Stu Farnham

April 29th, 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

Wet Flies: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackles,
Winged and Wingless Wets, and Fuzzy Nymphs

Wet Flies
By Dave Hughes
Hardcover: 240 pages
Stackpole Books (March 1995)
ISBN: 0811718689

If you were going to be sent to a desert island and could only take one book related to fly fishing and tying, what would that book be? Several titles call out as I scan my bookshelves looking for a candidate: The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference is a solid, practical choice (assuming I'll be allowed to take my tying tools and materials). Ernest Schwiebert's Trout contains a quantity and quality of material to provide for an extended stay. Pryce-Tannet on salmon flies, Ted Leeson's The Habit of Rivers, anything by Gary LaFontaine. My choice, however, would be Dave Hughes' Wet Flies.

This is a modest book in the best sense of the word, understated, gentle in tone, and respectful of its subject matter. Instead of reaching for breadth, it tries to cover one area thoroughly. In a certain sense the book is a memoir of four men who influenced Hughes. The core of the book is built around the flies and fishing of Sylvester Nemes, Polly Rosborough, and Jim Leisenring and Pete Hidy (whose names are inextricably linked).

The book begins by recounting some of Dave's own experiences fishing wet flies over mayfly, caddis, and stonefly hatches, and mentions two of my favorite wet flies and hatches under which to fish them: the March Brown Flymph (for the Western March brown) and the Mother's Day Caddis soft hackle (for the blanket grannom hatches on Oregon's McKenzie River).

Next comes a brief overview of the history of the wet fly in the angling literature of Europe. Of particular note here are the works of W.C., of Scotland, who codified much of what we know about North Country soft hackles and spiders, and G.E.M.Skues, who quietly but effectively challenged Halford's dry fly dogma. This is followed by a chapter reviewing the wet fly in North American fly fishing literature, from Ray Bergman through Leisenring and Hidy, Polly Rosborough, and Syl Nemes, to Gary LaFontaine's work on subsurface caddisflies.

Part two of the book contains detailed information on tying the four styles into which Hughes classifies wet flies: soft hackles (and spiders), the wingless wet flies which Pete Hidy called 'flymphs,' traditional winged wets, and fuzzy nymphs, including generic nymphs such as the gold ribbed hare's ear, nymphs in the distinctive style of Polly Rosborough, and Dave's own fur hackled wets. Materials and methods are discussed with clarity and detail. The photographs, although black and white, provide an excellent pictorial accompaniment to the text.

Dave Flies, once tied, need to be fished, and Hughes moves on to discuss tackle and technique. The discussion of technique divides the water into the surface (on and just below), and the middle and bottom levels. Crisp illustrations by Richard Bunse show the methods from the text in application. There follows a chapter on the specific subsurface techniques associated with Nemes, Leisenring, Hidy, and Rosborough. Dave spends a lot of time fishing the small streams of Oregon's coast range, and some of his best writing concerns his time on small waters. The section on technique closes with a chapter on subsurface methods applied to small creeks.

For the hatch matchers, there are chapters on subsurface presentation as applied to mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies, and one on midges and alderflies. The book includes ten color plates, each illustrating half a dozen of the wet fly patterns described in the book and including recipes.

I first read this book shortly after it was released in 1995. At that time I was on the cusp of the transition from novice to intermediate fly fisher, and had been tying at least some of my own flies for a year or so. I went on from 'Wet Flies' to read many of the works mentioned through the book. My columns for the rest of the month of May will cover the major influences on Wet Flies: Syl Nemes' books on soft hackles, Polly Rosborough's Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs, and Leisenring'/Hidy's The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph.

I hope that you all enjoy reading these columns as much as I enjoy writing them. Your comments, positive or negative, and your suggestions for future columns, are welcome. Please feel free to email me at And, if you make your way to the Pacific Northwest, give me a shout. We'll go fish together. ~ Stu Farnham

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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