Stu Farnham

April 8th, 2002

A Fly Fisher's Library
By Stu Farnham

The Internet is a powerful resource. It provides us instant access to information, and brings us together via email, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging. FAOL is a wonderful example of the Internet at its best. The Internet, however, will never replace the printed page.

I've loved books and fishing since my youngest years, although I did not start fly fishing until 1993. This column will give me an opportunity to share reviews of some of my favorite fly fishing and tying books (and some that are not such favorites) with my friends here at FAOL. My library reflects my tastes and interests, and so will this column. It will be heavily slanted towards cold water fishing and tying for trout and steelhead, and won't touch much on areas of which I know little, such as warm or salt water fishing.

I hope that these reviews will motivate some of you to pick up a good book, on this or any subject, and read. ~ Stu Farnham

What the Trout Said What the Trout Said, by Datus Proper (June 1996)
Hardcover - 304 pages Rev/augmnt edition
Dimensions (in inches): 1.04 x 8.49 x 5.79
The Lyons Press
ISBN: 1558210148

When I first saw it in print, I assumed that Datus Proper was a pen name, like Sparse Grey Hackle. I was mistaken. Proper is a former diplomat and a writer, whose latest work is the collection of fishing essays Running Water.

Datus Proper is best known for his 1982 book on trout fly design, What the Trout Said. The introduction to the 1982 edition was written, appropriately, by Vincent Marinaro, as this book stands with Marinaro's Modern Dry Fly Code and the work of Gary LaFontaine in providing informed insight into why flies do and do not work.

The title of the book derives from the first section, a couple of chapters under the heading of 'What the Trout Say About Fly Design.' This section is summed up by a table comparing what trout respond to in fly design to what anglers value. The surprise is that the two have little in common! Part II is titled 'How Insects Behave,' and covers behavior across the five main categories of interest to the fly fisherman, as well as tactics and presentation.

Author Datus Proper

The first 80 pages have laid the groundwork. Next comes the discussion of fly design. Part III deals first with the least natural part of any fly, the hook. Here Proper anticipates the detailed work done by Darrel Martin on hook geometries and their fishing characteristics, based on empirical measurement. He then talks about the important aspects of fly design, in what I have come to believe to be priority order: size, shape (profile), and color (note that I place presentation above all of these, but that is primarily the responsibility of the angler, not the fly designer).

The last part of the book presents fly designs, again distributed across the major categories, and a set of notes on fly tying. When reading this section, the contemporary fly fisher is first struck by how few modern designs are found in a book only twenty years old. I think this misses the crucial points of this book, which speak not to what flies to tie, but rather how to think about the flies you design, tie, and use.

This is a book that belongs in the library of any fly fisher or tier who has progressed beyond the beginner stage. Well written, entertaining, and insightful, it is a book I turn back to and reread every few years.

Trout Flies: The Tier's Reference Trout Flies: The Tier's Reference by Dave Hughes
Hardcover - 480 pages 1 Ed edition (May 1999)
Dimensions (in inches): 1.33 x 11.24 x 8.73
ISBN: 0811716015
Stackpole Press

I need to confess to an affinity for Dave Hughes and his writing. He's an Oregonian, and fishes a lot of the same water I do. His Stackpole Press series Handbook of Hatches, Reading the Water, Tactics for Trout, and Tackle and technique for Taking Trout provided some of my early education in fly fishing. I like his writing style, and, besides, he's a genuinely nice man. Several more of his books will likely turn up in this series of reviews.

Dave's 1999 book Trout Flies came out a bit after The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference and the two are often discussed together. Age and size notwithstanding, they are very different books. The FTBR is a detailed encyclopedia of almost every tying technique known. Trout Flies, on the other hand describes a series of fly patterns which can be tied in various sizes and colors to yield a set of well-stocked fly boxes for fishing for trout. Along with each pattern family, Dave discusses the situations in which each pattern is useful, along with tips for presentation. Detailed tying instructions are included for each pattern, accompanied by Jim Schollmeyer's familiar and excellent photographs. Several color variations are illustrated.

Dave Hughes

This book was criticized by some, who found its flies to be too poorly tied for inclusion in a fly tying book. I don't agree with this criticism. The flies look like they were tied by a fisherman, to be fished, and the primary subject is how to fill your fly boxes with useful flies, and how and when to fish them.

For those who don't want to pay the $75 list price (or the $50 discounted price that can be found on the Internet), Dave produced a scaled-down version titled Essential Trout Flies.

Trout Trout by Ernest Schwiebert
Hardcover 2nd edition Vol S02 (September 1984)
E P Dutton; ISBN: 0525242694

OK, time for a riddle: what weighs almost seven pounds and has a page count that splits the difference between Gone with the Wind and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary? Give up? It's Ernest Schwiebert's Trout, a book whose size (two volumes, 1832 pages) and scope matches its author's position among North American fishing writers. Among Schwiebert's works are Nymphs (1973), the first systematic examination of the immature forms of North American insects of the trout fisherman, and Matching the Hatch (1955), a seminal book in the transition from fishing 'lures' and attractors to using closer approximations of the natural.

It's perhaps presumptuous of me to write a review of this book, because I have not yet, after owning it for three years, read it cover to cover. The two volumes cover every imaginable topic of interest to those who fly fish for trout.

Ernest Schewibert

Book One, 'The Evolution of Flyfishing,' provides a historical perspective, with the emphasis on fly fishing in England the North America. Book Two covers the major American species of trout, char, and grayling, and Book Three their physiology, habitat, and behavior. Book Four concentrates on equipment: lines, leaders, knots, reels, rods (the chapter in split cane is a wonderful introduction to those rods), and clothing, and adds a chapter on fly dressing. Book Five deals with the basic skills of casting and wading, hooking, playing, landing, and releasing fish, and reading water. The sixth and final book discusses strategies, techniques, and tactics. It also deals with the important (but neglected) subjects of ethics and etiquette.

The illustrations are mostly by Schwiebert himself (check out his renderings of immature insects in Nymphs). The book includes an extensive bibliography as well as a detailed index running almost 70 pages.

Schwiebert's style mixes factual discourse with personal anecdotes and opinions. A book of this size could as easily kill with boredom as with sheer mass, but this one is extremely readable. I use it as a reference volume, when I want a quick survey of some area or other. I also open it at random and read whatever chapter falls open. The book is out of print and spendy when a copy in good condition can be found. However, if you read about fly fishing for trout as avidly as you fly fish, it's a wonderful investment of your money and your time.

About Stu

Stu tying Stu Farnham is a New Englander by birth, who was transplanted to and put down roots in Oregon in the early 1990s. A software engineering manager by vocation, he can be found in his spare time chasing trout and steelhead in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, chasing his four Gordon Setters (who in turn are chasing chukar), tying flies, reading, or working on his website. Colleen, his long suffering wife of 28 years, is a professionally trained personal chef.

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