The Secret Life of Bugs

The Secret Life of Bugs

Plus, Lani Waller on steelhead and fly-fishing in war zones

  • By: Seth Norman

Bugs of the Underworld

A flyfisher's guide to the natural history of aquatic insects
Produced by Ralph and Lisa Cutter
(California School of Flyfishing: 2007; 530-470-9005; $29.95

We tie them. We fish them. We know what their representative families look like, e.g. "caddis." We're familiar with generic and local names, a little Latin, maybe a lot. But do we ever get personal? Drop a line without a leader? Do you know, for example what a Pteronarcys nymph really feels? More to the point, the way it moves while crawling along the bottom? You can see all of this for yourself in Bugs of the Underworld, Ralph and Lisa Cutter's DVD documentary that reveals the secret lives of the smaller players in our game, mostly as seen from the trout's perspective-wet.

The filming of this, as asserted by the movie's marketing mantras, involved "11 years, 8 cameras, 3 countries, and countless breaths underwater." It brings us "face to face" with damselflies, as wriggling nymphs and mating adults; with midges, rising from the mire to dash against the meniscus; with mayflies limned against clouds, escaping shucks at the surface; with caddis larvae, busily tending webs, as pupae "flying" toward life in a new element, and as mothers marching back to water to lay eggs.

Obviously, this isn't simply about fly-fishing. These bugs are fascinating and lovely without reference to their roles in a trout's life. We witness in this DVD what our prey see, to the extent our eyes resemble theirs, and learn the qualities we'd better include in our patterns and how to refine our presentations.

Lani Waller's Steelhead Legacy

(Miracle Productions: 2007; 415-897-4997; $44.95

In the first DVD of this pair-the one that compiles Lani Waller's three original how-to videos from the 1980s-author and angler makes plain his love for this "greatest of trouts." In the second disc, an hour-long new film describing advances in this special and specialized part of our sport, it's clear that Waller's reverence and appreciation remain undimmed. In fact, his enthusiasm leaps at us every time he hooks up.

It's fun, albeit startling, to notice from the first minute how video production values have improved (even if steelhead fishing, on the West Coast, has not). Waller describes and demonstrates changes wrought by Spey casting, fishing with waking flies and the influence of better waders, clothing and raingear. There's a particularly interesting segment in which he goes one by one through the series of flies he'll use on a single steelhead and explains the "when" and "why" he'll change patterns. For anglers wanting to learn from one of the best authorities on steelhead, this DVD is one to buy.

Redfish, Bluefish, Sheefish, Snook

Far-flung Tales of Fly-Fishing Adventure
By E. Donnall Thomas, Jr.
(Skyhorse Publishing: 2007; 212-643-6816; 256 pp.; hardcover; $29.95

Redfish, Bluefish, Sheefish, Snook leads a reader all over hell and gone, solely for the purpose of fly-fishing. Thomas, "doctor, angler and raconteur" goes places sane folk prefer to visit via satellite, without losing his sense of humor or failing to add insights and opinion to strange worlds as he finds them. As when hunting tigerfish on the Zambesi:

"Zimbabwe seemed determined to show its neighbors how to rise from the ashes of colonialism… But that year Zim felt shockingly different…the once productive farmlands north of Harare had acquired the eerie, sullen ambience of an undeclared war zone as roving gangs of bandits and thugs set fire to the tinder-dry veldt around the last remaining farms just because they could. What a perfect time to go fishing."

Most times are perfect, for Thomas, often with his wife Lori-a much better caster, he makes clear, with better judgment, we can infer, and likely his better-looking half. There's practical advice, too. Consider this perspective on landing bluefish: "…treat the front end of the fish as if it was a loaded gun."

Now, I don't want to go to Africa to catch a tigerfish, but I would like to know what it might be like. Like most readers, I hope, I like my trips well enough-I have chased mahseer in Malaysia, and once dodged Syrian artillery on the way to catch St. Peter's Fish. But at my age, I don't need to make every hard-knock trip I hear about, especially when I've found a source who conveys what I want, adding an engaging mix of science, politics, personality and style.

Theodore Gordon on Trout

Talks and Tales from a Great American Angler
Edited by Paul Schullery
(Stackpole Books: 2007; 800-732-3669; 160 pp.; hardcover; $16.95

Halford on the Dry Fly
Streamcraft of a Master Angler
Edited by Paul Schullery
(Stackpole Books: 2007; 800-732-3669; 160 pp.; hardcover; $16.95

Fly fishers don't keep "stats" in the way that participants of other sports do. We quantify little of our experience. Instead, we fill books with ideas, observations and innovations; also reports of adventures in nature where the challenge is to play with, rather than against.

We do pay tribute to the past, however, and to past masters, so it's no surprise that a publisher has contracted with an historian to excerpt their writings, as Paul Schullery has done here in the first pair of books aimed toward "Preserving and celebrating the classics for today's fly fishers."

Each is a tiny tome (forgive me), hand-size, roughly 150 pages, designed not necessarily to summarize larger efforts, here by Frederic Halford and Theodore Gordon, but to introduce them; and, in Schullery's words, "By presenting the most readily accessible material from these authors…invite you to explore the rest of their work. Whether the selections…are instructive, entertaining, or inspirational, it is our fondest hope that they will whet your appetite for more…" Indeed.