“On life and death this old man walked.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick
My name is Henry Veggian. My friends call me Hank. To quote the good Captain in Jaws, “You all know me, know how I make my living.” I write, I collect books and I spend time with family and friends in the U.S. and in Italy. It’s a busy, interesting and beautiful world and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m also happy to have been fishing around it for nearly a half century.
For nearly two decades, I have taught at a big University. There I do the work of a professor: designing classes, writing scholarly articles and books and teaching young minds how to communicate, think and learn about language, literature and history. I would mention Robert Ruark and Louis Rubin to name a pair of anglers who have passed through that school, and I have been shepherd to many more: there was also a fishing club for which I was faculty adviser 2007-2019.
I’ve spent a good deal of life angling from kayak and shore, wading and boat. But I only first came to know of the Bowfin while living in and fishing around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the end of the 20th century. Since that time I have developed a habit of reading everything I can regarding those fishes that Darwin famously described as “living fossils.” These include Gars, Sturgeon, Paddlefish, Coelacanths, Sharks, and Lungfish, to name a few. I write about and fish for many other species, but those are my favorites.
Why? It’s because they are survivors and underdogs. And I admire and respect survivors and underdogs. But there is a more practical reason. we have great fisheries because we have native species like the Bowfin and Gars. These fishes keep other fish populations in check, preventing stunting caused by over-population. When you catch a big Pike or Largemouth Bass, you can thank a nearby Bowfin for your catch – and vice versa. And I would not forget to mention the contest that a hooked Bowfin offers. Try it – you’ll see.
Of late I primarily fish competitively in kayak tournaments and have made a name for myself as tournament kayak angler. I do so because I love kayak fishing and catching fish from a kayak. But I also fish the tournaments in order to scout new waters, learn new techniques, and wander around quite a bit, thinking. This is what I do in Bowfin Country, on the website and elsewhere.
About the Book
The title of this site is derived from a book I am writing. But first, the fish:
The Bowfin (Amia calva) is native to North America, and that continent only. The fish is widely disliked among anglers, wildly admired by scientists and largely unknown to everyone else. Some claim the Bowfin is the most thoroughly studied of fishes, particularly with respect to its anatomy. Ask one of those same scientists about the Bowfin’s movement, forage and reproduction in the wild, most will admit little is known. Ask an angler if it fights hard, and you’ll get a smile – even from those who don’t like catching them. Keep walking and you arrive at the border of Bowfin Country.
In 2007, I started to write a book entitled Welcome to Bowfin Country. It began with field notes and drawings I made while fishing in central North Carolina. In 2008, some of those notes made their way to David Perry, who was then Editor-in-Chief at UNC Press. David took me under his wing and helped me through the early drafts. We fished and talked a lot. He retired; we kept fishing. The book remains a work in progress.
Between 2009 and 2012, I read hundreds of articles and books about the Bowfin. I scoured libraries and specimens at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. From the first record of the fish in the 16th century to the present, I tracked every reference, description, story, drawing and article about the Bowfin that I could find. Swamps and rivers, lakes and marshes, libraries and archives were my second homes. Like a Borgesian cartographer, I mapped what I call Bowfin Country, a place and time parallel to conventional history and habit. In 2013, I received a small grant to complete the manuscript, traveled to New York City and Washington D.C. to complete more research, and I started this blog in order to post updates on the book’s progress. Here I also post musings, photos and fishing-related work (and also to my affiliated Twitter account @miacalva). These too are Bowfin Country.
I don’t know when I will finish the book. I write by hand with a pen on paper, and with a line in the water. I’m not in any hurry.
A few disclaimers
1. I am a writer, experienced angler/kayaker and a Ph.D. but I am not a trained fisheries biologist. I often receive requests for scientific information. I am happy to share what I have, but sometimes you are better off asking the certified experts.And please do not ask me to catch and send you a Bowfin. I won’t do it.
2. Readers should not venture into some of the places where I go fishing, as they may risk physical or existential harm. If they do venture there, they should invite me along.
3. Original material posted to this site is mine. When quoting my work, please remember to cite it. If you don’t, Japanese horror movies may happen.
4. “The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the 18th century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine.” – Karl Marx, Grundrisse
Thank you for reading and following the blog. Please leave comments, questions and advice. I enjoy reading and responding to them. You can message me here, too, or find me on FB: https://www.facebook.com/henry.veggian.5
The mail is slow in Bowfin Country, and there is no Wi-fi. I’ll get back to you when I can.