Scaled Models

updated 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FIVE YEARS AGO, JAMES PROSEK, THEN 15, got caught fishing in a Connecticut reservoir. Rather than deliver Prosek to juvenile court, game warden Joseph Haines decided to introduce the polite young man to the joys of legal fishing in wild trout streams. "It turned out to be fortunate," says Prosek, now 21 and a senior at Yale. "Mr. Haines taught me a lot about wildlife and how to see things." Many of those things are now on view in Trout: An Illustrated History (Knopf, $27.50), a collection of Prosek's watercolor portraits of 70 species and subspecies of trout in North America. The book has gone back to press after selling out its first printing of 20,000 copies, and the artist has been hailed by The New York Times as "a fair bid to become the Audubon of the fishing world."

Growing up in Easton, Conn., Prosek first learned about nature from his father, Louis, an astronomy teacher and avid birder. "The summers and late spring in my town just seemed to come alive," says Prosek, whose piscine obsession was kindled by a magazine picture of a rare blue-back trout. Prosek began writing experts for information about trout species. In recent years, he has traveled from Maine to Alaska to catch, photograph, release and, finally, paint the objects of his fascination.

Prosek even spoke about trout in his 1993 valedictory speech—titled "The River of Life"—at Joel Barlow High School. Now he is off to England on a $1,500 grant from Yale to explore the chalk streams of famed 17th-century fishing author Izaak Walton. James's dad is proud of his son's accomplishment—and a little amused by its irony. "The fish hooked James," says his father, "instead of James hooking the fish."

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