Scions Of Literary Giants Share Passion For Fishing

ANATONE, Asotin County - Hemingway was upstream. Tolstoy was downstream. And neither was catching a damn thing.

The Grande Ronde River in southeastern Washington had never seen such a pair. Jack Hemingway - eldest son of legendary novelist Ernest Hemingway and admitted trout bum - was working his two-handed Spey rod in a graceful arc, casting for prized steelhead trout. Count Alexander Tolstoy - great-grandson of legendary Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and admitted trout bum - was fly-fishing for steelhead, too, standing knee-deep in the frigid water, the brown canyons of Washington's high desert at his back.

These men had dedicated their lives to fishing, traveling from Uruguay to West Africa to Russia in search of everything from Atlantic salmon to tarpon to rooster fish. Every year, they had caught and released more fish than most weekend anglers land in a lifetime. Yet they were being skunked on the Grande Ronde. No amount of skill could conjure up a steelhead, a big, sea-run trout that is closely related to a salmon. The fish were not there.

It didn't bother Hemingway or Tolstoy much, for they knew that this was what fishing - especially for steelhead - was about. So they settled into the Zen-like rhythm of the steelheader, casting, letting the fly drift, stripping it in, taking a step downstream, and casting again.

"Catching one of these a day will keep you happy as a bedbug," said Hemingway, 71, during a break in the fishing.

Both from the old school

He was dressed in chest-high waders and a deerstalker's cap, and with his stocky build, mustache and strong jaw line, he looked a lot like his father.

Jack Hemingway and Alexander Tolstoy, known as Sasha, have formed one of the most unusual friendships in the world of the outdoors. They are from the old school, men's men.

Tolstoy, who is 56, is dapper and well-built. He wears ascots and tweeds, has curly hair that touches his collar, and sports a bushy mustache. He smokes two Cuban cigars a day - one after breakfast and one after dinner. Don't try telling him he can't light up in a restaurant.

Hemingway is still in fine shape and, on a grouse hunt, can outwalk a man half his age. He is unrepentantly politically incorrect and delights in telling bawdy jokes. He and Tolstoy fish hard and drink hard. They converse in French, which Hemingway speaks fluently, thanks to his upbringing in Paris in the 1920s.

These days, the scions of two great literary families meet a few times a year, fishing the waters near Hemingway's homes in Idaho and Washington or working the trout streams in Tolstoy's France.

Two met in France

They met nearly two decades ago. One day last month, at Hemingway's grand log cabin, which sits on a mountaintop near Anatone, the two men told the story of how they had become acquainted.

Hemingway was in France and decided to visit one of Paris' most famous angling shops, "Au Coin des Peches," the Fish Corner. Located near the Arc de Triumphe on the Right Bank, the shop was owned by Tolstoy.

"He came in - I didn't know him - and he wanted to buy some flies," Tolstoy said as he puffed his breakfast cigar on Hemingway's terrace, which commands a stunning view of the dun-colored landscape of Washington and Oregon.

"He bought a lot of flies and, of course, I was happy that such a client had come in. And when he gave me his credit card, I looked at it and saw `Hemingway,' and I said, `What a nice name you have. Is there any relation to Ernest?' And he said, `That's my father."'

Hemingway picks up the tale: "And he replied, `May I present myself. I am Tolstoy.' And we have been friends ever since."

From the beginning, they shared the bond of being descendants of famous men, intuitively understanding the burdens and perks that go with having names like Tolstoy and Hemingway.

Jack Hemingway was born in Toronto, in 1923, to Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. The family soon moved to Paris, where Jack's godmother was Gertrude Stein and where some of his first memories were of the grizzled anglers fishing with bamboo poles along the Seine. His parents were divorced when he was 3, but Jack would see his father frequently, fishing with him in Cuba and the American West.

"His whole value system was built around sports and how you handled them," Hemingway said as he rested against his jeep on the banks of the Grande Ronde.

Parachuted with fly rod

Jack Hemingway was so far gone on fishing that when he parachuted into German-occupied France during World War II, he carried a fly rod with him. He was nearly captured by a German patrol when he decided to try his luck on a trout stream. Hemingway, who was an officer in the OSS - a forerunner of the CIA - eventually was badly wounded and captured by the Germans. When a German doctor said that he would have to amputate Hemingway's right arm, Hemingway urged him not to: It was his casting arm.

"I respectfully told him I'd prefer to chance dying rather than lose it," Hemingway wrote in his 1986 autobiography, "Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman: My Life With and Without Papa."

After the war, Hemingway raised a family. His daughters - Mariel and Margaux - went on to become well-known models and actresses. But he never was able to settle into a career, bouncing from professional soldier to fishing-tackle salesman to stockbroker.

"I have been quoted as saying that I spent the first 50 years of my life being the son of a famous father and am now spending the last 50 as the father of famous children," Hemingway wrote. "There's a lot of truth in that. The only waves I have made have been in the currents of trout and salmon streams."

He still receives generous royalties from his father's works, splitting them with his half-brothers - Gregory and Patrick. He is involved in a variety of conservation activities and served for six years on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. He played a pivotal role in raising money to place one of the West's finest trout streams, Idaho's Silver Creek, under the protection of the Nature Conservancy.

Alexander Tolstoy grew up without the benefit of royalties from his great-grandfather's books because Leo Tolstoy decreed that profits from his works would go to charity. Sasha Tolstoy's family fled Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and he was born in Paris, the son of a doctor. It took him years to come to terms with his name.

"To me, when I was young, being a Tolstoy was terribly boring," said Tolstoy, who is married and has two grown children. "It was always `Lev Tolstoy this and Lev Tolstoy that,' and I was nothing. I didn't exist. And then I started to understand a few things about life. And when I understood I had to "serve" my name and not "use" my name, things changed completely. Then I became a normal human being and tried to be somebody in life."

Bored with business

Like Jack Hemingway, Sasha Tolstoy became a soldier, serving for four years as an officer in the French Foreign Legion during the Algerian War. After the war, he tried business for a while but was bored. He decided that his love was fishing, and 22 years ago, he purchased "Au Coin des Peches." He went on to found the Big Game Fishing Club of France and write extensively on angling. Two years ago, he sold his shop and bought a house in Normandy, with fishing rights on 1 1/2 miles of a trout stream.

At a dinner last month at Hemingway's cabin, Tolstoy regaled guests with his fishing tales and his philosophy of life.

"I have always done what I wanted; I have never regretted anything," Tolstoy said during a sumptuous meal of roasted capon, washed down with an ample supply of red wine. "I believe that never, no matter what decision you make, look back. I live in the present and a little bit in the future and that's all."

After dinner, Hemingway went over to kiss his wife of several years, Angela, prompting Tolstoy to remark in heavily accented English: "Being newlyweds is a nice thing."

Hemingway served Tolstoy some calvados from Normandy. The Frenchman sniffed it, sipped it and pronounced: "C'est tres bon."

He lit a cigar and moved to the living room, where he grabbed the TV's remote control. Hemingway pointed to Tolstoy and announced: "He's channel-surfing."

The group nursed the calvados in the cathedral-ceilinged living room. Pictures of Ernest Hemingway were hung around the house;, his books were on the shelves. Jack Hemingway fell asleep in a big chair, a copy of a cable TV magazine resting on his chest. The air outside was cold and crisp. Far away, the lights of cars meandering down the canyon road lit up the darkness.

The next morning, Hemingway and Tolstoy were back at the Grande Ronde, which lies a couple of thousand feet below Hemingway's house. Hemingway handed Tolstoy one of his hand-tied steelhead flies.

"It's my fly - the Captain Jack," Hemingway said. "He can't miss with the Captain Jack."

A lot in common

"I think we have a lot in common," Tolstoy had said earlier. "I think we love life. We are simple people. Our heads are not complicated. And I feel comfortable with him. I am not worrying about what I say or do. I can relax."

Several days before, at a dinner in Ketchum, Idaho - the town where Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961 - Tolstoy amused the table by reciting tongue-twisting poems he had learned as a boy from his Russian nanny. As they filed out of the Ketchum Grill, the guests were still chuckling.

Pointing to the ruddy countenance of Sasha Tolstoy, Hemingway said: "Not bad for a no-account count."