Stu Farnham

November 25th, 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


by Ernest Schwiebert
Hardcover, 339 pages.
Winchester Press; (March 1973)
ISDN: 0832907464

Ernest Schwiebert seems larger than life to me. The photograph from the back cover of Nymphs shows him holding a large trout by the head; the photo projects a vigorous energy. His best known works are impressive in their scope and impact, and sometimes - as is the case with this book and Schwiebert's magnum opus, the 1100+ page, two volume Trout - in sheer size.

Ernest Schweibert

Nymphs is the intersection of two trends in North American fly fishing: the use of subsurface imitative flies, as pioneered in the U.S. by James Leisenring, and entomologically-informed pattern selection, driven in large part by Schwiebert's own Matching the Hatch.

The book opens with two chapters of history, with the work of G.E.M. Skues marking the transition between historical and modern subsurface techniques. The historical section is mostly British and North American in focus, leading from Bernes, Walton, Cotton, and Tavener through Pritt and Bergman. Most discussions of nymph fishing in the UK talk only of Skues; Schwiebert fills out the picture with references to works by Mottram, Dunne, Sawyer (who developed the pheasant tail nymph), and Ritz. He credits Colonel E.W. Harding's 1931 book The Flyfisher and the Trout's Point of View with having particular influence on important works such as Marinaro's A Modern Dry Fly Code, Swisher's & Richard's Selective Trout, and Schwiebert's own Matching the Hatch. The writings of E.R. Hewitt and Jim Leisenring were central to the development of nymph fishing in North America.

After a chapter on tackle considerations, we reach the heart of the book: almost three hundred pages of detailed entomological information on the immature forms of North American aquatic insects of interest to the trout fisher. The writing is Schwiebert at his finest, combining entomology, story telling, and practical information on presentation and technique.

Illustration from book

The color plates illustrating this book were drawn and colored by Schwiebert himself. These are incredibly detailed, accurately rendered drawings of the immature forms of several hundred species of stonefly, caddisfly, mayfly, and true fly.

For the fly tier there are pattern recipes for many of the species depicted and discussed in the book.

Nymphs is, unfortunately, long out of print. Used copies of the hardbound or softcover editions can be purchased, however, many in fine condition, from used booksellers. The scientific taxonomy has changed in places since 1973; for example, the Western March Brown known to present day entomologists as Rhithrogena Morrisoni was Ephemera Compar to Schwiebert.

There are many fine (and some not so fine) books for the fly fisher, and many fine writers. Nymphs, like much of the rest of the writings of Ernest Schwiebert, is monumental, and deserves space in the library of the serious fly fisher in North America. ~ 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, now residing in the Seattle area. 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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