Reviewed by Eric Austin
A few months back I was doing an article for "Just Old Flies"
here on FAOL and I was stuck. I couldn't find much information
on the Colorado King in the books I had. I posted a question
about it on-line, and to my rescue came Terry Hellekson, with
a complete history of the fly from his 1977 book Popular
Fly Patterns. I ordered a copy right away, and was just
delighted with the book. The more I delved into its contents,
the more interesting material I uncovered. Terry's latest book,
Fish Flies, is Popular Fly Patterns
on steroids, to the one-hundredth power. Billed as "The Encyclopedia
of the Fly Tier's Art," this is one volume that more than lives
up to its billing.
The book begins with a general overall history of fly fishing
that is one of the best I've read. It starts with the Macedonians
and ends with a serious look at the fly tiers of the Catskill
region. The next chapter is an in-depth look at how fish perceive
color, and a wonderful treatise on dying. Mr. Hellekson has a
very useful chart of RIT dye recipes here that spells out how
to achieve the various duns, claret, Silver Doctor blue,
imitation lemon wood duck, olives, etc., using off the shelf
RIT dyes. There is a chapter on tools, and an excellent section
on hooks, listing in detail the most popular Mustad, Tiemco,
and Daiichi hooks. Next is a chapter on materials, and finally
a section on tying, which at first blush seems fairly basic,
but on further study is just right on the money, extremely
sound in its fundamentals.
From this point on, the book is fly patterns as far as the eye
can see. Not just recipes though, and this is what I love about
Mr. Hellekson's books. Sprinkled in with many patterns are his
own observations, anecdotes, clarifications, his own pen and
ink drawings, histories, old photos, and tying tips. This is
the meat and potatoes part of the book, a rock solid, in-depth
look at patterns by an experienced tier. Just the section on
the Trude Fly for instance is two full pages of general history,
material selection, and tying tips.
I've gotten ahead of myself here. It must be noted that this
book is massive in size and scope. It's basically a pattern
book, yes, but a pattern book unlike any you've ever seen.
I'd like to take a recipe from the book so you can see what
it is that's so special here. Here is a recipe for an American
traditional wet fly, the Babcock:
The history goes on from there. Note that Mr. Hellekson
specifies a Mustad, Tiemco, or Daiichi hook for each recipe.
Note the reference to the color plate as well. There are 32
color plates in the book, each containing somewhere between
16 and 24 flies, depending on fly sizing. Mr. Hellekson has
tied all the flies shown, and done a beautiful job. The
pattern chapters begin with traditional patterns sorted by
dry flies, wet flies, and nymphs. Each of these chapters
starts with specific tying instructions, and proportion charts,
that are dead on in my opinion. You can read through these
chapters as you would a Farmer's Almanac. There is a seemingly
never-ending stream of commentary, little tidbits of information
on every page, pieces that make you say "I didn't know that."
The fun never stops in these sections, but soon, this book
becomes very serious.
Hooks: MUSR70, TMC3769, or DIA1550, sizes 8-14
Tail: Scarlet red hackle barbs.
Ribbing: Flat gold tinsel.
Body: Red floss.
Hackle: Back tied on as a collar and tied back and down.
Wing: Yellow calf tail tied over the body.
Topping: Three peacock sword feather barbs.
See Color Plate 3.
The first version of the Babcock had no tail or topping.
The wings were white duck quill sections with a narrow
strip of black quill section along the top. This fly was
named after brother W.J. and Charles H. Babcock of Rochester,
We now come to the heart of the book, the sections that makes
this not just a pattern book, but a very well researched fly
tying text book, one that if I were king would be taught in
schools. With chapters entitled "Mayflies:Order Ephemeroptera,"
"Stoneflies: Order Plecoptera," "Caddisflies: Order Trichoptera,"
"Terrestrials," "Damselflies and Dragonflies: Order Odonata,"
"Leeches and Worms: Order Annelida," "Midges: Order Diptera,"
and "Crustaceans," Mr. Hellekson embarks on a very scientific
and detailed view of the entomology of fly tying. With each
chapter he breaks the patterns down by family, with lots of
Latin, and then proceeds to show a pattern for each stage of
the fly, and these are his own patterns for the most part. At
the end of a given chapter he lists even more patterns, ones
typically sold in shops and used today by fly fishermen. The
research for these very important chapters was done at Cornell
and U.C. Davis, and is just staggering. This level of research,
both entomologically and historically, puts this book in a
class of its own as pattern books go.
The last section of the book deals with Streamers, Steelhead
Flies, Atlantic Salmon Flies, Spey Flies, Pacific Salmon Flies,
and dry flies for Salmon and Steelhead. I suspect this area of
the book is near and dear to Mr. Hellekson's heart, as he was
originally based in the Pacific Northwest. The Steelhead section
is very Western, and the glow bugs and egg patterns commonly
used in the East have been left out. That said, all the Atlantic
Salmon Flies currently used in the U.S. and Canada are represented,
and you probably won't find a better Western steelhead treatise
I would be remiss if I didn't mention one group of flies that
are almost entirely absent from this book. As far as I can tell,
there are only a few dry fly recipes with CDC listed as an ingredient.
Mr. Hellekson makes it pretty clear in the materials section that
he doesn't particularly like CDC as a fly tying material. I
think this is born of Mr. Hellekson's view that a fly will
catch more fish on the water than it will while being dabbed
with Frog's Fanny. I can't say I disagree, but in as
comprehensive a book as this is, to leave out dry flies tied
with what many consider to be the "miracle" material of our
time, is quite an omission. I've spoken with Terry about
this, and a major problem he has with CDC is that much of
what is sold as CDC is not even the real thing. Rather than
feathers found around the preen gland, down feathers are
being palmed off as CDC by some wholesalers. In addition,
once feathers are dyed, the preen oil is gone, even if they
were true CDC feathers to begin with. This makes CDC, in his
view, a less than desirable material for dries. He does like
it, and uses it in several patterns, for sub-surface flies.
So there you have it. Fish Flies is a serious,
substantial, weighty, well-researched text book, produced by
a text book company. It might not be as glitzy as say
Forgotten Flies, but it is every bit as formidable
in its own way. Mr. Hellekson has contributed a lifetime of
research to this, and it shows. Perhaps the best feature of
the book is its bargain-basement price. From beginning fly
tiers to the commercial pros, no fly tier can afford not to
own this book. Mine now sits right beside my copy of
The Fly Tiers Benchside Reference.
By Terry Hellekson
Published by Gibb Smith, USA
Dimensions: 8.5" X 11
Color photographs, Bibliography, Index
(On Amazon right now for $31.50 US)