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The Trout King - Carl Pickhardt

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Reviewed by Terry Lawton

The Trout King is a fishing novel, with fly fishing a very dominant theme. The author, Carl Pickhardt, establishes quickly that this is going to be a 'goodies' versus 'baddy' story. And interestingly, the goodies are the holiday makers who come and stay every year - as they have done for some 20 summers - Sam Henry and his son Front versus Alexander McGregor, who was himself an incomer many years back.

The book is semi-autobiographical as Carl Pickhardt says: 'I wrote The Trout King to commemorate the pivotal summer of my life when, in early adolescence, I suddenly lost my childhood passion for fly fishing for trout and, in search of another love to replace it, accidentally discovered the joy of reading.' The same thing happens to Front but to say why would give away the story. Carl Pickhardt knows his fly fishing, with a couple of small exceptions, one is his reference to a fly rod as a pole. This is something that I have never come across before in American writing. A more significant exception - and it may be connected to his giving up fishing quite some years ago (he was born in 1939) - is to do with catch and release. America, to many, is the home of catch and release and it does not get a mention. When Front catches his first trophy rainbow trout, his father does not kill it or tell him to kill it and it is just left to die in the landing net. Not despatching the fish immediately is unforgivable, particularly when teaching a youngster to fish.

The book is the story of one summer's competition to be the Trout King - the angler who catches the biggest trout during the summer season. The competition was started as a great marketing idea by the local store owner, to promote the town and boost his trade. And in the year of this book, the competition gets out of hand and things soon start to get nasty.

'Can you believe it Mary? The men are at it again. At Wally's contest. All for the sake of who can catch the biggest fish, as though it matters. All for the boasting rights if you ask me. Trout King, indeed! Who cares who owns the title? It brings little good but local glory. Makes me grateful I'm a woman, not having to compete in such nonsense.'. So says Cora Detmer, whose husband started the competition, to McGregor's wife Mary. The reference to owning the title is significant as Alexander McGregor has won the competition every year since its introduction.

Carl Pickhardt has demonstrated that you can write a good novel about (fly) fishing, but to succeed you need to have some good characters as well as providing good fishing. In The Trout King you have such characters: Sam Henry, Alexander McGregor (both have much put-upon, long suffering wives) and Ojay - 'a rough and tumble woman' - who is the proprietor of Ojay's Café and Tackle. I wish that we had similar places in England where you could meet fishing friends and chew the fat over a coffee before heading off to the river.

The Trout King is a very good read with a plot that develops nicely. I hope the book will find favour with non-fishermen too.

The Trout King by CE Pickhardt. 218 pages, paperback, published by Bonneville Books at $13.95.

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