I am not a fly-fisherman. I am a bass and walleye guy. I like the big boats, the heavy gear and the vicious attack of a fish that is pure predator.

To me, fly-fishermen are an elite “Ivy League” group of anglers who believe their form is more important than the catch. Their quest seems more about the perfect cast against the perfect backdrop. They speak longingly of wading along a crystal-clear mountain stream chasing rainbow trout as mayflies flit above the water. They are the elite angler, the “connoisseur.” They are the guys who actually get opera, and like it, too.

To be fair, I tried fly-fishing as a teen. The few casts not ending tangled in my cap, attached to my ear or attached to anyone and anything standing immediately behind me most often ended with an unceremonious plop and a pile of monofilament leader at the end of the line. I soon accepted my limitations and went back to my trusty spinning rod. Interestingly, my fly rod still exists, though it now resides with my nephew, who actually appears to know how to use it.

So it was with trepidation and a little prejudice that I agreed to review the book “Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun: A Fly-Fisher’s European Journal” by Norm Zeigler. After all, it’s all about fishing, right? Wrong.

“Rivers of Light, Rivers of Shadow” is more than a fishing book. To be sure, there is a great deal of very descriptive fishing in the book. As a “how-to” manual, anglers wanting to learn and emulate the author have plenty of tips to act upon. The fishing stories themselves are artfully descriptive and very complete in a non-technical way. The reader is left with a fair degree of knowledge on equipment, flies and technique on a variety of waters and conditions.

But this book is more than a “how-to” manual. It is more about passion, a passion for exploration that uses fishing as a means to an end. This book is many things; it is part travelog, part fishing manual and part social commentary.

But above all, it is a personal diary written by a man blessed with the opportunity and the drive to realize his passions for fishing, travel and exploration of the historical and contemporary.

Zeigler worked at Stars and Stripes from 1979 to 1994, and was its outdoors and travel writer for the final six years before he became ill with Lyme disease and was forced to return to the States. “Rivers of Light, Rivers of Shadow” is a collection of short stories revolving around his European fishing trips. The common thread tying the stories together is his desire to look past the “fishing hole” for knowledge of the environment that made up each land.

From the small guest houses of Germany, to the campgrounds of Spain, the author develops a knowledge of the characters, history and landmarks that make each location unique.

On the Saale, he noted the new freedom of a river once ideologically split between east and west. In the Czech Republic, he describes the transition from east to west both in the environment and among the people. In Spain, he reveals that, like all nations, the bureaucrats rule imperiously from behind their desks.

Throughout the book, we get to know the author personally. We become familiar with the friends and family who complete his world. His comparisons of European fishing and life to his “all-American” Cape Cod youth further provide a better understanding of his European experience.

Taken as a whole, “Rivers of Light, Rivers of Shadow” is not really a fishing book. It is a personal diary, one that provides a glimpse into the life of a man who, unlike many of us, acted upon his passions and lived his dreams.

So here is the review encapsulated: The fishing is great, the travelog beautifully written and the characters funny, tragic and memorable. For even the most jaded of us, he gives a whole new perspective to Europe through his fly-fishing.

Now, how can I steal that fly-rod back from my nephew?

John L. Mahaffey works for the NATO C3 Agency, The Hague, Netherlands. “Rivers of Shadow, Rivers of Sun: A Fly-Fisher’s European Journal” is published by Countrysport Press of Camden, Maine, and lists for $22.95. It is available through the publisher’s Web site,, and through and

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