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Reeling in some winning fish tales

I’m prone to comically obvious metaphors in my dream life, and when something’s gone well I often dream I’ve caught a fish. In my waking hours, I may have landed an assignment, or finished a project, or finally swept the porch: The degree of relief or well-being doesn’t matter. My brain defaults to the first joy of water and light and the fish at last secured. This comes from childhood, predictably. In these dreams, I’m fishing on the lush banks of the Croton River, in New York, where I grew up, and a leaping trout flashes bronze and jade and cream in the sun. Sometimes I’m dockside, peering down at a drowsy pickerel on my line. It’s August; I’m 7 years old; and Vermont’s Lake Bomoseen is as unevenly smooth as old glass.

Fishing and dreaminess go together, as any angler knows. “[O]n the water, fly rod in hand, my dreams never desert me,” wrote David Halberstam in his lovely foreword to “The Best Fishing Stories Ever Told” (Skyhorse, 2010). Nick Lyons, the esteemed fishing writer, edited this fine fact-and-fiction collection. Dreams abound within, but there’s bait for the scholar, too: I liked the piece on the history of fishhooks, for instance, dating from the Neolithic and made from stone, thorn, and shell. And if you’re burning to know who first tied a fly, it seems the Macedonians get the trophy. To lure fish from the Astraeus River, they fashioned insect stunt dummies from red wool, chicken feathers and wax.

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