Thomas McGuane is a special contributor to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED whose work appears frequently in our pages, but he is not by profession a sports journalist. He is a novelist and, to judge by the critical acclaim he is receiving this week upon publication of his third book, Ninety-Two in the Shade, he is a very good one. He also is a very good outdoorsman, and his two worlds blend in this latest work, an excerpt from which appeared in our June 4 issue.
Ninety-Two is a stark story of a Florida Keys fishing guide, a comic-tragic evocation of Key West sporting life. It is a subject McGuane knows intimately, for he lives there half the year fly-rodding for tarpon, bonefish and permit and accumulating a level of knowledge that has led the best guides in the region to hint that McGuane is good enough to join their profession. (They also hope he doesn't, that being the way of guides everywhere.)
But McGuane divides his living and angling time with another locale, his ranch near Livingston, Mont. It is from there he has given us the story that begins on page 42, the seasons of the year as viewed by a trout fisherman.
The fish are far smaller in McGuane's favorite northern streams, but when the storytelling starts, even at his Key West home, it often turns to trout—and Montana. McGuane is there right now, living one of the better lives we know of: fishing, backpacking, getting ready for the grouse, duck and deer seasons. And pausing occasionally to gaze dreamily at the walls of what he calls his junk room. Up there, above the clutter, are two brown trout, both five-pounders. McGuane has caught fish 20 times as big, far stronger and more spectacular fish, but no two of them were caught on consecutive casts as were these trout. Such is the good life.
The idylls of Tom McGuane, this pattern of follow-the-fish, is part of his success. Frequently in Livingston, McGuane heads off backpacking in the wilderness. "I go in and get out and get back to work," he says, "and thus keep myself refreshed all the time."
When early winter makes it too refreshing, McGuane packs his rods, typewriter, wife Becky and 6-year-old son Thomas and heads back to Key West. There the flats await, the conversations with the guides, the visits of his writer-artist friends. And something else, which it is only fair to warn you of. McGuane is returning to sailing, an old passion. He has bought himself a Meadowlark, a sailboat of Herreshoff design, which draws only 16 inches with the lee boards up, just right for the waters near his favorite bonefish flats.
To insure once again that his interests travel with him, right now in Livingston he is preparing "to lay hands on a little 14-foot sloop," as he puts it. "I've never seen a sailboat around here, but it seems like a grand idea to take our sleeping bags and sail up the arms of Yellowstone Lake into real wilderness. We can get there without breaking our backs, and there is a lot of wilderness country you simply can't hike to. We'll sail in and fish for trout when we get there. It should make a great story."
O.K., Tom, but look out for the mast on your backcast.