September 19, 2023
For many of us, our first fly casts are made in a river or a pond, a logical entry place for the sport, with light rods and fish. We catch a bass or a trout. We catch the fever.
But somewhere out there, another world beckons, one of rips and flats and fish commensurate with our wildest dreams, and the curiosity inherent in any serious angler—What does the river look like around that bend? What’s lurking under that submerged log?—gets the better of us. And, at some point, most fly anglers, like river water, usually end up in the sea.
Steve Ramirez, a former Marine, police officer, and Homeland Security professional, writes the Seasonable Angler column found in the back of Fly Fisherman magazine. His first book, Casting Forward, was about self-healing and fishing in his home waters of the Texas Hill Country. His second, Casting Onward, took readers on a journey across the country as he fished for native species with the people who love them. And now, with Casting Seaward—the third book in a trilogy that has gotten better with each entry—Ramirez, too, has followed that familiar evolution to the salt.
The book, however, begins on a small stream in Texas, one that dries up in the summer but, when he fishes it in mid-winter, is full of stocked rainbow trout. The starting point makes sense, though, as a reminder that “we are nothing more than ephemeral streams that briefly contemplate our own existence,” as he writes. And this stream—like the rest of the book—eventually leads to the ocean.
Ramirez takes us to Long Island, where he fishes for striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore with the guide David Blinken, and the environmental writer Ted Williams. We find ourselves near the mouth of the Potomac River, standing in a boat casting darts for anadromous American and hickory shad. Ramirez is joined there by Chris Wood, the CEO of Trout Unlimited, and the duo form a comfortable partnership. “My best fishing companions are always the ones who can be at peace in total silence, or in the sort of conversation that is calming, restful, and comforting—like a soft rain on a dreamy night,” Ramirez writes.
He visits the South Carolina Low Country and Texas coast for redfish. In Turks and Caicos, he hunts bonefish with a guide whose (very) casual work ethic leaves Ramirez not frustrated, but better able to prioritize what he wants—and gets—out of any given fishing day. On the West Coast, he travels from Alaska to Southern California, fishing for species ranging from salmon to surfperch.
We have choices as readers of fly-fishing literature. We can turn to McGuane for elevated prose that stirs the mind or to Gierach for storytelling that is as easygoing as it is entrancing.
We go to Ramirez for something different. He writes with pure honesty about his loves and losses, in both life and in fishing. He writes as a former Marine who is searching for inner peace as he still deals with PTSD in the lonely hours of the night. He is very much a writer for these times of social, political, and environmental upheaval, none of which he shies away from discussing. What comes across most emphatically in this book is that Ramirez is someone who would be an excellent companion, on or off the water, a thoughtful man who moves at a thoughtful pace, mindful yet hopeful that humans, as he writes, are both “the problem and the solution” to our current woes. At one point in the book, he describes his searching self as “an Imperfect Texan Buddha,” which sounds about right.
My favorite chapters in the book come in the middle, when Ramirez travels to the California coast and meets friends to fish for surfperch and West Coast striped bass in the northern part of the state, and corbina at its southern end. Part of the intrigue is that these types of fishing may be unfamiliar to many fly anglers. But it is also in these chapters where Ramirez writes most gracefully, particularly when he sight fishes for corbina in the surf with two friends, the sharp-tongued Kesley Gallagher and the laid-back Aileen Lane. Despite many shots, Ramirez never actually lands a corbina. Not catching fish is a recurring theme of the book, and a refreshing one, at that. Ramirez is the opposite of some of the well-known, old-school writers who bragged about their fishing prowess as they caught everything that swam. Again, this is a book for our time.
If there is a nit to pick, it is that the book has some repetition. Ramirez writes of the importance of letting regrets go and of our limited time on earth on a few different occasions. In the end, though, this minor sin is forgivable. Fly fishing is, after all, in many ways about the importance of repetition and, as Ramirez points out in one part of the book, “repetition creates memory.”
The last stop in the book, like the first, is on a river. This one is in northern Wisconsin, where he fishes in a “Musky Madness” event hosted by Bob White (whose lovely illustrations are found at the beginning of each chapter). Again, the sweetwater visit works because, as he writes, “the story of water is a circle and a cycle that never ends,” and that connectedness is always important to keep in mind. He ends the book with a quote from the marine biologist, Sylvia A. Earle that reads: “Throughout the history of our species, the mostly blue planet has kept us alive. It’s time to return the favor.” That happens to be a process that Ramirez has already begun with this book.