Nymph Tactics

Nymph Tactics

Learning from fly-fishing and more

  • By: Seth Norman
Nymph-Fishing Rivers& Streams A Biologist's View of Taking Trout Below the Surface By Rick Hafele (Stackpole Books: 2006; 800-732-3669; stackpolebooks.com) 178 pp.; hardcover; $49.95 I'm bewildered when discussions about subsurface fishing fail to suggest fly fishers study underwater life-forms at least as long they would a stressed knot or a Gary Larson cartoon. Guessing at wet flies, tying on nymphs that a guy at a distant shop recommended four days ago, or opting for the pattern "that knocked 'em dead for Phil about this time last year" strikes me as odd.

Imagine an elk hunter ignoring tracks, spoor, rubs, bugling and the clashing of antlers nearby. Imagine a surgeon walking into your operation just as you fade into the ether, saying, "I guess I could look at your chart and MRI to see why you're here, but so many guys your age have prostrate problems I figure I'll start carving down there and try somewhere else if that doesn't pan out." But this is not a problem in Nymph-Fishing.

First, the great Charlie Brooks is oft quoted here; second, author Rick Hafele is a bona fide aquatic entomologist with a minor in fisheries and a major obsession with fly-fishing. Not surprising, he takes care of the look-for-bug issue with a handful of illustrated pages early on. Oh just what I need, you might be thinking, somebody else speaking Greek. But you won't need help with the big words unless you want to go Latin. Everything here--all the -ology and -ism--is devoted to revealing the machinations within buggy mysteries that, once grasped, will put fish on your line. The emphasis is on simplicity and practical approaches: Hafele's real advantage as a fly-fishing entomologist is that he also knows what's not relevant, and so can pare things down to important essentials. For example, you won't find stonefly species distinctions based primarily on magnified prostrate exams--whatever--but you will learn that while Green Drake nymphs are burly bugs trout like to eat, they're such well-muscled crawlers that fish don't get many shots at them until emergence. Given that, you're likely better off keying on the abundant green rockworms, if that's what you've found.

Fly Fishing the Solitude Montana By Trapper Badovinac (Riverbend Publishing: 2006; 406-449-0200; riverbendpublishing.com) 122 pp.; hardcover; $29.95 It would be easy to misjudge this book by its cover and I did. Wider than it is tall, illustrated by a luminous blue-green photo and presented with a lyrical title that puzzled me. My first triage placed Fly Fishing the Solitude Montana into the "pretty to look at" stack.

Luckily, I do look there on occasion, not always by accident; so I discovered that this was an unusually handsome guide with a sense of humor, dedicated to a topic dear to my heart: searching out little waters less traveled. A "how-to-find," as it were. Specifically, when somebody encourages you to investigate the fine fish and experiences that he says can exist "on a stream most people write off as not worth their effort," remember, that there are reasons "most people" believe what they do…that to ignore these may appear prideful, heretical and in some places provide grounds for the amputation of limbs.

Naturally Badovinac never mentions that. What he offers in addition to "Navigational and Evaluation Tools"-and inserted among more excellent photos and CAD-enhanced illustrations--is a separate chapter on "Researching the Stream," then a third about "Equipment and Gear." Chapter four takes on the "Fish Hunt," including tactics and approaches, reading riseforms, and a section called "Analyze the Substrate" wherein readers will find a nearly risque description of how the author came to claim his first insect seine, until very recently an undergarment worn by a nonplussed nurse. Really.

What Flyfishing Teaches Us By Denver Bryan (Willow Creek Press: 2006; 800-850-9453; willowcreekpress.com) 96 pp.; hardcover; $15.95 Sadly, I suspect fly-fishing has had lots of terrific photographers most of us never knew. The costs of quality printing have limited exposure to those hooked up to the national magazines. But things change. Enid S.K. Norman, an author, editor and teacher, happened to pick up What Flyfishing Teaches Us while visiting several noisy, smallish people who live in my house, eat my food and treat me in an overly familiar fashion. The book itself is also smallish, another one wider than long, produced with obvious care. Almost every page presents a photo, most inlaid with prose pearls from our sport's more venerable sages and occasionally from sources less widely known. So Mrs. Norman (some relation) picks up this book and, some minutes later, murmurs, "Oh yes, here's something from Nick Lyons. Didn't his wife have a gallery show in New York this year?" Then, "You are going to review this, of course." "I am?" "Well, I presume so. It's beautiful, just exquisite. And I like the quotes he's selected. Denver Bryan--do you know him?" "By his work." "Well listen to this one: 'Fishing friends are long friends because the doing of it is an intense perceptive preoccupation and one that is charged with unexpected humor.'" "Hmmm." "It's by Edward Weeks--do you know him? I like it, although speaking as an editor--" "Look, Mom! There's one of those small, noisy people you like."