FR&R Regulars...

FR&R Regulars...

... and the 20th Anniversary of Trout Bum

  • By: Seth Norman
Once or twice each year I'm obliged to justify my decision to review a book by an author who is now, or has been, a columnist for, or frequent contributor to, FR&R. It gets old, but remains necessary and only fair: Either I stand guilty of cronyism or this magazine has a habit of recruiting writers whose fascination with our sport exceeds word limits set it in the lowest of thousands. Either way I'd insist on the latter explanation; and, per the old saw about alcoholics, asserting innocence is a sure sign of sin.But then again, if the authors are named Martin, Gierach, Leeson and Schollmeyer… The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying By Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer (2006; Frank Amato Publications; www.amatobooks.com) 190 pp.; spiral bound hardcover; $45 Fly-tying primers come in so many forms and formats. Most aim for the simplest and least intimidating approach: "Herein you'll find instructions for a dozen patterns, and the techniques you learn while tying these will prepare you to tie hundreds more." The presumption is that if a tyro takes to the craft, he or she will proceed to intermediate, advanced or specialized text. I've no quarrel whatsoever with this. It's how I learned, with no regrets save perhaps that for a decade I had such a faint idea about other techniques that I regularly "discovered" tricks in use since the Reformation. Far less chance of that, I must say, if one begins with The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying. Certainly not when it comes to trout flies. There are some truly great books aimed at this subject, often offering patterns, principles of design and fishing tactics. But the practical scope of Benchside Introduction is broader than any tome I find on my shelves. Beginning with "Threading the Bobbin," Introduction ultimately presents 130-something more processes. Beyond that, author Ted Leeson and co-author/illustrator Jim Schollmeyer use their unique-to-the-field book design to create a guide in which illustrated step-by-step recipes for 100 flies are never more than inches from illustrated, step-by-step instruction for all of the tying techniques required for their construction. Let me explain. All the oversize pages of Benchside Introduction are spiral bound into a heavy-duty, lay-flat binding. The first two dozen are full-size. From there on, each page is cut in half horizontally, so that the pages' tops can be turned independently from the pages on the bottom, and vice versa. It's rather like having two four-by-eight-inch books strung on the same wire: A, "An Introduction to Step by Step Pattern Instructions," and B, "Introduction to Basic Methods." Why the bother? First, you can read and use each independently. A novice would begin with B, mastering fundamentals from "Mounting the Hook" to flaring deerhair collars some 160 pages later. Meanwhile, a more advanced tier could flip through A looking for a particular fly. Better yet, however, is the way A and B work together, with each A pattern directly referencing techniques in B. For example, step two in A's Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear requires preparing a bundled fiber tail, and includes a notation sending the tier to "(p.62B)." Ah, but instead of flipping backward or forward through the book--and away from the pattern page--a pilgrim can simply turn the lower book pages of B to page 62. Voila! Still with the pattern laid out in A above, he or she now has the specific technique spread beneath in B! And so on, with every A step that might require a B tutorial. As for the quality of text and illustrations, perhaps I have already praised the Leeson and Schollmeyer duo enough over the years. From buying tools and materials to tips about maintaining perspective--"Take breaks during tying, especially if you feel a little frustration coming on"--to crystal-clear photos augmented by arrows. It's all professional, conspicuously committed to the kind of simplicity and clarity others only hope to achieve, and dedicated to reducing an apparently complex product--a finished fly--to a set of tasks anyone can master. The Fly Fisher's Craft By Darrel Martin (2006; The Lyons Press; www.globepequot.com) 296 pp.; hardcover; $39.95 My copy of The Fly Fisher's Craft arrived with a crumpled corner. Pity, because this is a classic with a capital C. First, let me make this clear: I've hardly time to tie the ragged flies I need, so there's small chance I'll ever forge my own hooks on which to wrap authentic masterpieces, no matter how carefully explained and illustrated the pattern recipe. Nor will I likely spin horsehair or silk into line, furl leaders or equip a shop where I may plane loop wood or construct a collection of gorgeous wood and brass tying tools. Absent an unnaturally cooperative neighborhood ram, I won't start staining dubbing using my own less-than-precious bodily fluids. OK, I made that last part up. But Darrel Martin presents all those other processes and many, many more in The Fly Fisher's Craft, each accompanied by engaging histories and pointed vignettes, instructions composed in clean, wry, lively prose, with sharp photos and drawings distilled to their essence; also excellent color reproductions of classic texts. Put it this way: The author's sources fill a six-page "Bibliography" of works with copyrights spanning about four centuries, but he's also made and tried almost everything he describes, puzzling out for himself how things worked, or might have. No doubt, Craft is a scholarly work, a detailed handbook for those with clever minds and hands. But it's also enormously entertaining, a life's work motivated by passion and curiosity, suffused with a sense of adventure. Our history matters--we have much to learn--and the study of how we arrived in this streaming present means exploring a colorfully peopled past, meeting fishers whose motives we understand, even as we wander through the vagaries of their language, or interpret elegant but not always fully expository drawings. Yes, ours is a venerable sport, full of tradition: Craft will remind you it's also alive, that we are heirs, "keepers of the past," lucky for the chance. And luck there is, when at last the author daps a water with his own "complete antique harnays." A rod he's carved, a hook he's shaped, a line he's twisted from horsehair… "I lifted and pulled the rod sideways as the fish ripped along the surface. I stood up (in a broad stable canoe) and swept the rod behind me to pull the trout home. My arm was not long enough…I grabbed the line…I slid into the bottom of the canoe. My 'tender' execrations rang across the lake. How Michael netted the trout I do not remember…I had landed a double-digit trout on nine hairs, a nine-foot loop rod and a handmade hook. Sometimes luck beats skill… " Trout Bum Twentieth Anniversary Edition By John Gierach (2006; Pruett Publishing Company; www.pruettpublishing.com) 206 pp.; hardcover; $29.95 It's not a lot of fly-fishing books that deserve or receive a twentieth anniversary edition. Trout Bum is one, and that's what it gets from the original publisher, Jim Pruett, who puts Bum back between hardcovers, adding a new "Introduction" from the author and assorted commentary from greater and a few lesser fishers of waters and words. Since my name appears among the latter, I recuse myself from penning a paean, satisfied to steal from those who've done a better job: "When Trout Bum appeared, the flames of the free, hot Beats had banked…fly-fishing and money had become intimate bedfellows. In John's books much else mattered. Deceptively 'down home,' as deft a writer as the local trout genius, he quietly embodied a freedom that had left many lives." --Nick Lyons "Trout Bum captures the passion, confusion and left-handed poetry of modern fishing." --Thomas McGuane "Calling a writer the voice of his generation is beyond cliché, unless it happens to be true… Here was a new-era fly-fishing manifesto written by One of Us…reading it again is a pilgrimage back to the spring from whence bubbled forth so much of modern fly-fishing's philosophical heart." --Jim Babb "It turned out that this Gierach guy wasn't fooling, either. He really was a trout bum. If he wasn't brewing coffee on a can in the river, he was busy duct-taping his waders together…(or) living on bluegill tacos for a week so he could buy a Vintage Granger…That meant he might be as unstable as the rest of us. And that was a good sign."--Ed Engle