Part of the the privilege of working for a museum is the constant discovery—or rediscovery—of an exciting piece of history and access to learn more about it. For me, this piece of history was hiding in plain sight. In our very own Leigh H. Perkins Gallery sits a lightly used Hardy Fairy fly rod, the cork still in impeccable shape, that was once owned by Ernest Miller Hemingway. The letter accompanying it perhaps paints the perfect picture of one of the greatest writers of our time.
It is common knowledge that Hemingway was an avid outdoorsman, but the literary man’s man ultimately refused to fly fish for trout. This is not because he was in pursuit of bigger game fish, like the giant marlin he so eloquently depicted in The Old Man and the Sea. This is also not to say that he gave up his childhood passion of fly fishing altogether; he fished for other species on the fly, mainly in salt water. Rather, he gave up fly fishing for trout thanks to an ordinary snafu, as discussed by his son in this September 1972 letter to Field & Stream magazine.
To Whom it may concern:
This rod, a Hardy Fairy, one of only two surviving items of trout fishing tackle, owned by my father the late Ernest Hemingway, is the one with which he fished on the lower Cottonwoods section of the Big Wood River on the one occasion that he trout fished here in Idaho. It and another rod, a John James Hardy in poor state of repair, were the only items of trout fishing tackle he had with him when he first came to Sun Valley in the Fall of 1940 along with reels and lines and few flies. The other items have since been lost and the balance of his tackle a trunk full of flies and other tackle items were lost the following year by the Railway Express Company. (This date is to the best of my knowledge). He was very discouraged by the loss of his accumulation of many years and never trout fished again except for the one occasion mentioned above. The Hardy Fairy was always one of his favorites and with it he fished wet with Hardy Corona lines and a St. George reel, tapered gut casts, usually with two or three flies. His favorite three fly cast was a Woodcock Yellow and Green, for a dropper, Shrimp fly in the middle and a worm fly or Coch-y-bondhu for a tail fly. I hope that whoever bids on this rod successfully will give serious consideration to giving it, or having his estate give it eventually to the American Museum of Fly Fishing.
Very Sincerely, John H. N. Hemingway
Hemingway was famous for the Iceberg Theory, or theory of omission, in which his words on the surface were only a front to the hidden world of real hopes, fears, and feelings that his characters were experiencing. As with many things in Hemingway’s life and literature, this letter leaves questions. What made him change his mind and agree to go trout fishing one more time in Idaho? Where did his lost equipment end up? One thing’s for sure: the attendant who lost his luggage probably received one of the most eloquent talking-tos in the history of talking-tos. (Our condolences.)