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Every Day Was Special

A Book Review By Joe Cornwall

I reviewed Bill Tapply’s book Trout Eyes when it was first released.  In that review I shared my delight at reading one of the few genuine, unique voices in contemporary outdoor writing.  Like John Geirarch, Tapply’s words enchant the reader through their simple honesty; his voice is like the voice of a dear friend, shared on paper. 

While surfing the Internet one day, following links to and from the Fly Fish Ohio website, I came across my review of Trout Eyes reproduced in its entirety on Bill Tapply’s web site.  I was flattered beyond words and reached out to him to share my delight.  What I found was an angler/writer who was as gracious and generous in his personal communications as in his professional output.  The voice I read in his books was the same voice I heard in his emails.  Bill Tapply and I shared several email exchanges and he agreed to personalize my copy of Trout Eyes.  I treasure that volume, today even more so, knowing that I’ll not have the pleasure of another such kindness.  Bill Tapply passed away in July 2009 after a two-year battle with leukemia.  His loss will leave a great, gaping void in the written lexicon of our sport, to say nothing of our collective humanity.

Every Day Was Special was completed shortly before Bill Tapply died and has been published posthumously.  It is a fitting coda for a life spent sharing the joys and satisfactions of time spent afield.  This book is a collection of stories and observations first published in American Angler, Gray’s Sporting Journal or Field and Stream magazines.  In this collection, Tapply shares memories from his first, formative days on the water; time spent on a warmwater pond with an old, cane South Bend fly rod and “an old Pflueger reel wound with a cracked HDH double-taper line, an envelope of size-6 Eagle Claw bait hooks, a spool of 8-pound monofilament, and a Campbell’s soup can of freshly dug earthworms.”  From there he takes us on a journey that includes the world-class trout streams of Montana, the bonefish flats of the Florida Keys, and even to the weedy pockets that hide pugnacious largemouth bass in Massachusetts’ Charles River.  Each of the thirty essays is as perfectly sparse and wonderfully proportioned as a classic Catskill dry fly, and equally beautiful.

Having grown up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, I was particularly taken by Tapply’s New England warmwater recollections.  In his words I can see the very places where I myself first learned to cast a fly.  Tapply’s written voice is so natural and relaxed it comes on like a tale shared with a familiar fishing partner. Writing about his earliest memories of casting both flies and worms for bluegill, crappie, bass and suckers he says; “It took me all of those summers – thousands of hours, I’m sure – to learn as much about water and fish and fly casting as Lefty Kreh could probably teach me in a single afternoon.  But I learned it all by myself, by trying and erring repeatedly, and so it felt – it still feels – hard-earned and important.  Most fly fishermen that I know began fly fishing with, well, with flies, and with fancy equipment, and with helpful – and often insistent – instruction.  That’s their loss, if you ask me.”

Every Day Was Special is more than a personal memoir.  Channeling one final time his undeniable need to teach, Tapply provides us with fly patterns and tying instructions that are sure to result in new favorites in our trout boxes.  He even explores some of the history of angling with pieces examining the contributions of past luminaries like Ray Bergman and Tom Nixon. 

This book is a sparkling gem; it’s a read that’s over too fast, but one that I’m confident will find its way onto my reading list again and again. It might just be the perfect summer-time read for an addicted angler kept too long from the water.  I know it made a particularly stressful business trip personally rewarding for me on a level I didn’t expect.  There is a delicate bitterness in knowing that this was Tapply’s final work, but there is also a true sense of gratitude in knowing that he found fishing such an important a part of his life that he spent his final months working to share these words with an appreciative audience.  Bill Tapply, you will be missed.  Thank you for this final gift.

Every Day Was Special is available from Skyhorse Publishing (ISBN 978-1-60239-955-6).

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