Updated 991229
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A Book Review by Gerald Hoffnagle

The Fly-Tier’s Benchside Reference, by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer
Trout Flies A Tier’s Guide, by Dave Hughes
Innovative Saltwater Flies, by Bob Ververka
Tying Glass Bead Flies by Joe Warren

Fly tying books in the USA are coming larger and more colorful. This year we have what at first glance look like the two Stone Tablets of flytying. Two huge books –full of feathers and they cost best part of a Franklin.  This big book/big price/one reference for-all-your-needs approach always strikes me as either author hubris or the publisher’s attempt at a “category killer.” —the kind of thinking that got General Motors, the British Navy, and     (help me into trouble.  But I gotta say, Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer’s The Fly-Tier’s Benchside Reference (Amato, $100.00) has a good argument for its price (don’t worry, I’ve seen it for $80.00), if not the
large format. Short of 500 color pages, it’s actually organized not by style, pattern, fish, or even progressive skill levels, but ad hoc tying problems –sometimes more than one solution per problem –that apply across all three. So, you can look up four ways to get upright wings with three different kinds of materials, and the how-to-tie text is actually stylish (thank you, Ted). The book is all technique and no fat, and the 3,000 step-by-steps are sharp and pretty, but the indexing is the key to the purpose here, and the book is still not “searchable.” But if you intend to tie over the next five years you will save the cost in time, frustration wasted materials and sheer fly production

The other tablet, Dave Hughes’ Trout Flies A Tier’s Guide (Stackpole, $79.95) is, first and foremost, triumph of modern book production values. There’s so much color to gawk at you may miss Hughes’ intelligent text and his even more intelligently argued “pattern styles” idea: “style” i.e. no-hackle, parachute wing, soft hackle, et al—should be the first organizing principle of your flybox. The patterns he offers here are not often challenging or even new, but exemplars of his main style families: “searching patterns” and mainly “trout food” patterns, both wet and dry. This is not more of the anecdotal it-worked-there-for-me-that-day, less accumulated angling tradition (and much less like the recent Trout Flies and Flowers: which called for selections based on spring blooms). This is a fresh paradigm for tying and organizing your flies for your fishing. Hughes has got something here—though not the “Unified theory of Trout Flies” as he immodestly, and  quite uncharacteristically, calls one early chapter. Even that one is a good review. He just steps you back a little—and like all good idea the pattern styles principle looks obvious..  And in a way it’s a pity this one’s so expensive: Stackpole should published his fine West Flies to this standard, and given us a break on the content of Trout Flies.

Bob Ververka’s   Innovative Saltwater Flies (Stackpole, $49.95) is a complete contradiction to Hughes (on a natural principle: bonito don’t select much). If you’re interested in wide-open lashing of artificial materials on stainless, gorgeous photos values, interesting comments and terror-on-the-flats stories by tiers gone completely salty—including some local LI tiers—this is for you.  Captain Ahab would have contributed a modest 000/8 fly to this book, and I wouldn’t have stopped to think he might be mad.   It’s beautiful hypnotizing book to look at, even thought the instructions are sometimes lost among the “terorr on the flats” stories and blather about my fist bonefish(get over it).

If you saw the article in Fly Fisherrman last summer, you instantly recognized the appeal of Tying Glass Bead Flies by Joe Warren (Frank Amato, $ 25.95) a quick solution to the pupa and rising nymph problem: translucence, man!, translucence!  OK, it seems just a step sideways to using a glass bead for a nymph thorax instead of a brass beadhead –but when does “tying” a fly of beads onto a piece of steel wire become the same process as creating an earring?   Brown’s patterns get pretty plastic: before you know it, you’re on page 38 (the spiral binding IS handy) tying ten glass beads and a bit of hair on a hook and there’s a name for that. These hands will NEVER  tie that glass bead San Juan worm (but if you see me on stream it’s OK to hand one to me).  Brown has already converted this “pattern style” into two other books for Amato, for bass and one for steelhead, and that seems enough of a concession. Call mea romantic, but truth is, if you took all the material that goes into these patterns, throw in a few yards of the materials on Ververka and pals’ hooks -- and gave it to Martha Stewart, she could come up with a smashing holiday room decoration.   This incremental materials substitution is how we got “non-dairy creamer.”

Ah, but the walls of flytying tradtion are still standing around salmon flies: Poul Jorgenson and Stackpole re-issued an updated Salmon Flies: Their Character and Dressing -- in color, which it sorely deserved Worth replacing your old copy.  Dick Talleur has gone so far as to insert an oxymoron into his book Pretty and Practical  (please! --nothing is more gloriously impractical than a salmon fly) Salmon Fly Patterns (Mountain Pond Press). I'm going to forgive him if at last I can go home after work and rip off a dozen Silver Doctors.  Really, though, Dick, nothing could be a purer form of illusion that the salmon fly, and that’s the heart of the thing and the soul of this season.

By Gerald Hoffnagle 1999 ©

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