Lefty's Latest

Lefty's Latest

Plus, wandering the world with James Prosek; and how to tie better flies

  • By: Seth Norman
Lefty Kreh's Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing Everything Anglers Need by the World's Foremost Fly-Fishing Expert By Lefty Kreh (Lyons Press, 2003; 800-243-0495; www.lyonspress.com) 406 pp.; hardcover; $40 Although most of us admire elegant anglers-tailored, tucked-in folks, in whose well-pressed vests are found state-of-the art titanium tools-we can take heart that Lefty Kreh lives at the top tier of fly-fishing celebrity. If Lefty can splice his own lines and recommend a drugstore fingernail file for sharpening hooks, we can allow ourselves to think, "maybe there is room for us in this sport.Essentially, Ultimate collects, organizes and illustrates elements from a dozen Kreh books. Learn everything here and you still won't be Lefty, but you will harvest benefits from his decades spent on waters around the world. Among them: a basic understanding of fish species, tackle, leaders and knots, as well as how to read water, hook, fight and handle fish. The list above identifies most Ultimate chapters. Closer examination reveals the breadth of the author's interests. In "Freshwater Fish," for example, large- and smallmouth bass get as much attention as trout (although there's more about trout in the "Approach and Presentation" chapter). The "Saltwater Fish" chapter offers short sketches of classic gamefish-bones, tarpon, permit-along with exotics like barramundi, Niugini black bass, threadfin salmon and milkfish. It's an "overview" approach and Kreh says something about everything. He moves in tighter and includes more detail when discussing tackle and techniques, casting and presentation. As fans would expect, he's especially strong when it comes to salty adventures, but Kreh has advice on everything from packing for trips to interpreting rises to properly positioning boats Although Ultimate is not a primer, beginners get a good look at the game, intermediates pick up tips they'll want to keep, and advanced anglers will learn a few tricks from one of the masters. Tying Better Flies Techniques and Tricks for Making Durable and Effective Patterns By Art Scheck (The Countryman Press, 2003; 800-245-4151; www.countrymanpress.com) 174 pp.; softcover; $27.95 It's a good idea to avoid assumptions. On the other hand, when somebody deftly identifies a set of tying problems that bug you big time, it tends to arrest your attention. Take "Deep Minnows" for example, which is what Lefty Kreh called Bob Clouser's clever pattern when he first introduced it, and how Tying Better Flies author Art Scheck titles a chapter. "A Deep Minnow is not a difficult construction, but it does present a couple of durability challenges. Many tiers have trouble attaching dumbbell eyes so that they stay put. Others paint the eyes with finishes that chip off within half a dozen casts. Some tiers fail to protect the band of thread that secures the belly hair behind the eyes, and their flies fall apart after a few fish." Yes. Right-ces't moi. Scheck offers specific remedies for these problems and others in 14 down-to-earth chapters of Tying Better Flies. Most aim to improve the efforts of people sometimes frustrated with the flies they already tie-are your Buggers "bulletproof?" Some, like the "spun-dun" series, offer alternatives to standard patterns, "Simple, inexpensive, and commonsensical designs-tiny flies that don't have many parts, extra-buoyant caddis and mayfly designs that don't require hackle feathers, and baitfish flies that don't get snagged." Scheck's style is direct and often funny; and the illustrations get users where they need to go. Which is just as the author intended: "All my life, I've enjoyed taking things apart and putting things together… Some people approach fly-tying as artists; others come at it as naturalists or philosophers. I approach fly-tying as a mechanic." Fly-Fishing the 41st Around the World on the 41st Parallel By James Prosek (Harper Collins, 2003; www.harpercollins.com) 315 pp.; $27.95 The world is littered with wannabe writers who imagine themselves fascinating to others. Their unpublished manuscripts consume forests, molder in file cabinets for years and eventually proceed to landfills. With few exceptions, those committed to first-person narratives either learn to leaven introspection with engaging observations of the world, or they discover that their efforts are academic-which ought to suggest another occupation, and often does. "In circumnavigating the globe along its length," reads the PR blurb on my galley proof of Fly-Fishing the 41st, James Prosek visits "… Spain, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, China, and Japan; marched and fought over by Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great." In that process the author "has found the last great adventure." Mercifully, Prosek is less grand than his publicist. From his "Introduction" we learn that many great cities lie on or near his home latitude: "Once the approximate median of the Silk Road, the location of Mount Ararat…and the northern end of civilizations beginnings in Mesopotania. It harbored a rich variety of peoples, governments, climates, religions and regions." Also rivers: "the Tajo, the Danube, the Amu Darya-at which I intended to fish." In other words, expect to see exotic places, meet unusual characters, and wade into waters that don't appear on your everyday Blue Ribbon lodge list. If this book is not quite "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Angler," neither is it "The World's Best Fishing Money Can Buy." In an early chapter the author again addresses his motivation for tripping, touching on what his father calls loucura, Portuguese for "craziness," which in Prosek's case means a fascination with fish. Sourcing this condition leads to a brief examination of cosmologies: fish (or fishlike creatures) have long been the "object of human fantasy-the mermaid, half golden locks and breasts, half scales and tail-and the representation of the sublime and horrifying, the white leviathan… " Jung identified them as both "symbol of Messianic significance," and "an emblem of the vanity of the world and of earthly pleasures," By way of emphasis the author reveals that in other cultures and times fish played roles that would be X-rated in ours. On Prosek's journeys east and west he indulges an artist's eye, a gourmand's taste and a young man's inclinations. The cities he visits are full of art and history, cuisine and spirits; and, occasionally, inspiring young women. At Claude Monet's lily pond the author does not angle, but instead kisses the hand of an enamored medical student. Then, before departing Paris, he purchases a large statue of a salmon, insisting it so moves him that "I don't have a choice to buy it or not." It's in Austria, however, that Prosek meets a pivotal player, guide to many of 41st' s most important chapters. A baker by trade, Johannes Schoffmann is taciturn by nature, enigmatic, identified by Robert Behnke as an "accomplished and inquisitive scientist who has traveled widely in search of trout…in the true sense of the word, an amateur." Prosek's travels with Johannes are rushing road trips, often through regions where roads are a trial and local bars the best place to find information. (And, back in Austria to rest up, also the best place to meet a barmaid.) Where Prosek succeeds is as tour guide, docent and conveyer of images-the reader's proxy. He pauses at times to contemplate his pilgrim's progress, but usually presents these ruminations as unfinished sketches. Some are curious: for example, when a diseased knee cripples Prosek for months, threatening both his journey and lifelong mobility, he realizes that this was an adversity "I had secretly wished for my whole life, a fault or imperfection that might help push and challenge me and wipe away my complacence." Then he heals up and goes fishing in Japan. If still as engaged, as I was, readers will go with him.