Le Shack fondly remembers friends, fishing

John “Duke” Welter

It is a bittersweet thing to review the last book of Jim Chapralis, Le Shack, a collection of short essays and stories about his time among a group of Chicagoans who frequented a tumbledown fishing camp in the sand country streams of central Wisconsin. It is bittersweet because the book came out about a week before Jim died of lung cancer last November.

Jim Chapralis could be known to many Wisconsin Tuers for a variety of reasons. For several decades he owned or ran one of several adventure angling companies that brought anglers to sites around the world. He was a widely traveled angler himself, for one of the perks of the business was exploring for new lodges or fishing spots. He was a champion fly caster and held several world championships and records. He wrote five books, each of them marked by a conversational tone, lots of people-focused stories, and nary a footnote or literary reference to be found. And despite having traveled the world and fished the big headline places and the unknowns as well, he returned again and again for 40 years to the Mecan, the Pine, and Wedde and Taggatz creeks in central Wisconsin. (Those names are all aliases, I surmise, for the streams Chapralis really fished.)
There’s one more quality for which Wisconsin Tuers should be glad Jim Chapralis lived near and fished here: he had a passion for conservation of coldwater resources and wrote with that passion when those resources were threatened.

When Perrier wanted to drill and bottle the Mecan Springs, Chapralis was ready to marshal the facts and write about the threat Perrier posed. When other threats came up, he was quick to see the dangers and mobilized people to respond.

We sat and talked last January, a month after his diagnosis, about his fear that trout streams in Wisconsin and Michigan would be unable to remain healthy in the face of commercial, residential, and energy development. He was unabashed in his admiration for his friends in Central Wisconsin TU who had fought so many battles for the streams of their area and, by association, the streams of the state. “And I don’t think I’ll be here to fight, so I hope you guys in TU will continue,” he told me.

Le Shack tells several dozen tales from Jim’s time as a member: how the fishing hats of deceased members were hung on nails from a ceiling beam, how difficult the streams were to learn to fish after he’d traveled the world and thought he was a pretty good angler, and how reticent his chums always were about their favorite holes and targeted fish, or “stake-outs.” Reading his tales is like sitting around a stone fireplace with a good glass of scotch in a chipped cup, listening to a storyteller you want to keep on talking.

The best tales are of pratfalls and mistakes and challenges that sometimes are met and sometimes not, and the closer he is to the person who pratfell — whether himself or a
close buddy — the more joyful the ribbing becomes. Wouldn’t we all want a close buddy to memorialize those moments? It’s all said in the best-intended way imaginable.

Jim’s buddy Chuck Mitchell has provided pen-and-ink drawings to accompany the stories, except perhaps for the one where he, on a misunderstood verbal direction drove his brand-new RV down a path and into a sinking mud-wallow near a Waushara County stream.

This book could be subtitled, “Tales from a Fishing Buddy” and enjoyed in that vein, reminiscent of former Milwaukee Journal columnist Bill Stokes’ Trout Friends, published a decade ago. But as a reminder that Jim Chapralis offered so much more to the world of trouting and resource protection, especially in the Upper Midwest, it poses a challenge: from this activity and these places that you take from, find a way to give back.

The Shack is available from Anglingmatters.
com. 216 pages, $16.95.
Illustrations by Charles B. Mitchell