing my best to discourage them, lamenting a decline in sales and a lack of good publishers willing to take the risk. (Affirm Press clearly has a fly fisher in the ranks — Keiran Rogers.) 

Mark Cloutier’s talent for setting the scene shines through in every story. In a few tight sentences you know exactly where you are fishing and why, as the book swings easily between times and places, from mainland trout streams to Tasmanian lakes and New Zealand rivers. But the stories that sing loudest are undoubtedly about Mark’s formative years on mountain trout streams from the Bogongs to the Snowies. The Tarago and Thomson chapters are particular gems — that’s why we write books, and read them too.

His misspent ‘On The Road’ adventures are also high notes (Ogilvies, Nungar, Bidgee, Eucumbene, Tooma). This is where Mark learnt the lessons and put in the hard yards. These waters burn brightly in his personal fishing memoirs.

In more recent times the Cloutiers have moved to Tasmania, bought a boat and built a weekender at Highland Waters Estate. The highland lakes are now their regular playground and Mark’s appreciation of stillwater sight-fishing is evident in stories about the St Clair system, Ina, Kay and Echo. I particularly enjoyed his ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ treatment of Little Pine Lagoon, and its related medical condition… (I will let you read it.) 

Whilst not an instructional book, you will learn plenty along the way with lessons reinforced in every chapter and laced with heartfelt streamside philosophy too. A simple approach to fly fishing is a common mantra: ‘The foundations of simple fly fishing are born in small streams where the less-is-more approach becomes essential to the pursuit.’ 

If you read the book from cover to cover your arm might get sore from steering recalcitrant trout away from logjams (Mark obviously appreciates this part of the contest). But for me, each chapter was completely self-contained, and that’s the way to read it, one or two chapters at a time. 

The pages I reviewed were at galley proof stage, so I was tempted to make a red mark here and there to fix some typo glitches. Even so, this didn’t detract from the overall product, and I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on the hardcover book in its final format.

Isn’t it great that in this age of social media and online fly fishing content, a printed fishing book can still be a wonderful thing, and something to learn from and aspire to in any fishing life. 

Available late September $35. Order a signed copy now flylife.com.au/shop