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The Storyteller’s Voice

A Review of William Tapply’s Book Trout Eyes


By Joe Cornwall


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William Tapply is an American treasure.  He is an American treasure because his voice reflects in cadence and efficiency, in measure and metaphor, and most importantly in integrity, the voice of the common man.  The tone of Tapply’s voice is not that of a single citizen, but instead it is the echo of the combined aspirations, daydreams and wishes of all who grew up in the rural America of the mid-twentieth century.  His is the voice of a golden age that has come to bring us news that the golden age itself is alive and well and in each of us.  Even now it is painting our sport in new colors of poetry and prose for the next generation to appreciate.  Tapply is an American treasure because his dad was, and remains, such a priceless asset to the outdoor sports.  H.G. “Tap” Tapply was a larger than life figure, but Bill Tapply does him justice by carrying a son’s awe of his father’s ability safely ensconced in the confident, polished and professional writings of a talented communicator where it can be freely shared.  I feel the touch of my grandfather through Bill’s reminiscences of his own father.  Spontaneous empathy is the earmark of a true writer.


Trout Eyes is an easy read.  I took this book on a business trip and read it cover-to-cover in two evenings.  I read it slowly and savored the stories I’d heard before.  I read it closely and consumed fresh detail from new material.  Largely a collection of columns published in American Angler and Gray’s Sporting Journal, this is a work that transcends angling as a sport in order to speak directly to angling as a community of sensitive, sensible, contemplative human beings.  As an aspiring essayist my eyes locked on the following quote: “Writers experience fishing with about twice the intensity and focus of non-writers.  Not only do writers read the water, study the weather, observe the insects, experiment with flies and, in general, try to catch fish, but they also, with a different part of their minds, look for story ideas.  Writers assume that every fishing trip offers a lesson, or an insight, or a new trick or tidbit of information, if only they are smart and imaginative enough to recognize it.  Writers go fishing for fun, sure.  But they also go fishing for stories.”


Tapply avoids saccharin because his remembrances and contemplations are naturally sweet.  There is nothing forced or artificial.  When he recounts the saga of a Belize tarpon we all know the taste of adrenalin just being connected to such a thing must muster.  And we all know the bitter aftertaste of a fight cut short because of our own shortcomings.  The painting becomes the mirror.


 “Animal Wrongs” explores the misguided anthropomorphisms of a kooky bunch of PETA true-believers, yet Tapply takes nothing from them that they don’t lay on the table of their own accord.  No malice is present in his recounting of the tale.  None is needed.  The characters and story are real and the teller need only keep out of the way for the inevitable conclusion to be delivered.  Those folks are nuts.  Perhaps not dangerously so, but nuts none-the-less.


I love this kind of book.  The recounting of experiences of someone who has paid attention to the world around him makes for a rewarding read.  William Tapply has “situational awareness” and the talent to share the stories he sees and the experiences he lives.  Blessed with a father who could put him in a circle that included the likes of Lee Wulff, Harold Blaisdell, Ed Zern, Joe Bates, Frank Woolner and many others, Bill seems in constant awe of his own good fortunes.  William Tapply is Professor of English and Writer in Residence at Clark University.  He is also a man who’s written voice will allow you to feel he is a friend.


Trout Eyes, True Tales of Adventure, Travel and Fly Fishing is available from Skyhorse Publishing for $24.95.  ISBN-10: 1-60239-048-7. 


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