Even though Chris Dombrowski grew up in East Lansing, in the county with the fewest lakes in Michigan, he still found a way to fish. In his early teens, Dombrowski and his pals would fish the Red Cedar — or as they referred to it, “Red Sewer.”
Dombrowski’s latest book, “Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker and the World’s Most Alluring Fish,” beautifully details his love of fishing, including conversations with legendary Grand Bahama Island bonefishing guide David Pinder.
Dombrowksi, 40, talked with City Pulse from his home in Missoula, Mont., which is in the heart of one of the nation’s top fly fishing regions. Anglers from all over the world come to Missoula to fish the Blackfoot and Bitterroot rivers. Dombrowski, a 1994 graduate of East Lansing High School, discovered his love for fishing in the Greater Lansing area.
“We would pretty religiously fish the Red Cedar a couple of times a week, from the golf course in Okemos to the baseball fields on campus and near Municipal Park in Lansing,” he said. “We were vaguely trespassing, but no one is afraid of kids carrying fishing poles.”
Dombrowski worked 18 years as a fishing guide, leading up to 120 trips per year. He has also published several works of poetry and has spent time teaching college literature. But it took a while before he put his two passions together.
“I was hesitant for a long time to write about fishing,” he said, noting the strong tradition of American fishing literature. “I was a little intimidated.”
Dombrowski recalled his first exposure to the genre of nature writing.
“The first book that inspired me was Norman Maclean’s ‘A River Runs Through It,’” Dombrowski said. “My high school teacher, Jim Colando, gave me the book. Before I got home from school, I was 60 pages into it. It was the first book I read cover to cover.”
It proved to be a gateway into other nature literature.
“The book seemed to illustrate what’s happening in the natural world and the sensations surrounding it,” he said, adding that soon after he began reading Michigan writers Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison.
Harrison, who died last March, provided this blurb, likely his last, for Dombrowski’s book: “A brilliant book. Destined to be a classic.”
A large portion of the book is dedicated to Dombrowski’s meeting with David Pinder, which came about by happenstance. An impoverished Dombrowski was given a spot on a trip to the Grand Bahamas to fish for bonefish, where he met the legendary guide. Pinder, whose failing vision ended a career of hunting the elusive bonefish, became something like a fishing guru for Dombrowski.
“We don’t always know what we are after,” Dombroski said of the unexpected connection.
Dombrowski, who was initially more interested in fishing than talking, soon became entranced by Pinder’s story. An unassuming figure, Pinder’s history in the fishing industry goes back to the mid-1950s, when he was employed as a laborer building the Bahamas’ Deep Water Cay fishing resort. He helped to establish the islands’ bonefishing tourism industry, which can pull over $7,000 for a weeklong trip.
The bonefish is noted for both its wariness and its ability to hit speeds of 25 miles per hour. The fish is relatively small and not much to look at, but those who seek the bonefish see it as a glistening trophy.
But Dombrowski also laments one of the ironies of the Bahamian fishing industry. Fishing has become so popular that moneyed fishermen, who got their start in the island’s lodges and camps, are now buying up these properties for private use, threatening the sport fishing industry.
While the two sides of his life — fishing and writing — are quite different, Dombrowski sees some overlap.
“Both fishing and reading ask us to immerse ourselves in a world and get to know it,” he said. “The people who seek a deeper engagement with fishing are the same as those who write and read.”
2016 Fall Writing Series presents Chris Dombrowski
Hosted by the MSU Center for Poetry
Afternoon Talk 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 LookOut! Gallery, Snyder Hall 362 Bogue St., East Lansing
Reading 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 RCAH Theatre, Snyder Hall 362 Bogue St., East Lansing
(517) 884-1932, poetry.rcah.msu.edu