George’s Outdoor Picks – This fly fishing novel will hook you

The Contest by James Hurley is like fishing: consider the first 50 pages as preparation for the first cast. I’ve never liked all the preparation that goes into a fishing experience, I just like to fish, and Hurley’s novel began a bit slowly for me.

But I hooked my first fish on page 50, and after that, I couldn’t leave the water.

This seems like an appropriate analogy because the novel, published by Islandport Press in Yarmouth, is about a group of anglers in the Samuel Tippett Fly Fishers Club in a small Maine town. It’s about trout, fishing, river ecology and conservation, and friendships, with some important and insightful lessons of life rising to the surface.

I read the entire novel while in the cardiac unit at the local hospital, suffering an erratic heartbeat. I don’t think that had anything to do with the novel. But it does get exciting once you’re in the water.

When the club tackles the question of selecting the perfect fly, and decides to make its collective decision with a contest pitting the club’s dry fly fans against it’s wet fly lovers, a lot goes wrong, especially between club members contending for various prizes.

Amidst it all, the novel explores, in a fascinating way, the wisdom of chasing perfection. A compelling read, I couldn’t wait to get to the final chapters to find out how the contest ended and if the Club survived.

Hurley, a writer, visual artist, and musician – and of course, an avid fly fisherman – summed it up beautifully with this quote, from Samuel Tippett: “I truly believe that a river without the beauty of trout is no river at all.”

I like his thinking as much as I liked his novel.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.