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.

October 30th, 2000

AK's Flybox
by A.K. Best
Published by The Lyons Press

One of the greatest insights into the mind of a flyfisher is a look inside their personal fly box. It's the quickest way to discover what's important to them and how they approach fishing. In A.K.'s Fly Box we are given a look into the personal fly box of a man who is not only a great tier, but a serious fisherman as well.

AK's Flybox

I've been learning to tie for a little over a year. It's something I want to get good at. Part of my education has included books and videos by such great names as Whitlock, Morris, Kaufmann, LaFontaine, Talleur, Harrop, Rickards, Morse, Leeson, and Schollmeyer; and almost weekly workshops at a local fly shop where I am fortunate enough to be able to watch world-class tiers tie. Although I've never seen him in person, nobody has taught me more than A.K. Best. Maybe it's because his books don't say "Here's how to do it" but say instead, "Here's how I do it and here's why." Maybe it's because most of his videos are shot start to finish in one take and include things that happen to all of us, like breaking the thread. The single most important thing I've ever seen in a video was A.K. accidentally setting a pair of wings wrong, unwrapping them, and re-setting them, saying "if it doesn't look right now, it won't look right later." Now that's good advice.

So when I saw A.K.'s Fly Box at the fly shop, I just had to pick it up. Not just because I like the way A.K. ties. Not just because he's from Colorado, as I am, and I was hoping for some good local patterns. It was because I always learn something when I read A.K Best.

When you first pick it up, the 192-page A.K.'s Fly Box feels a little light for its $40 price tag. Trust me, it's not. It is a very clear and concise book, organized insect-by-insect, hatch-by-hatch, in approximate chronological order of when the bugs are on the water. It doesn't contain a whole lot of "reinventing the wheel." In its pages, you won't find a better way to tie a woolly bugger. You'll find patterns that A.K. has tied thousands of times, fished, adjusted, and retied over and over until they fish as successfully as he wants them to. The flies presented in this book are A.K.'s innovations and his own contributions to flyfishing. The book is a bit thin only because A.K. doesn't waste time saying things that don't need to be said. For example, A.K. discusses the entire subject of caddis pupae in 6 lines, which start with, "I've tried to improve Gary LaFontaine's Caddis Pupa patterns dozens of times, and I cannot. They are as near perfect as artificials can be without impaling naturals on bare hooks." How's that for not reinventing the wheel?

The patterns in this book are not strictly western patterns. A.K. fishes all over the U.S. and Canada. He covers Blue-Winged Olives, Light Cahills, Callibaetis, Green Drakes, Hendricksons, Quill Gordons, March Browns, Melon Quills, Pale Evening Duns, Paraleptophebia, Pale Morning Duns, Red Quills, Tricos, Caddis Flies, Midges, Stoneflies, and Terrestrials. There is also a section on what he calls "What If" flies, flies he keeps in a special box for special fishing situations. Each section starts with a discussion of what he feels are important features to imitate in the subject insect, and contains many humorous and informative anecdotes about the fishing experiences that led to the development of his patterns. Closing each chapter are patterns for the flies he uses to emulate each insect, with gorgeous color photographs of the artificial flies next to color photos of the naturals. He presents mostly dry fly patterns, since he fishes mostly dry flies. But the nymphs he presents are extremely well conceived and accurate representations of the naturals because, as A.K. says on page 176, "I don't particularly enjoy nymph fishing, but when I do it, I like to catch a few fish."

If you've ever read anything by A.K., you understand that he's a bit dogmatic about both fishing and tying. For example, he never fishes with anything but bamboo. ("Why fish a graphite fly rod that 'feels just like bamboo' when I can fish with a bamboo fly rod?") While he can sometimes be unconventional in his approach to affixing materials to the hook, he is a strict a traditionalist when it comes to materials. He uses almost nothing but natural materials (there are only two synthetic materials discussed in the book), even disdaining modern synthetic dubbing in favor of dyed and blended rabbit. As one might expect if you've read A.K., the patterns in this book are very heavily slanted in favor of stripped quill bodies ("mayflies aren't fuzzy") and hen-hackle wings ("they don't fall apart on the first fish"). A.K. is known to be a perfectionist about things he considers important in a fly: size, profile, proportion, and color. Some of the flies presented in this book are tied in different colors for different streams he fishes, even different stretches of the same stream.

The concept of the stripped-quill body is so central to the flies in A.K.'s box that the book starts with a chapter outlining how to practice tying these bodies. Following his discussion of quill bodies are the individual chapters on insects, and then a series of chapters containing detailed instructions on how to tie the various families of flies. It's a very instructive piece of work, particularly if you have the opportunity to reinforce it by watching some of A.K.'s videos that cover the same flies.

In summary, this isn't the best pattern book I own, but it's a useful one. It isn't the best "How-To" book I own; I prefer the A.K.'s own Production Fly Tying and Leeson and Schollmeyer's encyclopedic The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference for that. But it is certainly one of the best all-around fly-tying books I own. It presents useful, durable flies from the personal box of a master and it gives clear and concise rationale not only for the features of the fly, but also for the methods used to tie it. Plus it's a great read. It's like having A.K. on the next barstool, all to yourself. Buy it, you'll like it. ~ Ralph D'Andrea (FAOL Chatroom nickname Rollo®)

A.K.'s Fly Box
$40.00 208 pages
7 x 9-1/4 full color
ISBN 1-55821-362-7
Published by The Lyons Press.

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