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Kustich's Stories Touch the Heart
on December 30, 2013
It’s the story he needed to tell and the book he needed to write. That’s my reaction after reading Jerry Kustich’s new book, Around the Next Bend, A Fly Angler’s Journey.
Jerry is known in the flyfishing community as a bamboo rod maker, a master craftsman in the art of transforming stalks of bamboo into deceptively delicate-looking, yet strong and powerful fly rods. He’s also a talented writer with two previous books, At the River’s Edge, and Wisp in the Wind. He’s also the co-author, with his brother, Rick Kustich, of Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead.
Jerry endured turmoil, both professional and personal, in recent years. In his second book, Wisp in the Wind, he wrote about his love of the craft of building bamboo rods, and his work as one of the tiny group of rod builders, the “Boo Boys,” who ran the R. L. Winston Rod Co., bamboo shop. Not long after the book came out, there was a falling out with Winston, resulting in Jerry and Glenn Brackett, another bamboo master craftsman and former owner of Winston, leaving to launch their own business, Sweetgrass Rods.
In that earlier book, Jerry also told of how he met his wife, Debra, and how they subsequently found their way to Twin Bridges, Montana.
Just a few years after launching the new business, Debra was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. My mother had ALS, so I’m all too familiar with this debilitating illness. Debra died in 2009, a devastating blow.
I occasionally stop at Sweetgrass Rods in Twin Bridges after a morning of duck hunting, and last year, about this time, Jerry said he was working out a strategy to retire so I suggested that he should write another book. “You have a story you need to tell,” I said. Evidently, others were giving him the same advice, also.
In his introduction, Jerry writes, “With a heavy heart I write today because so many have encouraged me to do so. What follows is a series of pieces…intended to bring logical and emotional closure to a sad and trying period in my life.”
I’ll point out that, while the book does address the business issues and personal grief, this is not a book of sad stories. On the contrary, Jerry’s stories are honest, insightful and often humorous.
There are a number of stories about steelhead fishing, though Jerry points out that he’s really a trout fisherman who likes to fish for steelhead, and that doesn’t qualify him as a true, died in the wool, steelheader. For example, he tells of fishing a river in Michigan where there’s a spawning run of walleyes moving in the river at the same time as a spring run of steelhead. He decides he wants to catch a bragging-size walleye, and is disappointed as he keeps catching more steelhead.
Jerry also tells of when he felt a calling to write some fishing stories, and Debra’s amusement at the thought. “She snickered and mumbled something to the effect that I should first learn how to string together a noun and a verb before tackling anything more challenging than a sentence.”
Through reading and hard work, Jerry Kustich definitely learned to write. Jerry’s stories have drawn praise from masters of fly-fishing writing, such as Nick Lyons. “When Nick Lyons called last year, Debra could not imagine why someone so well known in the world of fly-fishing would want to contact me.”
The book has a sad ending, of course, though the final chapters stop somewhat short of Debra’s death. The reader knows from the beginning, of course, that it happened. He tells of his feeling of helplessness during his wife’s long decline, though he stops well short of self-pity. Instead, he reflects, “That’s why I’ll continue to seek simplicity at the river’s edge, one cast at a time.”
Paul F. Vang, author of Sweeter than Candy - A Hunter's Journal.