Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have Part 2

To me this man is as close to the US term  ‘Trout Bum’ as you’re likely to find in the UK.   Gordon Mackie is a one off, and after him they broke the mould.  Renowned for his monthly half page column ‘From the Chalkstreams’ in FFFT Magazine, Gordon has kept diaries from sometime in the fifties and sixties and up to date, on where he fished, how he fished, through a golden period when the taking of 4 – 6lb wild fish was quite a common occurence.  Written in an easy and narrative style, highly observant of his rivers and all wildlife around him, in short chapters,often quite controversial which Gordon is unafraid to shirk the confrontation and he can defend his position robustly based on a wealth of knowledge.  His particular and forthright view of rivers, their management and fishing practices are based on the many years of fishing and how he sees the deterioration in the quality of our fishing today.  He is candid and critical, but always with a stimulating insight.   He is a minimalist in respect of what he thinks you need to carry, with great emphasis on observation and stealth skills and deep scorn for the ‘all the gear – no idea’ types.  There is so much trout and grayling fishing knowledge in this man it should be sweated out of him and presented to us at fishing seminars before he expires.  I think its quite possible that he’s fished more days, for wild fish, around the UK than anyone I’m ever likely to meet again.  This man lived to fish and suffered hardship as a result.  To finance himself he’s even been a gold prospector because it involved him with a river ! a rare man who’s pursuit and his passion of fly fishing for trout was regardless of personal and social consequence, e.g. none of us would want to research a section in the book called ‘chalkstreams on a shoestring’.  If you can’t get a copy of this book, beg, borrow, enquire, and do whatever to ‘acquire’ it.  Currently there are ten used ones on Amazon, go buy. You’ll not be disappointed.   Makes the average fly fisherman look like a home loving wimp.  My hero.

An icon of fly fishing in Ireland.  If you dare to fish in Eire before reading this, the quality of your holiday will be diminished.  A time gone by, written by a man with an astonishing professional career, but who’s command of language and sentence structure make me feel like a mumbling muppet.  Hugh Falkus said this was one his top twenty fishing books ever written.  If you’re an enthusiast of John Geirach you’ll struggle with the intellectual breadth of this mans writing on a subject that he was the master of.  Read this and you know you’ve read a book, beautifully descriptive salmon and sea trout events that give you a mental workout at the same time.  No golden moments of nostalgia, just hard core real knowledge with expertise imparted to the reader.   The final chapters are to do with waves and the effect of stained water on a salmons vision ! if you dodged physics at school, then this bit of the book maybe isn’t for you.    Whilst carving a spectacular careet in the Law and Politics, it made him financially secure whilst at the same time restricting his time with a rod, but he made up for it later. Through an  era when ghillies touched their forelock, and tied flies for the master, Salmon and Sea Trout runs that we can only ever dream about, threaded throughout with nuggets of information, humourous social observations, and cameo moments.  Its phraseology and terminology, not to mention some of the gaelic references make this a tome for the better readers ! – but very rewarding.

The fly pattern and materials source book.   Think of a fly – its in here, together with all the regional variations of how it might be tied.  Contributions and acknowledgements read like a who’s who of the fly tying world.  Every fly has some little comment of note that gives insight to its history, development, application, and how to fish it.   If I have a criticism at all it is that I wish the publishers had not used ivory coloured parchment style of paper as a backdrop to the flies, most of which should have been much larger.   A must have book so you can tie any named fly for UK trout and grayling.

It is precisely what it says on the cover. Not really to identify flies, but showing you the detail and relevant parts and colours of flies and their familial group.   Excellent drawings rather than photographs, and opposite each fly and fly family he offers suggestions of the artificial flies you might want to try.   If you’re relatively new to fly tying and fly fishing, in a single plate this book presents each stage of development for the fly and points out what you should be trying to achieve when tying.  No fishing advice, but thats not what it ever offers, and I found the drawings much better than any photographs I’d ever seen in other books.  An excellent book from which to become more conversant with the denizens of the river and lake.

There are many more books I have but I didn’t think they deserved mention here.  I’ve deliberately not included any of the John Geihrach books, not because I don’t like them, they’re entertaining and make me smile, but when you finish them you don’t ever think about them again, and don’t refer back to them, – but they did enthuse me to go fishing in the USA for which I’m very thankful.  

Thats it, – there are more I am sure, so if you have a fierce support for a fishing book in particular, let me know and I’d be pleased to read and possibly include it.

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Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have. Part 1

This book has been my favourite for the past few years.   Within its covers, there is a wealth of intelligent observation, which he complements by analysing some of the unproven myths that many of us have generally accepted and passed onto each other over the years.   Unafraid of challenging head on established dogma, Wyatt is able to pepper his American(but he’s Canadian) style phraseology with original dry humour and wit.  I enjoy his forensic dismantling of fishing scenarios that I’ve also encountered and I’ve employed some of his tactics successfully.  Of particular interest is the rationale for design and use of the Deer Hair Emerger.  Good fly pictures, disappointed that many more are in Black and White.  A must have book.

You cannot consider yourself to be a serious tyer of flies without this book close to hand.  And in turning the pages, you quickly become aware of the limitations of your tying skills.  Expensive, undoubtedly, and some of its explanations are atypically American worded, so you have to re read them to fully understand, but the excellent step by step pictures on every  technique imaginable, – and there are more than you’d ever beleive existed.  This book provides you with the details of how to set about tying any kind of flies, for any kind of fishing destination in the world.  Should I ever be washed up on a Desert Island, then this is the book that I’d want, together with a huge chest of materials and tools, to be washed up on the shore beside me.  Enough content to keep you absorbed for years.

A fishing life we'd all aspire to

An almost romantic love of living alongside a Chalkstream he’s blessed with fishing, the subtext of which is an enviable, much sought after lifestyle.  An easy raconteur who’s accounts of everyday and special day encounters with his river, fish, and the characters that formed part of the fishing fortunate on this picturesque and famous river.  Maybe a book for the nostalgics, but delightfully littered in margins and headings with pencil drawings of flies and scenes of the chapter and month of the year. 

I doubt if there are many fly tyers who do not have this handy pocket sized book somewhere close to hand when they are tying.  In parts it is a little difficult to follow in the structure of its layout.  Whilst highly informative, whenever I refer back to it, I always find myself wishing that  that some of the photographs and illustrations had been better and larger, there is an amateur feel to them, but I think this was probably dictated by publishing costs, and also prevented by its chosen format.  It is a text book that steers the populist side of entomology.   Possibly ‘the’ reference source for fly identification prior to fly tying in the UK, not always easy to find and follow individual stages of fly life, but I wouldn’t be without it even if the spine of it has been cracking and pages coming loose since I first purchased it.   

This book can destroy your sanity. It should be read only if you’re absolutely satisfied with living in the UK doing your everyday fishing.   To the less secure, this book will have you reaching for luggage bags and a variety of rods whilst googling the places he fishes.  A successful writer and film producter who has too much talent to call upon, evidenced here as an accomplished writer able to evoke a sense of his younger days with some excellent fishing destinations.   His ability to use the English language in such a subtle and yet powerful way is a master class of communication.  If you have only one book token, – this is the book.

How to catch a wild brown trout – contrast and compare !

I spent a few days in a darkened room recovering after my recent day when fishing on a beautiful stock trout fishery.   A few people made contact to chastise, berate,or abuse me for my attitude to stocked brownies, much was presumptious because they didn’t know me and probably never would.   A brave few tried to explain to me that stock trout were more difficult to catch, and fishing for them was an enigmatic and complex challenge (!) – but overwhelmingly, more people were in agreement with my observations to a lesser or greater extent.

Upon recovery, I ventured out onto the river in between the gales and incessant rain.  I went to a stretch that doesn’t seem as popular with club members, and yet it has yielded some significantly good fish in recent seasons.  The renovation and flow improvement work of recent past couple of seasons has partially matured, and there is half a mile or so of quite variable fishing.  Very deep, unwadeable slow pools, fast shallow riffles over large cobbly stones

whilst on each side there is head high vegetation, thick patches of nettles, genuine thistles, and beautiful greeny purple teasels amongst the variety of other meadow flora up to the waters edge where a metre or more of rushes overtake and provide a serried bariier right along the bankings, growing through soft ground, residual silts and shallow water.  In this picture, you can  just about see the rings,  mid picture, that have been left by a good sized trout, he moved only in a small area, just below the surface, sweeping and mopping up the emerging mayflies,  mostly without hardly breaking the surface, taking them with delicate sips.  The approach was going to be quite difficult, the rushes at the waters edge are rooted deceptively in deep muds dropping quickly into waist deep water.   Getting behind the head height rushes wasn’t the problem, but there is no solid foothold, just the mud and shallow water that would quickly, easily, give out a pressure warning rippling bow wave that would put him down and away.  An upstream twitch wiggling lob of a cast getting surplus line onto the water, and onto the side nearest to me essential, to give five or possibly ten seconds of drag and suspicion free presentation of my emerger.  Before I’d arrived at this point, I’d already lower down the reach, spooked three or four similar  sized trout when making my first cast.  As with those, this was a one cast chance, then I’d have to move up a short distance and begin watching again.

I crab like wriggled and crawled through the undergrowth to the edge of the where the solidity gave way to sloppy wet, this was the difficult bit.  Raising to a raised crouching, casting position took a minute.  I began giggling thinking I must have looked like someone practicing Tai Chi in a bog.  Peering through the rushes, I could just about see him snootily sorting the ones he’d take and those that would be untouched to float downstream and maybe fly.  With a whispering silent prayer I made my cast, instantly looking down to ensure I’d not made a compensatory warning ripple.  Emerger a couple of yards upstream of the trout, then suddenly he switched to his left, and with his nose right under the emerger, gently emitted an air bubble and it disappeared.  I tightened and felt the fast moving weight.  You know when you’ve hooked a good trout.  It goes wherever it wants and you just keep it tight…ish, trying to coax it away from any obstructions and giving an impression of exerting your authority.   As I’d hooked it,  I’d stood fully up, step plunging into the water causing disturbance which I thought would force it upstream into the shallower riffle.  During a short delectable thrill of the fish’s plunges and powerful runs, (not without an underlying  fear of loss)  I don’t think I breathed until I had him coming towards the net.  A couple of last moment plunges and in the net he toppled.

Cheapo camera out of vest pocket, trembling wet slimed fingers, couldn’t remember how to focus it, two pictures with the wrist cord in front of the lens ! – (couldn’t be bothered slipping it on my wrist, concerned about time and returning the fish, thats how I came to drop the last expensive one in the river) and then I was cradling him and feeding my eyes on his immediate camouflage as I submerged him and waited for his break for freedom.  My holding hand could only partially encircle his solid powerful girth.

He didn’t hang about, after five or ten seconds and he robustly lunged away and into the depths.  I guesstimated his weight about three to three and half pounds, (sounds better than 1.5kg) and for his length on the Sturdy Scale this fish should have been much lighter, so the extra weight possibly comes from gorging in the past couple of weeks on Mayflies.

Compared to my previous fishing day, this was a deeply satisfying catch, even if it had been a much smaller fish.  I’d actually had to observe, think, calculate the possibilities, present the appropriate fly, in difficult circumstances to a fish that would have melted away if he’d been momentarily aware of anything in his surroundings being untoward.   Its a fairly safe bet, and I offer my apologies now for the unavoidable characterisation, not one of the chortling chaps who had nonchalantly strolled along the manicured bank of the stocked fishery, waving an expensive rod at the river, occasionally calling to each other, would have caught even the most suicidal of fingerling trout on this river.

Again, to quote one of Bob Wyatts beautiful analogies. (And I hope this doesn’t bring a law suit from his publishers)….. ‘Just to make worthwhile the inevitable indignant comments of elitism and snobbery or differerences of taste, stocked trout fisheries are so badly off plumb, that it isn’t trout fishing at all, it just looks like trout fishing.  Its similar to going out to for a romantic dinner with a woman who you have found to be attractive and interesting, one who you have chatted, wooed and charmed over a period of time before inviting out, against the option of hiring a hooker by the hour.   There may be superficial similarities, and a certain amount of fun may be involved, in one case its a possibility, in the other its an absolute certainty, but the distinction is very important, and its not only a matter of taste.’

Back to the fly tying and crawling through nettles, – I know my place, its the River Wylye, a sinously beautiful but challenging chalk stream populated by some of the most ‘ornery’ and difficult wild trout, some uncatchable, in the South of England.   It isn’t for the faint hearted, nor those with mental image of creels of fat buttery trout, Masochists only need apply.

Stocked Trout Versus Wild Trout. Two very different fishing days.

Not me…an excited angler who I happened upon on along the river bank

On a fishing trip to the US some years ago, a long road journey across Wyoming provided some entertainment by reading the back bumper\window stickers that our American cousins seem to have a penchant for.  Humourous, clever, funny, cynical, aggressive, exhortations of faith, or extolling their particular sports, however, one that caught my eye went something like….’I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout’….well, I’ve discovered something that could possibly make me want to either take up golf or give up fly fishing.

A well meaning friend who lives overseas last week treated me to a day at a very exclusive Hampshire fly fishing venue.  On my arrival, there were four or five cars on the small grassed lawn, Bentley, Aston Martins, Maserati’s – and a pick up truck.   This is a heart stoppingly beautiful private estate.  There is no better evocation of ‘picture book’ fly fishing than this.  The medieval ‘chocolate box’ manor set amongst  ancient chestnuts and oaks with uninterrupted views across rolling parkland populated only by grazing sheep.   A similarly photogenic river, crystal clear, golden gravel, ranunculus you could almost walk upon, scuttering Coots and Moorhens, (and not a Swan was seen all day) Fly fishing rod and tackle manufacturers should flock here for their advertising photographs.  Unnecessarily cautious I walked up to the banking, keeping behind a huge pollarded willow tree, – there in about three feet of water, less than a rod lengths away there were three or four superb fish, over a couple of pounds each.   I emerged from my hiding place and stood in full sunlight, at the edge of the bank, they didn’t even waft a fin !

The introductory walk along the river by the ‘professional guide’  gave me sight of more large trout than I’d ever seen before anywhwere, and it rained Mayflies !.   There was no escape, I was obliged to fish.   I explained to the ‘professional guide’ that he wasn’t needed, and after a few minutes watching me, he drifted off to put his feet up.  I can’t imagine what his role is other than to tie flies on for those used to assistance with everything, and preventing them from drowning themselves. In the first hour I caught eight large trout, three came in three consecutive casts.  I began ‘snicking’ my fly away from some of the larger and therefore dumber ones, presuming that smaller fish might be wildies.  I changed flies for entertainment….Sedges, Daddy Long Legs, Hawthorn Flies, all took fish !  An hour and a half later I wondered what I was going to do all day.

First fish caught – didn’t bother taking photos after this one.

 

If this is a corporate fly fishing venue, I would have thought that those who have clawed their way up to dizzy heights on the corporate ladder must surely feel that their obvious intelligence is insulted by this ‘fish in a barrel’ ease.   They’d be better challenged going Deer Stalking.   On the river I came across a Father and Son duo, each expensively clad in high quality tweed, and kitted out with top name tackle, cumulatively their clothing and tackle was more expensive than my car, – I felt like a shabby interloper – if this place has poachers they’d probably be better dressed than me.

Its difficult to explain what this day felt like, was I an accidental  ‘extra’ on a filmset ? ……Walt Disney discovers the Waltons fly fishing ?  – maybe its how you’d feel if you’d been force fed crunchie bars.  The whole thing was unreal – I didn’t even get nettled !  The only similarity to what I normally do was the holding of a rod, I really didn’t mean this posting to be derogatory but I can’t see any benefit from this experience.  I’ve thought what the young lad with his dad might have  learned from this experience;  NOT observation, NOT stalking, NOT presentation, NOT fly selection, – there’s absolutely no merit in anything caught.  Unfortunately, what the young lad may have learned is that immediate gratification is available – at a price.

I recall a pithy quote in Bob Wyatts superb book ‘Trout Hunting…The Pursuit of Happiness’ it goes something like, ‘ casting a fly at a stocked trout is similar to dragging a lure in front of a farmyard animal who’s last meal was served on a shovel..’ he’s not far wrong.

The reason I haven’t posted for a while is because the new waterproof camera proved that it wasn’t really waterproof.   I’m back on an ebay cheapie until I find one at a reasonable price.  I’ll make a balancing wild trout fishing post tomorrow.