January 16th, 2006

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My "Damn You" List
By John Colburn, WA, DC

Like a lot of people, I keep a couple of lists; one is of my "most used" flies, much like that many fly fishers keep. The other, which might be of interest to other fly fishers, is my list of "Damn You" authors, to which I made an addition recently.

That list of authors is short, and it isn't a list of bad authors - I ignore them. It's a very short list of authors whose book, often small in size but weighty in thought, that once I start reading, usually looking for some specific information, I mutter, "Damn you," and continue reading when I should be doing other things. Right now that list has grown to six names, in the order they made the list: Aldo Leopold, Colin Fletcher, Dave Hughes, Datus Proper, Bill Black, and Art Scheck.

Aldo Leopold wrote a little book entitled A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, which was published shortly after his death in 1948. A lot of it is about Wisconsin's "Sand Counties" where I grew up, but more importantly, it has a powerful message about the land and man's relationship with it. A Sand County Almanac was and is the bible of the environmental movement. It went with me to Korea during the "Forgotten War," and has never been far from me since. An audio tape of the Almanac is in my car and gets frequent playing on long drives.

I'm sure many of you recognize the name of Dave Hughes because he's written nearly two dozen very good books on fly fishing and related subjects. Dave made my list with two small books that don't tell much about how to fly fish but tell a lot about why he fly fishes and places where he fished: An Angler's Astoria and Big Indian Creek. Try 'em; you'll like 'em.

Colin Fletcher, a British immigrant, could have made the list with his books on solo backpacking, especially The Complete Walker in its three editions. The book that really nailed his name in my "Damn You" list is a small one with no "how-to" about backpacking, but a lot of "why-to" and "why-I-do" about backpacking: The Secret World of Colin Fletcher. It's a collection of essays about some of his backpacking trips and his thoughts while out there. An audio tape of Fletcher reading from "The Secret World" is another frequently played on long trips.

Datus Proper is another author who made my list with two books: What the Trout Said, an excellent book on the design of trout flies, and Running Waters, a small book of essays about the fish, the people, and the places he knew during his career in the U.S. Foreign Service and his retired life on the Gallatin River in Montana. Running Waters contains very little "how-to" about fly fishing, while What the Trout Said tells much about the how of designing flies and the hooks they're tied on but also much about the why of the designing.

Dr. William C. Black could have made my list had I been keeping it when I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If the classes he taught at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine were as interesting as his fly tying class that I took, he must have been on a lot of favorite teacher lists. His book Hooked on Flies; Confessions of a Pattern Inventor, led me away from sticking strictly to someone's recipe for tying a fly and down the path of modifying flies to suit the conditions of the waters I fished, like the "Golden Adams," using gold calf hair for the wings of the traditional Adams dry fly to increase its visibility. Bill not only entertained me, but "Hooked on Flies" made me think-a feat in itself.

The latest author to make my list was Art Scheck. He almost made the list with his book, Tying Better Flies: Techniques and Tricks for Making Durable and Effective Patterns, but he did make it with his latest book, Fly-Fish Better; Practical Advice on Tackle, Methods, and Flies. What "Fly Fish Better" did was confirm some of the thoughts I had developed about fly fishing over the years and led me to think more about why some things were successful astream and others failed. Will it make me a better fly fisher? We'll have to wait until the season is fished out.

All of these men are or were fly fishers. Aldo Leopold fished with a bamboo rod because that's about all that was available in his lifetime, but I suspect he would choose it over the plastic rods available today. I can't recall Datus Proper and Colin Fletcher ever stating their preference for bamboo, but again I believe it would have been their choice. I know Dave Hughes has a weakness for the "lovely reed;" he's stated that in several of his writings. I'm not sure about Bill Black's or Art Scheck's use of cane rods, but I would almost bet on it.

These "Damn You" authors have done something few modern authors have done: written books that make you think about fishing, people, the environment, and him - or herself. There is a plethora of books about how to fly fish and tie flies, but darned few that give you reason to think about why you do it. Those are the books you'll go back to looking for specific information and wind up re-reading again and again, muttering "Damn you." ~ John Colburn, Phly Tyer, The Soldiers' Home, Washington, DC


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