The Imperiled Cutthroat – Book Review

Hot on the heels of The Last Wild Trout comes Greg French’s second book for 2016, The Imperiled Cutthroat. Published by Patagonia Books in the USA, this is a smartly presented 255-page hardcover, featuring a series of eye-catching illustrations by artist Geoffrey Holstad. 

An early working title for this book was From Tasmania to Yellowstone, which more accurately reflects the shared history of the two places that the author highlights throughout the text. However, the American publishers had probably never heard of Tasmania, so they sensibly focused on the cutthroat theme. So don’t let the title put you off. If you enjoyed TLWT, I’m sure you will soon be absorbed by this latest book too. 

Take your time when reading this one. Savour the writer’s attention to detail. Understand the plot. Appreciate the dedication, research, time and passion it reflects. It is deeply philosophical, heartfelt, perhaps heavy going at times, but worth the journey. A work of real substance, this is a deep and thoughtful multi-day read. 

If you have only a passing interest in cutthroat trout and are not at all familiar with the Yellowstone catchment or the various subspecies described, then, like me, you might find yourself having to concentrate a bit harder than usual, and even re-reading some sections, to keep up with the writer as his mind races and his fingers type. His passion seems inexhaustible at times. 

Like the true novelist, Greg French has a knack for storytelling, and cleverly weaves little insights, sidelines and mysteries into the text: ‘Man, Girl, Storm’ in Chapter 7 is a perfect example. 

My favourite parts of the book (and the vast majority of its pages) relate to his Yellowstone travelogue, which is beautifully descriptive in every sense, and cleverly interwoven with the cutthroat conservation theme and related management conundrum uncovered along the way. This all culminates in the landmark interview with Bob Behnke (see FL#70). Some later additions are more clinical and factual, and less romantic, though necessary. As ever, he leaves no stone unturned. 

I’m sure you will be fascinated by the Park’s history and geology, it’s scenery and wildlife, towns and people. The book laments the displacement of American Indian tribes, the demise of the bison, and, at its core, the dilution of native salmonid lineages through climate change and misplaced faith in hatcheries (a familiar theme). 

French describes himself as a ‘sort of war correspondent’ bearing witness to the latest catastrophe, which is apt, because so much of his fishing and writing life has been as a helpless spectator, ruing loss of access, over-regulation, environmental change, and the rise and fall of wild fisheries the world over. 

There is a lot of self-analysis bound up in this book, with Greg himself seeking to explain why all these things mean so much to him. In essence he concludes that the connection is spiritual: since childhood he’s held a fascination for the natural world. It certainly comes through in this book. 

The Imperiled Cutthroat is now available from the FlyLife Shop online (signed copies on request). Price $34.95