Matthew L. Miller’s new book Fishing Through the Apocalypse is an interesting combination of personal narrative and admirable activism for native and wild fish populations throughout America. I’ve read plenty of stories-turned-call-for-action – as I reckon everyone else who reads outdoors writing has – but this was the first time I’d found it all packaged neatly in book form, complete with a common thread running through every story.
Buy the Book | Every purchase supports SDO
This book was originally published in 2019, but Lyons Press released a paperback edition of it in 2021. That timing makes Apocalypse seem to be a reflection on fishing during the pandemic, which is is, in a way – just not the pandemic that shut down the world for the better part of a year.
Instead, as Miller writes, the essays in his book document fishing through the current apocalypse the fishing world faces. The one where native fish are disappearing at a rapid rate, and the future of fishing seems, at times, to be in perilous jeopardy.
To Miller’s credit, he doesn’t go with the usual doom-and-gloom prognostications that so many other outdoors writers do these days. Fishing Through the Apocalypse offers a different – but still important – view of what it means to be a steward of wild fish in the modern world.
“With a growing human population and ever-increasing threats to freshwater habitats, I do not want to lose the memory of what it means to fish now, in this place,” Miller writes in the introduction.
By his own admission, Miller acknowledges we’re in the middle of a challenging time for fishing, but he also points out the hope that lies ahead.
“Doom and gloom isn’t motivating, and it’s also not even remotely the whole story. Anglers also have led the charge in restoring native fish, in righting past wrongs . . . In this country, we still have remarkable fishing, and fish, as well as conservation successes that have restored things close to like they were in the ‘old days.’ Fishing can help us continue on that hopeful path to the future, but we’re going to have to pay attention.”
In that passage, Miller comments on what I see is the single most detrimental aspect of modern conservation. In a majority of current writing on the subject, there’s a sense of doom, of dread, of hopelessness. Writers across the country lament the loss of wild fish and their habitat, but don’t present any real resolution to the problems. The only thing most outdoors writers can seem to agree on, when it comes to conservation, is that we need to better educate the public at large on fish-handling techniques (an elitist attitude that hurts us more than helps) and that we need federal legislation to address the record droughts, wildfires, and other “climate disasters” currently plaguing the landscape.
What I appreciate most about Miller’s book is his rebuttal of that attitude. Yes, native fish, their habitat, and us anglers, face plenty of challenges and threats right now. But Miller doesn’t claim the future is already lost; instead, his stories remind us why we started fishing in the first place, and why we need to better advocate for conservation in our own local areas.
As Miller writes about cutthroat trout conservation, “I can only marvel that we still have this freedom. Freedom to fish, yes. But also the freedom to restore, to reintroduce, to experiment . . . we can still have a future with cutthroat trout – as long as there are public lands and waters. And as long as there are anglers fighting for both the fish and the rivers they call home.”
That final paragraph in the “Ghosts of Cutthroat Past” chapter contains more hope than I’ve read in any conservation story in recent memory. That is Miller’s crowning achievement with Fishing Through the Apocalypse. He drives home the need for us to be more involved in take care of the wild places we still have, and frames that in hope for a much better future.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago when we thought Lahontan, Bonneville, and Greenback cutthroat were extinct. Now, the Lahontan fishery at Pyramid Lake is an economy unto itself, and I can catch Bonneville cutthroat in just a half-hour from my house in a suburb of Salt Lake City.
If anything, Fishing Through the Apocalypse reminds us that there’s plenty of reason to hope for better fishing in the years to come.
You can buy the book here.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the Head Guide for the Utah Fly Fishing Company, News Editor for MidCurrent, and columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.