Book Reviews

Book Review: Riverbank Memories by Mike Watts

4 Mins read

A good indicator of one’s character is the kind of stories they tell. Pay close attention and you can gauge where their values are, where their true passions lie, and what they hold closest to the heart. In Mike Watts’ new book, Riverbank Memories, readers will get a true sense of what the author’s passions are, and they will also discover a man whose abiding love for family and friends give hunting and fishing stories a greater depth and meaning.

Mike has fly fished the Southern Appalachians and points beyond for over four decades, and you can tell by his enthusiasm and love for the sport that it never gets old. Not all of the stories in this book are fishing stories, (there’s also a few hunting stories in the mix) but they all seem to circle back to his love and reverence for the natural world, which he experiences the most standing in a river.

There is something special in the river’s solitude at dusk. Standing along the river edge in knee-deep, cold, flowing water, my sense of awareness begins to dominate.
-from “My River”

Each of the selected stories in Riverbank Memories satisfies that part of us as a reader that wants to tag along on an adventure. Mike’s conversational writing style makes it seem as if the reader is right there, experiencing the action themselves. Many of these stories have a humorous slant, and readers will certainly relate when things may not go exactly as planned. In a story titled “The Cure for the Fish Itch,” the author describes what happens if the overwhelming urge to go fishing goes unattended:

…my body may undergo fluctuations in blood pressure, heart rhythm, and anxiety, and my body temperature can range from hot to cold, relative to where my imaginary self may be fishing in the adventure.

Even the best fishing stories are not always about the fishing, and readers will see many examples of that throughout this book. In Mike’s stories, the thing that makes a particular trip memorable is not the number or size of fish caught or game taken, but the best part might be the time he and his fishing buddies sang karaoke at a Mexican restaurant in Arkansas, or an impromptu Johnny Cash sing-along in Salida, Colorado. Those experiences, to me anyway, makes the best stories.

The stories in Riverbank Memories are all personal and heartfelt, and a couple brought a tear to my eye. One example of this is “Back, One More Time,” which is a nostalgic but emotional tribute to an old hunting companion:

The outing had been a welcome expedition for two old-timers feeling squashed by modern civilization. This trip was also marked by both parties’ melancholy mood of mystique. Though a sound had not been spoken to her, my hunting partner and I both instinctively knew this was our last hunt together as a team.

Another story that tended to make me tear up was “First Fishing Trip with Dad.” This story made me think back to some of the fishing trips I took with my dad so many years ago now, and how I would give anything to relive those days. And just like Mike, the impact those times had on me have lasted to this day:

He didn’t know it then, but he created a love for fishing that had lasted a lifetime. One never knows how impactful and positive a day of fishing with a youngster can be. Maybe that’s why I always like to “take a kid” fishing.

And that’s probably why the author’s dedication to teaching the sport of fly fishing to the younger generation is so important to him. Mike has taught fly fishing part-time to college students at Clemson University since 2004. And I’m sure that all of his students enjoy the type of stories found in this book.

In one story in-particular, “Cricket’s Big Fish,” the author produces a signed affidavit to prove to his fishing companions friends that he did indeed have success, and that what he had told them was not just another fishing tale. One quote from that story says it all when it comes to the stories we tell as anglers:

Fishermen are not liars, just creative people who like the outdoors and can communicate their achievements and disappointments extremely well.

Whether it is catching shoal bass on a Georgia river or dreaming of a 20 inch trout on a cold winter’s night; catching sharks on the fly in the mouth of Charleston Harbor; or trying to decide what to pack to fish farm ponds in different parts of the state—the stories in this book hit home. Mike has been fortunate to find success in the field and on the water over the years, but he does not deny that things don’t always work out the way you would like them to. He says that to him, “missing,” as in missing fish, is often time used as a verb. His writing is real and honest.

In the pages of Riverbank Memories, you will be informed as well as entertained, because there is always something that can be learned from a seasoned veteran of the sport of fly fishing. But perhaps one of the most important take-aways that I believe the author would want readers to get out of his book is how important it is to pass on the skills and traditions, as well as the love of the sport of fly fishing to the next generation. He gives us a fine example of this in the stories that involve fishing with his grandson, Rivers. Mike is taking time to impart his knowledge of the sport and transferring his passion for fish and the waters where they live to his best fishing buddy. Just as his father did for him so long ago, Mike is creating a life-long angler in Rivers—not to mention the impact he is having on his Clemson students, past and present. Mike Watts is adamant about introducing others to the outdoors and the sport of fly fishing, especially the younger generation. And I believe this book is yet another tool that will help accomplish this goal.

Mike’s book can be purchased on the following book sites:

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