March 29, 2023
By Tyler Frantz
Most fly fishermen recognize tributaries as remote headwaters or meandering feeder streams that casually trace the landscape downward, eventually joining to form larger bodies of water.
Some of these tributaries are teeming with life–healthy, memorable and vibrant. Others continue their flow through difficult situations. Regardless, they all come together in the end, serving as the origins of a river that draws its existence from the watery veins that materialize and merge from diverse sources.
In many ways, the birth of a river mirrors the makeup of a man, as the experiences one encounters over the course of a lifetime serve to shape and sculpt his character. In essence, life events, both good and bad, are the tributaries that build us into who we are today.
Avid fly fisherman, conservationist, and author Lou Wentz intimately captures many of those defining moments to which we can all relate as he reflects on a lifetime spent on the water in his book, Tributaries: Fly-fishing Sojourns to the Less Traveled Streams.
“Rivers and streams offer an intriguing backdrop that makes the fly-fishing experience unique,” Wentz says. “In a mysterious way, they can occasionally bring out the not-so-glamourous sides of ourselves, and yet most times they nourish us in ways that promote redemption and goodness.”
Wentz uses a metaphoric style to parallel life’s hidden lessons, challenges, and triumphs often realized when fishing off the beaten path. In an easy-to-read short story format, each chapter presents a different stream and takeaway worth contemplating as Wentz transcends traditional how-to, where-to fly fishing literature.
While readers will certainly glean fishing tips, locations to target, and effective strategies as a by-product of this work, the heart of Tributaries is Wentz’s entertaining and thought-provoking journey as a fly fisherman, from his modest childhood roots in the suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania, to his beloved escapes to the Catskill mountains and beyond.
The book tackles some heavy topics, such as a boyhood friend nearly drowning in a favored neighborhood creek; the juxtaposition of a middle-class white man sharing an urban stream with a disadvantaged African American youth, who somehow lands the fish of a lifetime on far inferior tackle; and an old farmer’s last cast before financial burdens force him to abandon his family home for good–a gut-wrenching chapter with potential to move readers to tears.
“Last casts happen at the end of an outing, the end of a journey to a far-off destination, the end of a season, and in all of our lives the concluding event that we know will arrive someday, often without any thought or planning,” Wentz writes. “Regardless of the situation, last cast portends a serious, mindful moment not for its outcome but for its symbolic measure of our love and passion for fly fishing.”
Wentz’s passion for fish and the waters that harbor them has been well-pronounced through his volunteer work in stream restoration, as an entire chapter, titled “Perkiomen Nightmares,” documents the many hurdles of maintaining clean water amid human progress.
Awarded Member Conservationist of the Year in 2004 by the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, Wentz was instrumental in reviving a dwindling local chapter, securing funding and manpower, as well as implementing stream-saving riparian buffers along impaired waterways–all work which years later still bears the fruits of his labor.
“My volunteer time participating in stream restoration reinforced my belief that our role in this world is to leave it better than we found it,” Wentz says. A portion of the proceeds for each book sold online will be donated to the Trout Unlimited national organization.
Wentz’s personal journey from novice to accomplished angler carries us to the fringes of the fly-fishing experience, drawing on actual events along obscure and well-known tributaries, to instill messages of hope for the sport we all love and the conservation values necessary for its survival.
Just as tributaries serve as feeder streams for larger bodies of water, the author’s own tributaries of life, although isolated moments in time, ultimately combine and masterfully embody the core of this instantly relatable book that all fly fishermen will be able to appreciate.
Tributaries: Fly-fishing Sojourns to the Less Traveled Streams by Lou Wentz. Coast Fork Press, 2022, 196 pages, $19.99 softcover, ISBN 978-1-09838-626-9, $9.99 eBook, ISBN 978-1-09838-627-6.