AUGUST 2021 FLY FISHING NEWSLETTER
This is a marathon review of favourite angling books, but be warned it is long article, so if the subject doesn’t interest you, rather skip to the end. Wolf Avni has a piece on how to take better landscape photographs, Justin McConville on discovering two chalkstreams and there’s an obituary to a truly international fly tyer, Taff Price, by Peter Cockwill.
Favourite angling books
When I asked 16 friends (the panel) to name their five favourite fishing books I realised a little late that the question was near impossible to answer. The reason is simple. There are just too many good angling books to ever settle comfortably on a final shortlist.
But why trouble to do it at all?
Because of all sports, fishing has the richest literature, which suggests many anglers enjoy reading about fishing as much as actually doing it; because I’ve been a disciple of angling books nearly all my life and enjoy spreading the word; because there are sure to be a few titles here that you may need reminding of and a bunch of new writers fresh on the scene. And finally, because I hope this piece will serve as a useful source for future reference.
I mentioned new writers, but what comes across in the replies I got is how the old classics are timeless, be they instructional books, like Marinaro’s A Modern Dry Fly Code or the poetic essays of writers like Haig-Brown whose well-crafted words and descriptive sentences so paint you into his fishing that you feel you have caught that steelhead not him.
To stress the importance of fly-fishing literature, here’s an email I got from Dean Riphagen. He says …
It is truly sad to see so many younger fly fishers not reading books on the subject. To me books are a supremely important aspect in the growth of a person’s fly-fishing career. Charles Ritz’s book was part of our school library and I read and re-read it probably three or four times a year every year over the five years I was at high school. Many young anglers who know the book (or any book of that era) will consider it outdated and that there is nothing to be learnt from the books. Nothing could be further from the truth! Books like Ritz’s or Schwiebert’s (or whoever you choose the think of from bygone eras) are as relevant today as they were when they were published. Because it’s all about reading them and appreciating the history that the sport was built around. You can learn from YouTube BUT you will never get the fly-fishing education that you’ll get from reading books. I look at a young angler like Pieter Taljaard who is 37 and then look at other anglers his age and see the huge difference between him and them. He chose to read books and has a huge appreciation for the sport because he’s chosen a path that involves buying and reading fly-fishing books and understanding the traditions that come within their pages. Other anglers his age will know what a Pheasant Tail Nymph is, but they’ll never know who Frank Sawyer was, or what he did for a living, (or how or why he came to develop the pattern) [my input in italics]. Or who Halford and Skues were.
I was honoured that a couple of my books got a mention here, but I worried that including them may be self-serving and conflictual. So, I asked a couple of pals their opinions. A few said, ‘Just take them out’ and others said, ‘Respect the choices of the panellist and leave them in’. Finally, I left them in. It’s a great honour to be mentioned, but that was not my intention with this piece.
The panellists are obviously people to whom books are important. All are avid readers, some voraciously so, like Ed Herbst and Darryl Lampert. Many have authored angling books themselves, like Duncan Brown (Are Trout South African?), Peter Brigg (Call of the Stream and South African Fishing Flies), Andrew Fowler (Stippled Beauties), Andrew Levy (Reflections on the River) and Dean Riphagen (The South African Fly-Fishing Handbook and Stillwater Trout in South Africa), or have published and written angling books, like Paul Curtis and Nick Lyons (has anyone in the world published more angling books than Nick, or books of such quality?). A few panellists are editors of angling magazines; Tudor Caradoc-Davies (Mission), PJ Jacobs (TCFF), Ian Cox and Andrew Savides (SA Flyfishing), and others are knowledgeable and passionate angling bibliophiles, like Clem Booth, Tom Lewin and Steve Boshoff.
What’s also important is that we have good angling writers in South Africa, some well-seasoned, like Avni, Herbst, Riphagen, Levy, Brigg, Truter, Brown and the late John Beams and Bob Crass; some are just coming into bud but oozing talent, like Andrew Fowler and Andrew Savides. All of them are easily able to hold a candle in any global angling arena.
This was a month-long exercise and not unexpectedly it turned up a few revelations, one being that Ted Leeson’s book, The Habit of Rivers, is the firm favourite of many. Another revelation, and very pleasing, was how a few long past angling giants appear evergreen; like Charles Ritz, Vince Marinaro, Robert Travers, Lee Wulff, and Ed Zern.
And finally, as I have said, I was struck by the number of new writers entering the stage left, like Dave Coggins, John Profumo, Bob DeMott, John N. Maclean (son of Norman Maclean) and Jerry Dennis.
Overall, the responses I got to my question were lengthy, interesting, well thought through and a pleasure to receive. I had to edit out parts for want of space and my apologies to my panel for that.
Let me start by listing my own most read fly-fishing books:
A Fisherman's Diary. Oliver Kite.
This is one of the books permanently at my bedside, charming vignettes mainly about fishing chalkstreams in Hampshire, masterfully written with humour and economy of prose, each sketch just enough to read before, with lovely sleep-inducing thoughts in mind, you turn the light out at night.
A Fly fisher's Life. Charles Ritz.
There are few lives in fly fishing I have enjoyed reading about more than his, the father of Pezon et Michel bamboo fly rods, founder of the celebrated Fario Club dinners held for friends at his Ritz Hotel, 15 Place Vendôme, Paris. I was not surprised to see other panellists select this book.
Trout Madness. Robert Travers (John D Voelker).
Voelker was a supreme court judge who in spare moments wrote a bestselling novel, The Anatomy of a Murder. When Hollywood bought the film rights, he retired with a stash of cigars and an ample supply of bourbon to fish the streams and ponds in the hills of Michigan. To our good fortune, he then began to write about angling under the pseudonym of Robert Travers.
The Habit of Rivers. Ted Leeson.
In my view this is the best angling books of its kind in my library. His others great works are Jerusalem Creek and Inventing Montana. The man is a genius at putting into words the kind of internal dialogues and on-stream debates we often have with ourselves, that somehow, when we see those same thoughts in print, have the power to jolt you. Here’s an example, from The Habit of Rivers…
‘There are a lot of advantages to being self-taught. Quality of instruction is not one of them.’
Bush Pilot Angler. Lee Wulff.
This is Lee’s own account of how he opened remote unchartered lakes and rivers in Newfoundland and Labrador, waters popping with salmon and trout that he landed on in his tiny Piper Cub floatplane.
Presentation. Gary Borger.
In my view, still the best book on a subject that is the beating heart of the practice of fly fishing.
The South African Fly-Fishing Handbook or Stillwater Trout in South Africa. Dean Riphagen.
I couldn’t pick a winner in this duology. Both are still among the best in their genre worldwide, certainly the best instructional fly-fishing books this country has ever produced.
Having named my favourites, I immediately regret not including Hemmingway's Big Two Hearted River, Nick Lyons' Bright Rivers, Negley Farson’s Going Fishing, Gierach's Trout Bum, Sparse Grey Hackle’s Fishless Days, Angling Nights, Harry Middleton's books (any of them), Haig Brown’s fisherman’s seasons (again, any of them), John McDonald's The Complete Fly Fisherman (the letters between GEM Skues and Theodore Gordon), Peter Brigg's Call of the Stream (both as a book and as well as a work of art) and many more. But that’s the point I was making. This is a very difficult question. But then the prescription of limitations is a confounder in all walks of life.
Here are the choices of the panellists:
1. Nick Lyons, Former Professor of English, angling book author and publisher extraordinaire and for 20 years wrote ‘The Seasonable Angler’ column for Fly Fisherman magazine…
Says Nick of his choices,
‘This isn't my kind of question since I just don't rank favorites and literally hundreds of angling books have something special that I like about them. But I'll try, after a fashion…’
Silent Seasons. Tom McGuane.
Simply the best essayist on fishing; a first-rate novelist and we're lucky to have anything of his about fishing.
Notes and Letters of Thedore Gordon, edited by John McDonald.
Wonderful observations about fly fishing for trout and fly tying, by a master we all can learn from.
A Man Can Fish. Kingsmill-More.
One of four or five superb memoirs about fly fishing in the UK.
Golden Days. Romilly Fedden.
A great memoir by a watercolorist, of days before WW I, with memorable friendships and fine days afield.
Where the Bright Waters Meet. Harry Plunkett Greene
A memorable account of fishing the lovely Bourne River, by a tall opera singer.
Fishing a Highland Stream. John Inglis Hall.
Originally written for a how-to series but far exceeding this: a highly literate, joyous celebration of a Scottish highland stream.
The Habit of Rivers. Ted Leeson.
One of our finest looks at the theory and practice of fly fishing - and its underlying philosophic underpinnings. Ted Leeson was perhaps the greatest ‘find’ I made as an editor. I had seen an essay of his, a writer I'd never seen a word by, and wrote him about it, and eventually published the book. He is terrific, in all three (of his) books, and in his co-authoring of several practical books on fly tying. He has retired from teaching at Oregon State.
Fishing Days. Bob DeMott.
One of the newest and most literate memoirs, by a seated Professor of English who kept the best of journals.
2. Tudor Caradoc-Davies – Journalist, fly-fishing columnist, editor of Mission magazine…
If there’s anything that connects these books (except for The Feather Thief), it’s that they celebrate failure as much if not more than they do the idea of success in fly fishing. It’s an approach that resonates heavily with what we try to do at The Mission. Who wants to read endless stories of piscatorial success? Failure is a lot more real, relatable, and fun to read about and when success happens, it’s that more precious.
Trout Magic and Trout Madness. John D. Voelker (Aka Robert Travers).
These books are a package deal and that is how they used to sit on the shelves of my school library. One of my oldest friends is Chris Clemes (of Chris Clemes Fly Rods in London). We were at school together and used to fish together, but we also shared similar tastes in books and we both took these out of the library again and again and again. Years later when I heard the school was getting rid of a bunch of old unwanted books, I enquired after these two and managed to buy them both complete with the catalogue cards showing just how often Chris and I took turns at booking them out. Witty and engrossing, Travers is a master storyteller, and these are two books I will always return to.
The Habit of Rivers. Ted Leeson.
This must be one of the most brilliant books on fly fishing ever written. Leeson, a (former) creative writing professor at Oregon university, is so comfortable in his prose that even if you care little for trout or have no frame of reference for where he fishes in the USA, you will enjoy this book.
The Longest Silence. Thomas McGuane.
A modern classic for good reason. From his hell-raising tarpon days in Florida with Jim Harrison and co., to his travels chasing trout and salmon, McGuane’s timeless stories are as vivid and as relevant now as they were when this was published in 99.
The Optimist. David Coggins.
Charting his journey from a novice to a seasoned fly-fishing veteran, Coggins takes you from his beginnings fly fishing for smallmouth bass, across the world chasing trout, bonefish and other species. Told with humility and great humour, he has an incredible ability to cut through the bullshit and lay bare the idiosyncrasies and hoodoo intertwined in what we love to do. I’ve just reviewed this in issue 29 of The Mission and I’d go so far as to say if anyone is putting his hand up as the successor to McGuane, my vote goes to Coggins.
The Feather Thief. Kirk Wallace Johnson.
I loved this book because of how different it was. It’s a whodunnit of sorts, even though you know who the perp is all along.
3. Tom Lewin – Proprietor of Frontier Fly Fishing, small stream and bamboo nut…
Trout Bum – John Gierach, A Flyfisher’s Life – Charles Ritz, Trout Hunter – Rene Harrop, A Passion For Tarpon – Andy Mill, and Hunting Trout – Tom Sutcliffe.
4. Andrew Levy – Professor of law, angling author, regular ‘Last Cast’ columnist for the TCFF magazine…
How does one choose five titles from the huge canon of fishing literature? I have been an ardent collector of fishing books since the age of twelve and have four separate large bookcases housing them in my study.
Does one look for literary merit, practical advice, generally accepted classics of the genre, books dealing with a specific country, books focusing on a particular species (as I do with salmon and trout), or books of a more literary and cerebral nature – or best of all, a mixture of all the above? In pulling five volumes from my shelves, I chose titles that mean something to me. Unfortunately, a lot of them will now be out of print, and you will need to search them out second-hand at church sales or charity shops.
Finally, I know Tom is going to be embarrassed by one of the titles. Believe me, it is there on pure merit, and it means a great deal to me, because I know the author.
Here they are:
A Trout Rod in Natal. Helen B Hilliard.
A rather strange lady, this was the book that started it all, and I bought it at age 12. At the time, we were both staying at the Sani Pass Hotel. She saw I was keen, but incompetent, and took me under the wing. 10 minutes in each hour was on casting and fishing the fly, and fifty minutes were on manners, which she obviously saw as a necessity for small boys. I do not regret these sermons on a fly-fishers code of behaviour. While the book is somewhat amateurish, I owe Mrs. Helen Hilliard a great debt.
A Fisherman’s Fall. Roderick Haigh-Brown.
The book, in the main, deals with autumn fishing in Canada, and I have chosen it for the simple beauty of Haigh-Browns writing, and his ethos of knowledge, decency, and fair play. A principled angler and conservationist, Haigh-Brown authored twenty or more books, and any one of them are worth reading for their clear and direct prose, and the quality of his descriptive writing.
Fly Fishing. J.R. Hartley.
Simple, short stories, with a humorous self-deprecatory and gentle style, the book became a best seller, and spawned a sequel – J.R. Hartley Casts Again. There is however a twist in the tale. J.R. Hartley does not exist. He was the fictitious creation of an advertising agency who based a campaign for the Yellow Pages on this fictional character. He phones second-hand bookshops to see if they had a copy the book, and the answer is always, disappointingly, negative. Finally, thanks to Yellow Pages, he finds it. The shop asks his name, and he replies “Oh - J.R. Hartley”. The campaign was so successful, that it created a huge demand for the book, so someone had to assume this persona, and produce it. The book. is worth its every word, and J.R. Hartley, rather like sherlock Holmes, is in my mind, a real person.
The Fisherman’s Companion edited by Kenneth Mansfield.
This is a collection of extracts, short stories, and verse, the ideal bedside or travelling book. I am a sucker for collections, for there is something in them for everyone, and if you find an extract you like, you can follow the author in depth. Anyone of these anthologies will do, but this collection ticked all the boxes for me.
Yet More Sweet Days by Tom Sutcliffe.
Just read Chapter 2 of this book where Tom describes his drives from Cape Town to Barkly East, and you will be in the cab beside him. Simple elegant prose, with a subtle humour, and descriptive writing of the first order, the book is packed with more advice than ten ordinary fishermen will gather in a lifetime. This is a volume, of nearly 500 pages, which slip by in a moment. A book of truly world class and then some. But more than that, my copy is signed “… to my dear friend Andrew…”. What more could one ask for?
5. Ed Herbst – Professor of the Department of Micro-patterns and Dean: Global University of Small-Stream Fly Fishing…
My choice is hardly eclectic – instructional rather than literary and narrowly focused on tying small flies for fishing small streams.
In order of publication and with a quote from each that sticks in my mind:
A Modern Dry Fly Code. Vincent Marinaro. 1950.
‘Very early in this strange game, I was immensely impressed by the abundance of ants, in the meadows, on the water and as revealed in autopsies of trout. And, truthfully, if I were to choose one pattern above all the others, day in and day out, from fish to fish, the most enduring in its season, it would be the ant in its various sizes and colours.’
The Dry Fly New Angles. Gary LaFontaine. 1990.
‘In rough water, it isn’t merely size that control’s the trout’s acceptance or refusal. A fish here wants a “wide fly”. The lateral dimensions of the body, the flared hair of a downwing, or even the spread of a palmered hackle along the hook shank of a flush-floating pattern attracts fish better than a normal upwing fly with a simple, elongated body.’
The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout. Tom Rosenbauer. 1993.
‘And I grease the daylights out of my leader. The whole thing, right down to the ﬂy. I originally started greasing my leader with silicone dry-ﬂy paste because I had trouble following my ﬂy in a pocket water stream that never seemed to see the sun. I found I could trace the ﬂy better by looking for the shine of the leader on the water, and it didn’t bother the trout at all.
Micropattern. Darryl Martin. 1994.
‘A twenty-inch trout on a size-20 pattern is success in the highest degree. There is pleasure in the bone flats, pleasure in wild steelhead but, as angling becomes smaller it becomes richer.’
Presentation – Gary Borger – 1995.
‘Equipment is the only thing.’
6. Peter Brigg – Acclaimed angling author, artist, photographer…
When I was asked by Tom to list my five most treasured fly-fishing books it turned into quite an exercise. I’m bibliophile so the restricted choice needs some explanation. Here goes.
I have a modest library compared to some anglers. While I have books that delve into the science of fly fishing, the ‘what and how to’ books, they represent the smaller portion and include authors like Borger, LaFontaine, Skues, Wyatt and Engle and others.
I enjoy story telling where the authors subtlety weave into the fabric of the narrative sage advice, explain their deeper thoughts on relative subjects and even incorporate a little technical information from their years of experience and, here I’m talking of respected authors the likes of Sawyer, Travers, Middleton, Gierach, McGuane, our very own Sutcliffe and others.
Part of Pete’s library
But, my greatest interest lies in tracking down and acquiring copies of South African angling literature, from the early pioneers to current. These have become the most treasured of all the books in my library. So, to the point of the request, these are the five I’ve chosen in this genre and because in one way or another, I have a personal connection with each of them.
1. The Rapture of the River. Sydney Hey
2. Hunting Trout. Tom Sutcliffe.
3. Trout in the Kloofs. Cape Piscatorial Society.
4. Trout in South Africa. Bob Crass.
5. Trout Fishing in South Africa. South African Railways.
7. Duncan Brown – Professor of English literature, author and just a very nice, humble person …
The choice is so massive that I've decided to list six books that I know changed the way I approached fly fishing and writing. Each of them came at a different time in my life, and each seems to stand out as a milestone in my fishing and writing. In some cases, the author has written many other books which I own and love, so I'm tempted to add "and all his other works", and in some cases (Roderick Haig-Brown) the contribution is so sustained that I find it difficult to choose just one. Anyway, enough throat-clearing. Here we go.
The Habit of Rivers. Ted Leeson.
I could say so much about this book, but the point is actually quite simple. The Habit of Rivers is simply the best fly-fishing book I have ever read.
My Way with a Trout. Tom Sutcliffe.
From my earliest years, I was a mad keen angler and reader. I read everything I could lay my hands on about all aspects of fishing, most of it rather technical and rather stolid in its prose. I read widely in the field of literature and would later go on to study it. My Way with a Trout was a bolt out of the blue for me - showing me that fishing literature could be beautifully written and philosophical, while remaining informative. I have probably read it thirty or forty times, and Tom's words have accompanied me on many a day on the water.
Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders. John Gierach.
This is a selection of his work, and I now own pretty much everything he has written, but this book gave me my first glimpse of an author who really 'got' this flyfishing life. He writes with a wry humour combined with passages of sheer lyricism, and some good, solid woodsman know-how.
A Mean-Mouthed Hook-Jawed Son of a Fish. Wolf Avni.
As I have said elsewhere, Wolf's book showed me that you could write about fly fishing without sounding like an old fart. The zaniness of what he was doing felt liberating.
The Philosophical Fisherman. Harold F. Blaisdell.
This book weaves its way across a wonderfully diverse set of narratives and locales, offering answers to the age-old question of 'why we fish' which I find both illuminating and confirming. There is a deep wisdom in Blaisdell's words.
A River Runs through It. Norman Maclean.
For everything Maclean does in this novella, not just those sublime last lines. I have reread this little book more times than I have anything else in the world of literature.
8. Steve Boshoff – Bamboo rod maker and craftsman divine…
Tom asked for a list of five books. Yet, I want to depart from that ‘rule’ a little. In some cases, I really cannot select a favorite from an author: I think their work needs to be read together; they form an integrated fly box if you will.
There are the four collections of essays by James R. Babb, the one-time editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal: River Music: A Fly Fisher’s Four Seasons, Crosscurrents: A Fly fisher’s Progress, Fly-Fishin' Fool: The Adventures, Misadventures, and Outright Idiocies of a Compulsive Angler, and Fish Won't Let Me Sleep: The Obsessions of a Lifetime Flyfisherman.
Crosscurrents: A Fly fisher’s Progress
Then Tom Sutcliffe’s trilogy: Hunting Trout, Shadows on the Stream Bed, and Yet More Sweet Days.
Datus C. Proper’s What the Trout Said and Running Waters.
George Black’s Casting a Spell, a narrative on the people and context of 150 years of bamboo rod making in the US.
On the Water: A Fishing Memoir, by Guy De La Valdene. De Valdene was known as one of the “fat boys” who fished for tarpon – and partied hard – at Key West in the 1970s and 1980s. (The group included Jim Harrison, Russell Chatham, and Thomas McGuane).
9. Clem Booth – Retired super-executive, certified trout bum, bibliophile, bamboo fanatic…
Starlight Creek Angling Society. Harry Middleton.
This is an unparalleled, for me seminal work! It’s short, quirky, funny; Harry’s descriptions of the interesting, enigmatic people in his life knows no equal. He left us far too young, but what a wordsmith!
(TS: I see a copy sold recently for R21 000!)
My Way with a Trout – Reflections of a Flyfisherman. Tom Sutcliffe.
Sorry if I make you blush Tom, but ‘Reflections’ has been a constant and much-cherished companion since 1985. It’s more than well-thumbed! In many ways, this book was the bedrock of my fly-fishing life.
Casting a Spell – The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection. George Black.
I’m a split-cane fanatic and this book is a must-read if you’re similarly afflicted. There are others on the subject, but to my mind Mr Black’s work is right up there. He is a splendid writer!
Around the Next Bend – A fly angler's journey. Jerry Kustich.
Jerry is a legendary rodmaker along with his friend and collaborator Glenn Brackett. Jerry is also an accomplished, interesting author. What I especially love about his work is the unpretentious authenticity. Jerry allows you to walk alongside him, and such fun that is.
Where the Bright Waters Meet. Harry Plunket Greene.
This is a wonderful book! It depicts my world of more than three decades – the English chalkstreams – like no other. I walk his banks, wade his pools and, now and then, pay respects at Harry’s grave in Hurstborne Priors. Two Harrys on my list of five!
Harry’s grave in Hurstbourne Priors where anglers leave fly boxes to pay homage…
As an afterthought:
John Profumo The Lightning Thread is unparalleled in angling literature. His craft as an extraordinary wordsmith is beautiful to behold. The River Home by Jerry Dennis is likewise beautifully written and as an American outdoor writer he is up there with the very best. He takes you on the journey, you get to walk beside him. And John N. Maclean (son of Norman Maclean of A River Runs Through It has written a masterpiece in Home Waters. The story of this family and their love affair with the rivers of Montana is the stuff of legend and anyone who’s seen the movie or better still read his father Norman’s novella, simply must read this.
10. Andrew Fowler – Angling author, environmental activist, bibliophile, Chairman of the NFFC…
Hunting and Fishing from A to Zern. Ed Zern:
Whacky! If you love a good story, as I do, and if your sense of humuor is up to it, this is a delight. Some who have borrowed it, handed it backstraight faced. Suffice to say I just don’t get them.
Chalkstream Chronicle. Neil Patterson.
While on the thread of whacky….Patterson is a delight of zany, off the wall, psychedelic descriptions of things like trout smacking their lips and his rubbish bin flying around the woods all night. Since I read his articles in Trout Fisherman magazine in the 1980’s (and an article called Bring me a rod and make it snappy), I have been hooked. His no nonsense, practical technical innovation and ideas are so colorfully woven into the fun stories that you are barely aware that you are being taught some deep stuff as you read.
Hunting Trout. Tom Sutcliffe.
Like reading Patterson, you are absorbing a wealth of very useable technical information when you read this delightfully South African treasure of prose. I think the ability to dissolve dry fly-fishing theory in a readable story is an artform and a skill not possessed by some of the world's most famous fly-fishing authors. Tom has that skill.
Trout. Ernest Schwiebert.
Here again, the man starts his chapters with descriptions and anecdotes that have you lowering the book to your lap and closing your eyes just to take in the beauty of what he describes. He then saunters into the most in-depth research and cross referencing that you will ever find in fly-fishing literature. Stand back Google…..if you want to research a fly fishing topic, you are better off in the index of this book that in front of your keyboard. Oh, and like Sutcliffe…he does his own illustrations!
And for number five, I am going to break the rules set for us by Tom, and list some authors of wonderful fishing stories, because I am simply unable to fine it down to just one of their books. They would be: Ted Leeson, Harry Middleton, David James Duncan, John Gierach and Howard T Walden. Each of them is an entertainer of the very highest order. They can lift you in your evening armchair into upward swirling thermals of cerebral delight. Like I said ….this stuff has you pausing and closing your eyes just to take in the beauty of their prose.
11. Dean Riphagen – Angling author, fly shop proprietor, fly fishing's consummate perfectionist…
Part of Dean’s library
Didn’t really have to think too hard here!
A Fly Fisher’s Life. Charles Ritz.
Trout (Double Volume). Ernest Schwiebert.
My Way with a Trout. Tom Sutcliffe.
In the Ring of the Rise. Vincent Marinaro.
The Year of the Angler. Steve Raymond.
If I could add a sixth book it would be that little gem by John Beams’ Introducing Fly Fishing in South Africa.
12. Paul Curtis – Angling author, novelist, book publisher…
From the point of what books I'd take to read on a desert island - (in no particular order:
Fly Fishing. Sir Edward Grey.
A Fly Fisher's Life. Charles Ritz.
The Fishing in Print. Arnold Gingrich.
The Rapture of the River. Sidney Hey.
Hunting Trout. Tom Sutcliffe.
There’s one other African fly-fishing book I want to sneak in here:
Trout Fishing in Natal (1909). A.H. Tatlow (editor)– S.A. Railways Publicity.
This 27-page publicity booklet compiled by A.H. Tatlow is the Holy Grail of African angling book collecting. The only copy I have ever seen for sale was on the Antiquarian Auctions website in March 2015, where it was knocked down for $1,800.00! (R25 500.)
It begins with the admirable line: It is a shallow as well as a dismal scheme of life which ignores or undervalues the importance of recreation, and it is crammed with interesting info about trout fishing in the early days of Natal fishing.
13. Andrew Savides – Artist, fly-fishing columnist…
My list won’t take anyone by surprise. When technical skill and storytelling ability intersect the product is art, if not actual magic. The authors on my list, if you’ll allow me a mixed metaphor, are alchemists of the highest order, delivering results that are so much more than the sum of their ingredients.
In a country with such a rich writing heritage, I feel somewhat self-conscious about a list comprising solely of North American authors, but I shot from the hip and selected those that came immediately to mind. I’m guessing though that the power of literature to move you to places that you aren’t familiar with is part of its magic - but I try not to overthink these things lest I expose the sleight of hand and ruin the trick.
There are a few titles missing from this list. Hunting Trout and The Starlight Creek Angling Society are the most conspicuous by their absence. But ask me again tomorrow, I’ll give you a wildly different list.
The Longest Silence. Thomas McGuane.
In the 70’s people would write “Clapton is God” on club walls. How nobody writes “McGuane is God” on library walls is beyond me.
When Jim Harrison says that ‘Thomas McGuane writes better about fishing than anyone else in the history of mankind’ you‘ve been told as much as you’ll ever need to know about him.
A River Runs Through It. Norman Maclean.
Say what you want, this is remains one of the finest bits of writing that you’ll find anywhere and in any genre. So much modern angling writing has every experience on a stream shoehorned into a string of revelations about the nature of the world and our place in it. Trite epiphany follows trite epiphany. It’s too dishonest for words.
In contrast, Maclean treats trout fishing as a basic component of that complex arrangement of relationships and experiences that coalesce into what is, simply, life. His honesty and authenticity as a writer is unparalleled.
Big Two-Hearted River. Ernest Hemingway.
If this story doesn’t move you then you are without a soul. Period.
Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers - John Gierach.
When Gierach writes I can hear his spoken voice. This is a rare skill.
The River Home - Jerry Dennis.
I just like this book. I read it and I thought, “man, I like this book”, so I read it again and thought, “man, I really like this book”. The River Home is like Levi 501s, Fender Telecasters and two-piece Sage LLs. When someone asks you what’s so great about them you shrug and say, “dunno man, I just like them”and know that you’ve said enough.
14. PJ Jacobs – Lawyer, publicist, founder and editor of TCFF, world class guitar maker…
There are books that have a lasting impact. Some even mould you as a fly fisher and put you on a path that is hard to change in later life. It produced (for me) a mindset that some may label as ‘old school’, but although I appreciate that, I am much too big a fan of advances in science to be able to lay claim to that moniker.
Still, these are books that have relevance for me even today, in part for that very mindset they encourage, but also for their honesty. Thus, I must choose from titles that may be familiar, and include authors like Vincent Marinaro, Sparse Grey Hackle, Haig Brown, John Voelker and a host of others. Obviously, some of these need to go on the list. A Modern Dry Fly Code was piped at the post by In the Ring of the Rise, but it could really have gone the other way, notwithstanding that there are some twenty-five years between the two titles. The same for Roderick Haig-Brown. I’ve enjoyed what I refer to as Haig-Brown’s seasons books (A Fisherman’s Summer and others), but I choose A River Never Sleeps, which coincidently, seems to have disappeared from the library.
Then at a very impressionable time I read My Way with a Trout and immediately became aware of how fly fishing in all its grandeur was equally at home in our own backyard. I have three copies. I would not be honest if I left it out.
A little while later came Gierach’s Trout Bum and while I love all his books (especially The View From Rat Lake), Trout Bum scored for its honesty which I think he has lost a little of in (some) later publications.
I obviously must include Thomas McGuane. The Longest Silence will remain a book I can reread many times over. It’s just got to be on the list.
And damn. There’s goes five. You said it would test any fly fisher to choose. I cannot but wholeheartedly agree for I find myself sorely tested.
15. Ian Cox – Magazine editor, lawyer, environmentalist…
Flyfishing for South African Boys. Pennington.
The Angler in South Africa. B. Bennion.
A History of Fly Fishing for Trout. Waller Hills.
Keeper of the Stream. Frank Sawyer.
Caddisflies. Gary LaFontaine.
16. Darryl Lampert –The most committed fly fisher I have known outside of the late John Beams…
Tom asked me to write about my five most cherished flyfishing books. To a large degree Tom is responsible for my selections, as over a period of years he introduced me to many (all I think) of the authors below and was kind enough to share from his extensive library. The books I read and liked (which was most of them) I went out and bought for myself. So, the five I am going to list are books that I have reread multiple times and keep going back to. In no particular order:
Return to the River - The Classic Story of the Chinook Run and the Men Who Fish It. Roderick Haig-Brown.
Probably my favourite of Haig-Brown's books and one I have reread many times. Beautiful writing by a man who had a deep understanding of the fish he chased and the environment they live in. He wrote a children's book with a similar theme called Silver - The life story of an Atlantic Salmon, also a beautiful story that is worth reading.
The River Why. David James Duncan.
Big-Two Hearted River. Ernest Hemingway.
Tom introduced me to this short story some years ago. Simple, beautiful writing by one of the masters. After reading this I stopped trying to write anything.
Travers on Fishing. Robert Travers.
This way I don't have to choose between Trout Magic and Trout Madness as it has the best from both books combined with some other work and an intro by Nick Lyons. The only story missing that I would include is The Dancing Fly from Trout Magic.
The Best of Ed Zern. Ed Zern.
Don't read it at night when your wife is lying in bed asleep next to you!
THREE TIPS FOR BETTER LANDSCAPE PHOTOS by Wolf Avni
Aside from keeping the horizon level, I’m not much for rules when it comes to formal composition. It’s not that they don’t signify anchor points, rule of thirds, leading lines, resolved foreground, aspect ratio manipulation…etc, but that, as formulae they cramp the natural eye when it franticly searches for them to have something to compose around.
All the world itself is Art and all you need really do, is FEEL it. The mind is a wonderful servant, but terrible master it is said - and too much of it through a viewfinder easily kills any possibility of ‘vision’, overwhelming it by imposition of a ‘view’ constructed around preconceived templates. Form, texture, shadow, light, tonal ranges, the golden ratio - these exist everywhere in the natural world. We don’t have to manufacture them. It is the natural dynamic tension between them, the play between visual elements, that fill the frame and make the image. Sometimes it’s what you include IN… and sometimes it’s what you include OUT.
Timing is everything, and I preach and follow a simple mantra: “If not here… where? If not now… when? A bit like fly-fishing, that way. First light and last light are good times to be prowling around in the landscape. Any landscape. The more unstable the atmospherics the better. Pre-frontal skies are gravid with natural dynamic tensions. All cloud types catch and play with the light, reflecting, refracting, selectively absorbing and transmitting different wave lengths of light. So too smog, smoke, fog and mist. They selectively filter and soften the VIBGYOR spectrum (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red), rendering pastel shades and subtle hues.
Right tool for the job.
It is a common fallacy to believe that if you took a picture with a wide angle, and then, from the exact same position shot the same scene through a longer lens, that in fact all you would be doing is enlarging a portion of the wide-angle picture. This would only be true if the curvature of the front lens element were the same on both lenses, which they are not. The wider the angle, the greater the curvature to the front element. The more the curvature, the greater the angle of refraction of light rays passing through the lens elements. This creates a shift, focal length by focal length, of ASPECT RATIO. Another way of expressing it is as proportionality between near and far objects. Wide angles accentuate foreground and represent it as larger, relative to distant objects or structures. Long lenses on the other hand tend to compress the perceived distance between near, far and further objects, i.e.; the background behind a subject appears relatively closer than it actually is. The photographer, thus, can exercise a high degree of perspective manipulation, or aspect ratio control, simply by switching focal length. Convention teaches that wider angle lenses are more appropriate to landscape, and though I might shoot a great deal of landscape between focal lengths of 14-24mm, I tend to shoot a great deal more at focal lengths between 80-200mm. Sometimes best effect of detail requires even longer focal lengths… 300mm, or even 400mm. The thing is to comprehend the specification limitation of any piece of equipment in use for a particular image, and to work comfortably within those limitations.
I always carry a range of camera supports and invariably shoot off one or other. Permanently in the car are 2 badger beanbags and a light, ancient Manfrotto… like me it has bits beginning to fail, specifically in the head (tilt mechanism). Fact is, the vast majority of my landscapes are shot resting on a badger bag in the car window… especially winter dawns where the comfort of my aging ass and frozen fingers choose what is and what isn’t a reachable image.
You know that old chestnut for blank days…. the trout are just a bonus? it’s crap. Not an option in the photon phishing game. The shot is all there is! Get it or don’t. there ain’t never no next time. There ain’t no coming back.
From Justin Mc Conville
August has followed the pattern set in July with rainfall far more than the typical norm in the south of England. I fished two very different chalkstreams for the first time this month and needed a sturdy raincoat each time. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days, the first spent in the company of a new acquaintance recently emigrated from South Africa. The warmer days of August often mean having to work a little harder to enjoy success on the chalkstreams, but it is also a time when these rivers look their bewitching best.
The River Anton
I found everything I desire in a chalkstream in the River Anton, a tributary of the River Test in Hampshire. The Anton is graded by experts as a pure example of a chalkstream, in that it rises and flows entirely from the underlying chalk strata. Its limpid waters flowed swiftly and smoothly over a quilt patchwork of weeds and bright gravels of no discernible order except that which had been dictated by the blade of the keeper’s sickle. A verdant opulence of summer-blooming wildflowers grew among the reeds and watercress in the margins of the river, from delicate clusters of sky-blue Forget-me-nots at water level to proud Purple-Loosestrife with spear-like flowers that stand shoulder high. Trout thrived in the fertile water and I soon learned they had grown fabulously fussy.
The Anton running swift and clear
The best pool of the beat was created by a pinch point where the water quickened between the overgrown bricks of a disused weir and an Ash tree, scouring a tremendous pool with competing currents and eddies. The silhouettes of large trout and grayling could be seen in the depths, disappearing intermittently in the bubbles and boils. The weir harked back to a time when chalkstreams were heavily manipulated by the hand of man, lending the river a romantic charm. The deep water masked my presence and I caught my best fish of the day from the pool, a brown trout of around 16 or 17 inches long, still some way short of the largest specimens witnessed in the pool.
The weir pool on the Anton, under a brewing storm
The River Nadder
The River Nadder, a tributary of the River Avon in Wiltshire, is termed a mixed geology chalkstream. It flows over chalk where the main fishing action takes place but springs to life in the sands and clay beyond the chalk. As a result, it carries the slightest tinge of opaqueness – not very much – but can colour more severely after heavy rainfall. It is deeply incised in the ground, with a series of serpentine bends slowing its flow and creating tremendous sequences of riffles to pools.
The Nadder in the evening, after the rains
The beat I fished had an 8 fish catch and release limit which meant I could take my time, observing the water, and targeting each fish in turn. My 7th fish, a brown trout of 19 inches, stands out from the others because it followed my shrimp pattern downriver and slashed at it aggressively. I missed the take in the commotion but waited until the trout settled and cast to it once more. Again, it was only after the shrimp has passed the fish before it sprang into action. It turned and pursued the fly downstream as if it might never see another meal in its life. This time I set the hook and the mystery of its animated behaviour was perhaps explained when I lifted its hefty bulk into my net. Within the net I found a minnow no longer than my pinkie finger. My intervention was most fortuitous for the little minnow which I suspect had recently been swallowed!
Taff Price passes on
Says Peter Cockwill,
A genius at fly tying, entomology and communication, not just with the written word but through his travels, club nights and shows! That’s the best way to describe the character that we fly fishers all know as Taff Price.
Born in 1934 he was raised at Barmouth on the Mid Welsh coast, and then spent most of his life in what he lovingly described as ‘tropical Sidcup’ in Kent.
‘Taff’, as we all knew him, gained enormous respect for his depth of knowledge and his passion to use all things fur and feather creating imitations of the insects he studied and researched. That was so evident in his masterpiece Fly Patterns: An International Guide where he was able to gather information from friends all over the world to compile what remains the standard reference work.
There was a celebrated period in the 80’s when Taff joined forces with John Veniard, Donald Downs and David Jacques to establish a fly tying, retail outlet at Westerham in Kent. This very quickly became a mecca for anglers far and wide.
His travels to Europe led to immense research into his books on sedge (caddis) flies which are characterised by Taff’s incredibly beautiful and detailed drawings of each insect and the various stages of its life cycle.
There were trips to South Africa and Alaska along with long periods in the Amazon where Taff revelled in the culture, along with the enormous wealth and diversity of life.
All of these experiences were shared with readers of Trout and Salmon as well as publications in many Countries and Taff had the most wonderful way of transmitting his love of all the things that touched his life.
As you might expect from a committed Welshman, Taff had a love of music and along with a guitar he loved to sing the ‘blues’.
Taff leaves his wife Madeleine who shared so much of his life on so many rivers and stillwaters. His daughter and three granddaughters knew and loved him as a committed family man, while to us he will always be the man who inspired so many to become absorbed by the world of entomology and fly tying.
A truly ‘great man’ in our fishing lives who will be very much missed.
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