Individual taste in books varies as much as the favorite rod or fly.  With that in mind, we hope to review books and videos from the ever-growing fly fishing world, and share them with you.  Books will be the best of all worlds, new and old.  Many of the old books are now available in reprint, and the wisdom contained is timely today.  Others can be found in second-hand book stores, or by mail order dealers. As we find videos we feel are outstanding they will be included. Be assured, reviews are based on what we have actually read, and due to that fact, may not appear weekly.

August 23, 2004

Two Centuries of Soft Hackle Flies
By Sylvester Nemes
Published by Stackpole Books


Reviewed by Jim Slattery

After writing three classic books on the subject, soft hackle fly legend Sylvester Nemes takes us thru fly-fishing literature history to explore the importance and origins of the soft hackle fly. To say that this is a complete and thorough survey would be untrue, it would take a Herculean effort to do so and many, many years. What the author has done, though, is given us a window into some of the most important, influential and pivotal books or writings on the subject. Nemes search for the term "soft hackle" is what fuels the majority of this book. Each book or body of work is given its own chapter.

In the first few chapters, Sylvester Nemes explores various patterns and the reader can see how flies evolve. Nemes finds interesting points on fly tying techniques and terminology. I found a correlation between palmered, buzz, spider and flymph thru reading this book. In addition, the way that flies are fished is explored. The reader can get a good grasp on how fly fishing evolved. In these early chapters, Nemes introduces many beautiful tied flies to the reader with fantastic photos and patterns. The author also does us the service of showing us what modern materials can be substituted for now illegal or scarce materials used many years ago.

As the book progresses, you can see a more systematic approach taking place in fly tying and fishing. Pulman's observations are quite interesting. His theory on flies, their impressionism and action, are really the cornerstones of why the soft hackle fly is so effective. Nemes delivers to us great experts from this author. The author explores the two emerging philosophies on flies: realistic vs. impressionistic which later evolves into the Dry Fly vs. Wet Fly debates between Halford & Skues. The works of Stewart, Pritt and Lee are not ignored. There are many more flies and patterns to be gleamed here.

Sylvester Nemes appreciation for Skues is obvious and deservedly so. The author feels that Skues did more for the Soft Hackle Fly than anyone did from his systemizing underwater fly fishing with Minor Tactics to his taunting of Halford "The Prophet" and Dry Fly Purists with clever book titles and phrases. Skues realizes that submerged flies are complimentary to Dry Flies, arming the Fly Fisher with a more complete arsenal to fish with.

Most readers will be thankful for Sylvester Nemes including the color plates from Leonard West's The Natural Trout Fly and its Imitation of different feathers and hackles. Anyone interested in tying older flies will find this useful for substituting unavailable or scarce plumage.

The next few chapters are remarkable in all aspects of fly tying and fishing. John Waller Hills, and Eric Taverner, in particular, are authors with incredible knowledge, from which Nemes picks outstanding excerpts and patterns.

Nemes' appreciation for Leisenring is evident, and one wonders if it would even be greater if he had read the reissue of his classic book, The Art of Tying the Wet Fly. Maybe he would have realized that Leisenring and Skues were correspondents. Nemes seems annoyed that Leisenring doesn't use the term "Soft Hackle" to describe his flies. This, maybe, is because Leisenring used varying stiffness' of hackle for different applications and the term would have been a misnomer. Leisenring had developed a complete and systematic approach to fly tying and fishing. It is as if he had knowledge to all of these books and collates them into one book. Nemes assertion that Leisenring probably stumbled upon the Soft Hackle just as he did is probably false, especially after reading the excerpts in a later chapter from John McDonald's book on Theodore Gordon about Pennsylvania Wet Fly Fishermen.

The next few chapters are filled with great excerpts and patterns. William H. Lawrie's book is outstanding and overlooked. His nymphs look very effective as does his hatching duns. Leisenring used a different approach than Lawrie to the varying colors of wings and leg's of hatching flies. Lawrie's method was to use two different color hackles, one for the wing, and one for the legs and wind them one at a time with the wing color cut off at the bottom, then the leg hackle cut off at the top. Leisenring's method was to simply find a feather that had both colors in it. With John McDonald's book, we find the Father of American Dry Fly was also not opposed to using submerged flies. The complete angler indeed.

The book finishes with more of the same, books that the average person may have heard of, but not read, giving the reader great excerpts, great patterns, and great photos on a wonderful subject, The Soft Hackle Fly.

This book is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in angling history, fly fishing, and fly tying. Your wish list of books that you "Have to Have" will grow considerably. The information and knowledge gained is vast. The patterns and Nemes exquisite interpretations of them are more than worth the price of this book. Now we have a fourth classic from this author. Thank you, Sylvester Nemes, a job well done.

Two Centuries of Soft Hackle Flies
Sylvester Nemes
Hardcover: 173 pages
Published by Stackpole Books
ISBN: 0-8117-0048 8
~ JS

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