Reviewing: Opening Days, The Never-Ending Stream and Flytyers' Flies

Reviewing: Opening Days, The Never-Ending Stream and Flytyers' Flies

  • By: Seth Norman
Opening Days

Opening Days:
A Fly Fisherman Writes
By Richard Chiappone
2010; Barklay Creek Press;
hardcover, $24.95

IT’S TRUE I ENJOYED OPENING Days too much; that I laughed out loud often, reading Richard Chiappone’s coolection of essays, short stories and (a few) poems; that I also felt pathos; met a Faulkner character, almost, in “The Gorge”; recognized an Ambrose Bierce–like ending or two; identified with the mild misanthropy born of empathy abused; and grinned at the tendency to see one’s foibles, fishing and otherwise, as part of a healthy diet of humility instead of failures you must (or can hope to) fix. I’ll even admit that the content of several pieces was familiar enough to unnerve me a little, no bull.

But let’s take care. It’s also true that in fishing literature—as for the friends you pick and keep, favorite colors and that first electric response to cilantro—quality is one thing, “and there’s no accounting for taste.” That’s a truism a reviewer best remember, if he believes leading readers to works they would like is the most important part of the job. Meaning this: some fly-fishing writers and readers prefer “on-point” essays, subject-driven, about fish—special fish, usually traditionally quarry—flies, tackle, specific tactics and destinations and maybe history. Authors and audience intend to provide or consume information conveyed through observations unsullied by unnecessary sentiment. Bottom line: we’re talking about a serious sport, how and where it’s done—so stay on track. For these folks Opening Days won’t do. If “folks” includes you, best to go straight from this sentence to the pair of fly-tying releases described beneath (and just read the first one of those). I really do write this respectfully: your time’s important, so is your money and it’s my job to save you both when I can.

Now then, on the opposite side of this balance wander writers and readers who dismiss efforts to separate fly-fishing from “the rest of life,” or even consider this an academic exercise, the psychic equivalent of attempting to breathe with one lung at a time. Certainly they want a fish in their writing somewhere—stalked, maybe caught, let loose or speared; and some might settle for eating one…or refusing to, when an angler flounders in tides of loss after losing a child. Laughter, loss…speared? To resonance, add range. As to diversions featuring Siamese cats, an aging cocktail waitress, carp under the ice, young men’s innocence and angst, old pals gone foolish, failed fishing adventures from which too little can be learned—all of these are Chiappone subjects here....

If fishing is in and of life, everything else is fair game. That’s how Chiappone plays it, in Opening Days. And that’s why I’ll read it again.

The Never-Ending Stream
A Tribute to Fly-Tying Form and Function
By Scott Sanchez
2010; Pruett Publishing;
softcover; $34.95

Flytyers’ Flies:
The Flies that Catch Fish
By Chris Sanford & Friends
2009; The Medlar Press;
hardcover; $L18.00

WE HAVE SCORES OF FLY-TYING how-tos, many astonishingly good; also pattern collections so large and wonderfully illustrated they command coffee tables, mesmerize innocent visitors and provoke natural-born pedants to proclaim allegiance to Aristotle’s idea of beauty—“form and function,” et al. But there’s also a limb of this genre almost as old as the sport itself, in which practical and tactical descriptions meld with historical observation, personal reflections—often presented in lyrical prose, with humor on occasion—along with a fair share of philosophy and art (as in form and function…). If that sounds pretentious, these books are not, even if they aim at some or all the above.

Buz Buszek Memorial Award–winner Scott Sanchez is known both for instruction (A New Generation of Trout Flies; An Introduction to Tying Saltwater Flies), and innovative flies like the Double Bunny, Convertible and Everything Emerger. While his books and ties conquer continents—and his Sluggo Fly rips up Texas—most readers and tiers identify him with the Rocky Mountain region where he’s lived, fished and tied for three decades. In brief…the author’s been a player among players in a time and place now as important to many American anglers as the Catskills, and a profound international influence.

Part of The Never-Ending Stream, in other words, A Tribute to Fly-Tying Form and Function that never forgets it is people, after all, who make fishing with faux life forms special, contributing “ideas…ever-changing...constantly flowing and picking up momentum....”

To that never-ending, Stream begins with a 20-page photo essay and analogy, tribute to the art emerging from and for “headwaters… ribbons of snowmelt,” brooks that create the “convergence of tributary concepts and fishing experiences… these contributions of others…(that) add to our river of knowledge,” creating “…utilitarian sculpture… beautiful but meant to be used.” (Ibid, Aristotle.)

From there on Sanchez begins history, his own, in parts, added into 20 profiles and biographical sketches. I might have added the Puyans, but don’t care to omit any of these: the Allens, the Bailey’s, Johnny Boyd, Charlie Brooks, Jay Buchner, Jack Dennis, George Grant, the Harrops, George Herter, Randall Kaufmann, Lefty Kreh, Gary LaFontaine (deep breath), Mike Lawson, Craig Matthews, Franz B. Pott, Bob Quigley, Rainy Riding, Shane Stalcup, Doug Swisher, Al Troth.…

You’ll see their flies and find the recipes: Sanchez provides excellent photos and drawings, also the space to frame these on quality paper stock. But this time, this book, tribute really is his intent, a toast to “luminary artists,” whose “contributions are legend.” And streaming.

It’s fair to say The Flies that Catch Fish is an eclectic collection: a more-or-less UK fly-tying book of modest dimensions that still includes patterns for Tennessee carp and gar, an emerger influenced by Rene Harrop and “Leeson and Shollmeyer”, also a red-bellied shrimp Neil Patterson ties to represent an “eat me” moment. Add illustrated instructions for a 21-step foam and fiber sculpture called simply “The Mayfly Dun,” also a handful of CDC seducers, assorted small, suitably shaggy caddis beasts, a bonefish lure that makes “minimalist” seem like too long a word and then this keen little Hatching Reed Smut from John McGill.

Finish with a flourish, featuring photographer Andrew Herd’s “The Bat Fly,” a negriso Coq de Leon creation for which you need prepare “a package of Polo mints, a pair of shears and a fullbore rifle.”

By then “eclectic” seems understated, as in “The Donner party had a eclectic attitude about entrees.” But frankly, Catch is truly a fun idea: actor and voiceover artist Chris Sanford asked eight expert tier friends to chose three favorite patterns, then loosed these fellows to write narratives supplying how and when and where and why.

They responded with obvious enthusiasm, and offerings including the Kmc, for “Kiss my cul”; observations such as “shucks stay pretty much horizontal as the insect levers itself out of them against the meniscus”; also cautions like McGill’s “Never let your daughter date, let alone marry, a bait fisherman”; and Patterson’s advise to “Drink more wine,” which may or may not have something to do with scavenging lead strips.

As to that The Bat Fly? While named, inexplicably, “after Rile. E. Smales, a lurcher of ill-repute,” whose worst sin was “to roll on a long dead deer, followed by a nearly as long dead sheep, before having diarrhoas in the back of a pick-up,” it would pay to remember Herd’s way-too-late caveat: “Relying on bats to make your presentation for you is chancing it, in my opinion.” ■

Our book reviewer Seth Norman lives in Washington State. He says, “For the record, I’ll be tying a dozen of the flies from these books this winter, eager to fish them next season.”