Fish Won’t Let Me Sleep by James Babb

Fish Won't Let Me Sleep

Jim Babb had we worried in the first few chapters of his book, Fish Won’t Let Me Sleep, as he wrote about his obsession with Atlantic salmon, “the fish of 10,000 casts.” I know, I know. Atlantic salmon are so hard to catch that the common description is “the fish of 1,000 casts.” For Babb, sometimes, it’s 10,000 casts. Yet he confessed to being obsessed with Atlantic salmon.

I’ve only caught one Atlantic salmon in my life, when I was brook trout fishing on the Leaf River in far northern Quebec. I fished for them once in the Penobscot River in Bangor, in the 1970s, caught nothing, and moved on.  So I was afraid Jim’s new book was going to focus on a fish I quickly lost interest in.

Actually, I knew better, because I have admired Jim for a very long time, and especially enjoyed his writing in Gray’s Sporting Journal. He lives in northern Maine, and I know he loves brook trout fishing as much as I do. So I was pretty sure he’d get to that in his new book, and sure enough, on Page 97, in a chapter titled “Simple Gifts,” he got to what I am pretty sure is his favorite fishing adventures, stream fishing for brookies.

Although he has fished all over the world, and tells us about some of those amazing adventures in this book, I most enjoyed his stories about fishing for Maine’s native and wild brookies in moving water – my favorite type of fishing.

“During seventeen years as Gray’s Sporting Journal’s angling columnist,” writes Jim, “I wrote 128 articles, but only eight were specifically about my obsession with small-stream trout fishing, which probably qualifies me as an advocate but stops short of being an evangelist.”

He reports that he can’t decide, “whether I’m disappointed or relieved that my evangelism – excuse me, advocacy – wins so few converts.” Its relief, Jim, and you know it! “Solitude, after all, is a big part of the charm of small streams,” he writes, as he goes on to write describe all the wonderful things we experience on those small streams.

I too have been privileged to enjoy some amazing fishing adventures from Labrador to Montana to Alaska, but these days, put me on a small brook or stream catching small brook trout, and never seeing another angler, and I am a very happy man.

Please don’t think Jim’s book is all about astonishing fishing experiences all over the world. Yes, there are plenty of those stories here, but there are lots of others about fishing — well, right here in Maine, from cod to stripers and blues on the coast to bass in the Androscoggin River. Yup, turns out Jim likes to catch fish, not just cast to them, and the Andro is one place where catching is what you do.

Jim tells us of fishing for bass in the section of the Andro south of Rumford, a very special section of that river to me. I’ve fished a bunch of times from Dixfield, just below Rumford, down river, and caught lots and lots of smallmouth bass. I remember one trip, in kayaks, where I caught 50 bass, but was out fished by my friend Harry Vanderweide, who caught 70. Harry was the one who always emphasized that he and I don’t really like fishing, we like catching!

Turns out so does Jim Babb.

In the last chapter, “One More Cast,” Jim defines my experience. “There isn’t an angler anywhere who hasn’t said to a friend, parent, spouse, or simply to himself: one more cast. Just one more cast and I’ll go.”

Among the many of my memories Jim stimulated with his stories, this one reminded me of one of my personal favorites. I was fishing on Kennebago Lake with my friend Bill Pierce, and we’d been catching brookies on dry flies on nearly every cast. As it got dark, every other boat had headed back to camp, but I kept on casting, even when I could no longer see my fly.

Finally, Bill said, “George, let me check your fly.” So I swung the rod his way, and he plucked the fly off the water, held it up, and cut it off. He knew he’d never get me to quit unless he did that. And he was right!

You will notice, starting on the very first page, that Jim Babb is a very very good writer. He writes descriptive passages like no other angling author I know. He quotes poetry and famous authors, and works in historical references and elegant descriptions of scenery.

Jim’s final story is about a small stream in “Nowhere, Maine” near his home, where he “once fished a dozen times a year and now haven’t seen in a dozen years, though I’ve thought of it often while standing hip-deep in some of the world’s great fly-fishing water.”

“Everything was pretty much where I left it,” he notes, while beautifully describing that stream, which was his inspiration for writing this book. You’ll understand, and be grateful, as you finish reading his story of that stream, and his final cast.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.