Cody Heartz: “Fly-Fishing the 41st” author crazy about fly-fishing

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Cody Heartz

— The return of the sun and the gradual reappearance of the ground instills in me an irrational urge. Whenever I have some free time, and often when I should be doing something else, I’m compelled to put on waders and fishing boots and go stand in the freezing waters of the Yampa River. Something about the suggestion of spring makes me want to dead-drift egg patterns to visibly reluctant trout until my feet begin to feel like hunks of frozen pork.

Yes, it’s March, and as the stuff we left in the front yard all winter begins to re-emerge, so too does the urge to get out the fly-fishing rod and harass some wildlife.

Soon, however, the snowpack will begin to melt in earnest, coming down from the high country and swelling rivers over their banks, offering trout a temporary reprieve. At that point the anglers among us might want to kill some time reading about someone else’s illogical zeal for playing tricks on fish.

“Fly-Fishing the 41st” is a travelogue — punctuated with paintings rather than photographs — and a testament to its author’s particular “loucura.” Loucura literally translates from Portuguese as “craziness,” but James Prosek uses the word to describe the character of his singular infatuation with native trout and the places they inhabit. Prosek defines loucura this way: “My father’s heroes were seduced into learning by a curiosity about the natural world, and he described the ongoing process of that seduction as a person’s loucura. Darwin’s was beetles, Nabokov’s butterflies, Audubon’s birds.”

In “Fly-Fishing the 41st” Prosek (an established young artist and amateur ichthyologist) is equal parts Don Quixote and John James Audubon. For the purposes of writing his book he chooses an objective that seems as arbitrary as it is ambitious: To travel around the globe, along the northern hemisphere’s 41st parallel, documenting the trout of the world in watercolors.

For three years Prosek’s quest leads him simultaneously away from his home and back toward it, staying as close to the 41st as geopolitics and his own wanderlust would allow. As the book unfolds, his reasons for choosing such a particular guideline become more apparent.

My home latitude, 41°N, contained along its length some of the great cities in the world: New York, Lisbon, Madrid, Naples, Istanbul, Tashkent and Beijing. It is the approximate median of the ancient trade routes from China to Europe known as the Silk Road. . . . Many laymen, heroes and conquerors had marched the 41st, among them Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. They had crossed many rivers — the Tajo, the Danube, the Amu Darya — at which I intend to stop and fish.”

Following the 41st, Prosek finds himself fishing in some truly remarkable places — in a war-torn Balkan village, plying a stream as tanks rolled by; deep in the Pamir mountains of Kirgizstan, fly-fishing on the roof of the world; on the fringe of the Gobi desert in desolate and uninhabited northern Mongolia; not to mention the Steamboat Springs area of the Northern Rockies (though never mentioned by name, he was probably in Oak Creek or Yampa).

Prosek, a Yale graduate who published his first book as an undergrad (“Trout: An illustrated history”), is a distinguished conservationist, trout expert and naturalist painter. “Fly-Fishing the 41st” explores his boundless loucura for trout, and marks his emergence as a driven adventurer and a prose artist, as well.

Cody Heartz is a full-time resident of Steamboat Springs and is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.

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