Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I must admit that I sometimes have trouble finding the inspiration for new, blog-worthy material. More often than not, I write about my time on the water. Occasionally, I'll discuss those issues of conservation or ecology that impact the areas in which I fish. Rarely, I'll do a fly tying segment (I've been after some better tyers than I to contribute their talents to TRS). I suppose I could do technical stuff - talk about nymphing, leader construction, or something like that - but that's just not me. I'm more of a "why do I fish" guy than I am a "how do I fish" writer. That having been said, it occurs to me that as both a hapless fisherman and hopeless scribbler, I often take my inspiration from other writers. What follows is a list of books and authors that have in some way helped me to better appreciate my time on the water.

First and perhaps foremost on the list is Nick Lyons. Lyons is almost singularly responsible for the revival - over the past two or three decades - of fly fishing literature; his publishing house, The Lyons Press, discovered many contemporary outdoor-writers, and re-issued many of the cornerstones of the fly fishing canon. As a writer, Lyons is appealing simply because he is accessible. He does not write obtuse, jargon-laden textbooks; he seems too self-deprecating ever to assume the mantle of expert. Instead, Lyons is everyman. He unflinchingly details his failings as a fly angler: dropped back-casts, wading disasters, poorly tied flies, the many fish that got away. In telling his story, Lyons tells our story - yours and mine - and the story of a greater fly fishing culture. His titles include The Seasonable Angler: Journeys Through a Fisherman's Year, Confessions of a Fly Fishing Addict, and Spring Creek amongst others. Every word is well worth a reader's time.   

I learned to tie flies not from observing my father or grandfather (Dad is a bait-dunker and grandpa didn't fish), but from perusing the pages of Eric Leiser's, The Complete Book of Fly Tying. I remember the day I received the book as a gift; it was May 17th, 1983 - my 10th birthday. For reasons unknown (again, he was not a bug chucker) Dad introduced me to fly fishing four years prior, and the seed had taken root. I carried my rod - an 8' Garcia Conolon - everywhere with me. On one occasion, I even brought it to school for show-and-tell. I must assume that in my father's mind, the natural progression was that I learn to tie flies, and as he couldn't teach me, he may have hoped that Leiser's book (likely chosen at random) could.

Simply put, The Complete Book of Fly Tying may be the best fly tying primer ever written. I would offer it up for comparison to any of its more contemporary and photogenic cousins. Keep in mind that macro photography was not then what it is now. Good photographs were expensive both to take and to reproduce. As such, Leiser's words had to be absolutely clear, and they were so very crystalline that a ten year-old boy could - with relatively little effort - learn the processes of whip finishing by hand and wrapping a proper parachute hackle. Every fly I've ever tied, I owe in some way to Eric Leiser.

I may take some flak for writing this, but a cursory examination of Gary LaFontaine's flies make the man seem as if he was ... well ... an amateurish fly tyer at best. The hackles are often clipped or tied in at odd angles. The proportions always seem a little off. Certainly, the flies are nothing if not unconventional; oftentimes they just seem wrong. 

I suppose it was this quality more than anything else that made LaFontaine a genius. He responded to the problems of fly construction with an inquisitive eye and a mind for experimentation, and absolutely refused to genuflect before the altar of tradition. Nowhere is this more evident than in the now out-of-print, Trout Flies: Proven Patterns.  Yes, the flies are strange looking. Yes, they're ridiculously effective. More than anything, however, Trout Flies demonstrates the process of innovation, and encourages in other tyers, the type of inquisitorial problem solving that made Gary LaFontaine one of the icons of our sport.

As a long time resident of Vermont and one time editor of Fly Fisherman magazine, John Merwin may be the very best candidate to write about the Battenkill (notice that I do not write Battenkill river ... as Merwin points out, kill means river ... ergo, Battenkill River would be redundant). In The Battenkill, Merwin gives us an exhaustive and thoroughly researched portrait of the river, the surrounding communities, and their people. This is not a fishing book in itself; it is a history, and it just so happens that fishing - fly fishing in particular - plays a large part in the annals of the Battenkill region.

Reading The Battenkill reminds me of my early years along the river: the first trout I took on a fly, my first time sleeping under the stars, my first time in a canoe. More to the point, reading Merwin reminds me of the richness of our sport, and just how fortunate I am to call this place home. There are few locales in America that may trace their fly fishing lineage back to the beginnings of the sport in this hemisphere. The Battenkill valley is one of those places.   

Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup gave us Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout, and effectively changed the way many bug chuckers pursued their chosen quarry. While the methods that Linsenman and Galloup discuss were hardly revolutionary (Merwin espoused using similar techniques years earlier in Streamer-Fly Fishing: A Practical Guide to the Best Patterns and Methods), what was truly innovative were their ideas regarding fly construction. 

The flies that Linsenman and Galloup were recommending were huge by the standards of most fly flingers. They dwarfed - not only in length, but also in girth and weight - most of the streamers available in most fly shops. All that changed following publication of the book. Suddenly, fly bins were stocked with an assortment of Zoo Cougars, Stacked Blondes (does anyone remember trying to find the keel hooks necessary to tie this fly?), Conehead Madonnas, and Trick or Treat Crayfish. Tyers began experimenting, and experimentation led to some truly deadly flies. While the flies in my own streamer boxes are not the same patterns you will find in Modern Streamers, my flies do incorporate many of the principles about which Linsenman and Galloup wrote. For that I am most grateful.


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