Let Us Now Praise Cool Magazines

Seth Norman tells it like it is about your favorite fly-fishing title. Really.

  • By: Seth Norman
Seth Norman FRR Contributing Editor a k a The Freewheeling Fly Fisher Seen here with a Skagit rainbow

Let’s get shameless, shall we? Because I’ve wanted to put this out to readers for a very long time….

As a tribal type I get bent when I hear somebody say“The national fly-fishing magazines are all the same.”

Say what?

"National fly-fishing magazines don’t even aim to be same. They compete for ad dollars, overlap in areas, but carve their own characters, create distinctive appeals."


Huh. So…everybody’s got a Ted Williams—an“environmental issues” guy doing close work with a short blade? Who takes on everything from sacred cows to Secretaries of the Interior…Sure he’s tilting at windmills, but did you notice that, like his blade, that lance is sharp? And that he’s holding a Sawzall in his writing hand?

Then there’s Ted Leeson. Dime a dozen, essayists this fine, and with his integrity—and maybe there’s a whole nickel’s worth around today, but I doubt it. True, to my mind having Ted Leeson write product reviews is employing Flannery O’Conner to translate Taiwanese instructions for assembling a drill press, but…he loves the stuff. FYI? Ted’s gone toe to toe with some of the industry’s heaviest hitters, when they took exception to reviews. This magazine backed him, and paid a price.

Odds are you didn’t know that.

Oh.Then there’s John Gierach. Only the most widely published and popular fly-fishing writer in action today, the man more fishers would like to spend a day with than any other, with umpteen books and counting. Can’t imagine another magazine might like to have him on their back page?

A. K. Best? Name somebody better at what he does. A tier simultaneously demanding and committed to simplicity, to uniting form and function and designing flies that Aristotle would delight to hook into his toga.

Did I hear you say Darrel Martin, now semi-retired? Good for you. If not, read The Fly Fisher’s Craft and then name an historian with a more encyclopedic grasp of our history. No? So nominate somebody with more practical, hands-on knowledge—who’s forged his own hooks, tied flies from recipes he deciphered, I believe, from the original north-northwestern Sumerian dialect—not that twangy, half-masticated southeastern babble—who’s braided horsehair lines, planed a lancewood rod, fished it…and who’s writing, I say again, is as quick and clean and bright as his idol, Mr. Strunk. (Or is it E.B. White?)

Buzz Bryson merely charms. Everybody. Our humble how-to guy knows enough to admit when he doesn’t know the answer to question, then goes to experts whose names I think he keeps in“black book” fat as what it is—“Who’s Who of Modern Fly Fishing.”

There are others I won’t short change to fit a word count. But…

You want good writing? You want the best fiction—stories scrutinized and selected by passionately dedicated members of the John Voelker Committee—men who made the Traver Award the most valuable ever offered to fly-fishing writers who aspire as high as the contest’s namesake?

That’s Fly Rod& Reel. You’ll find all kinds of other strengths elsewhere, but for what we do, for this sport that we love?

Look around. Then come back. Because this magazine has put all these people together for one reason: the editors believe that quality matters to you.

I think they’re right. I think that’s a faith and tradition that continues today with a new editor, and a vote of confidence in readers who have been and remain the heart, soul, conscience and caretakers of what’s best in this sport.

Shameless? You say so.

Or proud.

Seth Norman is
Fly Rod& Reel's Books columnist. His new online column"The Freewheeling Fly Fisher" will be updated each time Seth has an itch to scratch.