It seems like everybody is writing a book these days. And there is nothing wrong with that – especially if you like to read.
Fact is that most mature human beings who have lived life, shared adventures or just a canoe or a campfire, have tales worthy of ink. The trick, of course, is knowing which memories or recollections are worth dredging up and then figuring out how to present them in a compelling or entertaining way.
Dale Wheaton has figured it out. Moreover, he has nailed it.
In his new book, “Behind the Cast,” storyteller and guide Dale Wheaton catapults Downeast outdoor humor to a whole new level. Wheaton, who springs from a solid legacy of guiding and a sporting camp culture in Forest City, Maine, relives his recollections mostly from a career pursued from the stern of a Grand Laker canoe. Not only is this man clever with the written word, he is in his soul a humorist through and through.
What Wheaton teaches us right off the bat is that, when you guide, it’s the people, not the fish, that are unforgettable. With razor sharp wit and delightful descriptions, a dab of psycho-analysis and well-honed philosophy, Wheaton portrays and profiles the most memorable sports who shared his canoe. That he is able to do this in a way that is simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming and never mean-spirited is a tribute not only to his skill as a writer but to his decent nature as a person and licensed guide.
In one of my favorite chapters, “Balance,” Wheaton puts us in his shoes, a life as the guide and stern man responsible for keeping a tippy canoe “in trim” as overweight and over-eager casters rock the boat to and fro. Unbeknown to these sports, Wheaton has assigned categories for them all: “Sliders, squirmers, rubberneckers, fidgeters, leg bouncers, foot tappers, compulsive lure changers, and hyperactive patients who forgot their medication provide an intense workout for the guide.”
The “yankers” and “rockers” annoyed him the most: “Once they learn to carry line, they think that 137 false casts must precede every delivery stroke. As a guide, you try to get in sync and rock in a sort of opposing rhythm while keeping your butt glued to a pivot point. The trick is to manage them and remain friends. Catching fish is fun, but it’s also nice to get home in one piece.”
Fellow outdoor writers who have sung the praises of “Behind the Cast” on the dustcover, recognize Wheaton’s talent for evoking the funny side of life and acknowledge him as a “humorist.” Wheaton notes that his wife, Jana, in proofreading his early manuscript, was given to some “snickers.” This is an understatement if you ask me. The chapter called “Anchor Management” is more than snicker material: It is a belly-busting, honestly funny outdoor tale that had me tearing up with laughter. Reading it aloud to Diane at bedtime, we were both hysterical. Honest.
If there ever truly was a must-have book for an outdoor person who likes to laugh, this would be it. Borrowing from the Guidespeak Glossary at the conclusion of the book this one is a wicked cronger, a cocker, an ole switcher, a true tuck out.
Published by Timberdoodle Books, “Behind the Cast” is available from the publisher, P.O. Box 261, Holden, ME 04429.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.