Top of the Flood by Tosh Brown

One of the great joys of reading is being transported to far away places where you can participate in new experiences and meet characters unlike those that you’ve encountered before. Equally enjoyable is reading about the warm and familiar – seeing what you already love from another person’s viewpoint and re-living your own adventures as they parallel those of the author’s. When you find that rare book within which you can do both, it’s hard to stop turning the pages. Tosh Brown’s Top of the Flood: Halfway Through a Fly-Fishing Life hit me square in that sweet spot.

“The rods, reels, flies, and fish are a big part of what we do, but over time I’ve begun to see them more as tactical elements in a much larger scene… we travel, we cast, we catch fish, we lose fish, we laugh, we meet new people, we witness extraordinary things, and we create memories.”

I have to admit, right up front, that when I first heard of the upcoming book, I was skeptical. There was to be no photography. Tosh’s images captivate me and for years they’ve inspired the average fly fisherman and neophyte shutter-puncher in me to try more, reach farther, and see the angling world from different perspectives and in different lights. His new publication was supposed to be placed on my coffee table, not on my bookshelf.

But I quickly found that the absence of Tosh’s art was nicely compensated for by the sketches of my fellow south-easterner, Paul Puckett. Paul’s clean and subtly detailed pen-and-ink depictions of fins, flies, and other “fishy” objects are as comfortable at the opening of each chapter as they are on the Cliff Beast boxess that he regularly adorns. Their black-and-white simplicity is the perfect counterbalance to Tosh’s absent lush imagery and fit perfectly the prose they introduce.

Paul’s elemental sketches work because Tosh’s essays are straightforward storytelling – as clean and precise as the elegant line drawings. No flowery language. No big messages. No wordy metaphysical departures. They’re the kind of stories that fishermen tell; the kind that they share at the bar or on the dock, usually accompanied by a beer or three; the kind that perfectly round out a day on the water or set your sails, deeply, pleasurably, into a three-sheeted evening.

“The van didn’t sputter, lurch, or cough; it just died quietly and rolled to a stop. We all looked at each other, and then at Beto. He returned our gaze, grinned from beneath his mustache, and uttered that legendary icon of the Latin American dialect, the three words that make every gringo wish he had stayed home and gone trout fishing instead.

No problemo, amigos!”

And Tosh has the stories to tell. His first forty years (the premise defined in the subtitle) of wandering the western hemisphere fills the book, with anecdotes from Alaska, the Baja, the Keys, the North Woods, and undisclosed golf course ponds around Austin, TX. They’re a true angler’s smorgasbord - both exotic and familiar. I can only imagine the flights into the Bering Sea and the Ragged Islands but know intimately the twinge of a kidney stone and the frustration of stumbling through my fly line while ineptly chasing roosters along the Sea of Cortez. Tosh shows me new vistas and reflects what’s already in my head.

“I’ve never quite understood why some will readily strap themselves into a 300-ton aluminum firecracker and then balk when offered a ride in a small plane that actually makes aerodynamic sense.”

Top of the Flood is the perfect summer read. It’s a collection of essays - some previously featured in the premier publications of our sport, others written specifically for the book – that move crisply along the timeline of Tosh’s fishing life. Each chapter is a quick read, allowing you the flexibility to set it aside long enough to go grab another beverage. But it’s hard to put down once you’ve started. From his mid-1970’s introduction to the long rod on family vacations in Montana, through his destination travel agency days, and into his current life as one of the top outdoor sport photographers in the world, these stories draw you along.

And oddly enough, despite the absence of his photography, he still manages to show us the images; not with his camera, but with his words.

“It was blazing hot, and floating in the cooler were three empty Corona bottles, two crushed Coke cans, a piece of bologna, and a bug-eyed, bloated snapper that Beto had hand-lined out of the mangroves at 7:30 that morning.”

I firmly believe that, upon reading a book, if you feel that you know the author personally, you’ve read a good one. If he’s let you into his head and been honest about what he’s relaying, you come to respect him. If what he’s revealed rings true and dovetails nicely with your own views of the world, you’ve made a friend.

“By the time they wheeled me inside, the pain was indescribable. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move and my breaths were coming in rattled gasps… I stared up at the shimmering halo around the fluorescent lights and considered a deific bargain to give up fishing altogether, but decided to wait first on the official diagnosis.”

That’s my buddy, Tosh.