September 22nd, 2003

Identifying Insects
By James Castwell


It had been a fun summer day. Neil and I had fished the hatch and spinner-fall and I suppose we had caught a few fish but I really don't remember if we did or not. I had a twenty-foot Holiday trailer which I parked on the weekends by the great Mainstream of Michigan's famous blue-ribbon Au Sable river. In those days of the early seventies it was catch and keep, not fish but insects. Not much was in print then about insects, some, but limited, and identification of the exact specie was only possible with technical papers published by universities and state departments, notably Illinois being one and Michigan the other. Both had done well on publishing but they were not intended for fly fishers. We had to dig them out and that was fun too. We had the books and devoured them on every occasion.

This particular evening we sat opposite each other in the dining area of my trailer pouring over the duns, spinners and nymphs we had collected during our day astream. I still have the books we used that evening here as I write this. Memories on a shelf just waiting to be re-run anytime I like. I don't do that often, but they are old friends I see each day, important friends at that. They are some of the books that helped me learn about what trout eat. Learning the habits of the trout's food made presenting my tied copies not only more interesting but when you can know even more about what you are doing it makes it all the better.

Not that simply flinging a dry fly to a ripple isn't fun, hell yes it is. Been there, done that, more than once. But, knowing the name of the insect, its various stages and how it looks during it's molts makes creating a fly for those stages not only easier but far more interesting. I am not going to give you the names of the publications I have, most likely been out of print for half a century by now, but, they did the job and I still have mine.

You see, I didn't have the Internet back then, it was books or nothing. I remember having a library card a long time ago. What an experience, my hat is off to those of you who can handle that game. I tried not to take out books that I didn't want and any I did take out I wanted to keep. The temptation often became severe. Once I had an autographed copy of a book by Charlie Fox, yup, from the library. The thought of offering to pay for the book because "I had lost it" did enter my mind. And no, I didn't keep it. In fact I felt grateful to whomever had donated it in the first place. Thank you someone, you helped get me hooked.

Neil and I spent at least a couple of hours that evening by the hissing white light of the Coleman lantern. Books, magnifying glasses, loops, tweezers and two cups of coffee. Little bottles, isopropyl alcohol, small plastic boxes, comradeship and memories; all fine collectibles that evening. It would not have occurred with a computer there, it had to be books to set the stage for the evenings learning and advancing our quest for more and more information about trout and their food and habits.

So here I am, with a rather big web-site trying to sell ou on the idea of spending some of your hard earned bucks on books instead of rods and reels. Remember, one power-out and I am history. Not so with a book and a candle. One good 'virus' and I'm off the air. This stuff really does not even exist, we are just a collection of pluses and minuses. Electric bits of flotsam at best.

But, be very careful of what you buy for books. Many are simply re-hashes of something either the author has written earlier of swiped from another author from an earlier time and re-named. Many books are written as a monument to the author by himself, avoid these. Look for those which actually include real information not opinion. Books on knots are fun but, really most of us only use a few knots that become favorites and although others may be dandy, we don't bother to even learn them. Those on casting are all over the place, but once you learn to cast then what? Patterns of flies are nice to have but, do you really have the insects in your region that they are representing? And remember those methods are simply how that writer does it, nothing is cast in stone in fly tying either.

Make it another part of your fly-fishing life, further your state-of-mind in the field of our sport and make more use of your fishing dollars. I mean, just how many rods do you really need anyhow? ~ James Castwell


Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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