Nelson Bryant, whose lyrical columns in the New York Times for nearly four decades chronicled his love affair with fishing, hunting and outdoor life and made him the dean of outdoor writers in America, died Saturday on Martha’s Vineyard. He was 96.
From the mangroves of the Yucatán watching for green-winged teal to the grand ballet of fly-fishing on the Salmon River in Nova Scotia, Bryant’s often-poetic, first-person accounts took readers to many places and appealed to many readers who had never set foot in the woods or a stream.
Bryant was a seaman, a carpenter, a ditch digger, a logger, a cook and a dock builder. He also was a Dartmouth College graduate, majoring in English.
But he was never far from the hunting, fishing and outdoor life he had learned from his father, and his storehouse of field skills and lore were chronicled in the Times sports section from 1967 to 2005.
Bryant, who often took his two sons on camping, fishing and hunting expeditions, offered readers not only his knowledge of wildlife and the rods, reels, lures and guns to bag it but also insights into what his experiences meant to him.
With his white beard and weather-beaten face, an old pipe clenched in his teeth, he looked like a 19th-century seafarer: a big, sturdy outdoorsman who climbed mountains, portaged canoes and carried his load of guns and tents.
Nelson Steele Bryant was born April 22, 1923, in Red Bank, N.J. When his family moved to West Tisbury, Mass., in 1932, he found himself in paradise. He attended island schools, went hunting and fishing with his father and grew up amid the idyllic beauty of the dunes and salt ponds, the marshes chattering with wildlife and the Atlantic pounding the pristine barrier-island beaches.
He began his newspaper career as a reporter for the Claremont (N.H.) Daily and, from 1954 to 1966, was its managing editor. He also occasionally wrote outdoors columns. Unable to make ends meet, he returned to Martha’s Vineyard and was building docks when he learned that the Times’ outdoors writer had died.
He replaced him and his first column offered hints of the writer to come: “The thought of fly casting for a fish that bears a superficial resemblance to a snake may be more than some purists can stomach. Trout are beautiful and wise, pickerel are neither. However, a man cannot always chase rainbows.”
Bryant confessed to being a romantic about the outdoor life.
“More than anything else, I wanted to be alone in the forest primeval,” he wrote. “I didn’t want to encounter another hunter. I enjoyed sitting on a rocky ledge looking down into the valley through which an enchanting trout river, the Dead Diamond, flows.”