The Flies of a Lifetime

The Flies of a Lifetime

Leeson and Schollmeyer on emergers; smallmouth strategies

  • By: Seth Norman
Blue Upright: The Flies of a Lifetime By Steve Raymond (The Lyons Press: 2004; 888-249-7586) 210 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 Perhaps you've fished a Blue Upright, perhaps not. It's the subtitle of this book, The Flies of a Lifetime, however, that speaks to its content. Author Steve Raymond selects 11 patterns, tosses a few more into "Other Favorites," and uses each one to begin a chapter and sketch a set of vignettes. All essays begin with tying instructions, and proceed with a history of the fly itself, offering credit to the original tier, if known.From there the author travels with the pattern through time, including how he was introduced to the fly, where he's fished this favorite, and the results. It take's an example to reveal how comfortably rich these pieces can be. Raymond starts with the Carey Special, a Pacific Northwest standard. "Colonel Carey was frustrated. The Kamloops trout in Arthur Lake were feeding avidly on dragonfly nymphs, but when the Colonel looked through his fly assortment he could not find a good imitation." Genesis. Ingredients follow-what and why, along with observations about sources such as groundhog (marmot), "not a surprising choice for the time and place; groundhogs were considered a local nuisance for their habit of burrowing under log cabins and keeping the occupants awake at night." From there we move to notes about construction, then learn how the pattern, once popularized, assumed aliases, including 'The Dredge,' and 'Monkey-Faced Louise.' Then comes a report on the effects of time, as the Carey "evolved from a specific dressing into a generic style of tying. Now there exist countless versions… " We arrive at the author's own life. Raymond's original Carey was gifted to him by his father, a man who purchased flies, so was "understandably reluctant to part with any that he felt had not yet delivered their money's worthy." This meant that "the flies he gave me usually had seen a good deal of service… But to my six-year-old eyes, they were things of unblemished beauty," Raymond digresses to a practical discussion of fly boxes and fly-keeping systems. He returns to great moments with his pattern, including the kinds of observations that only experience provides. A black-bodied version makes "a passable imitation of a cased caddis larva" which "proved deadly when I tried drifting it in the current of the North Fork of the Sultan River where it flows into Spada Lake… " An orange chenille variation works in lakes with thick algae; another, fluorescent green, fished well as an October caddis, prompting "jackhammer force" strikes from big rainbows foraging around sagebrush roots in a new reservoir formed by flooding "a desert coulee just east of the Columbia River," Lake Lenice, now famous. Raymond-finishes off his Carey adventure, almost, with a quick story about a "rundown little camp my friend Enos Bradner once called 'the worst place in me State of Washington.'" Rain sank most of the lodge's rental boats, but the author bailed himself afloat "for five very long, very wet hours during which the fly-fishing was just interesting enough to keep me from seeking a warm fire and dry clothes." His reward: The largest brook trout he's ever caught in his native state. You see how this goes? Begin with specific, edge out from there, slowly adding those elements of fly-fishing that influence our choices, and lead to the end of our lines. Blue Upright will entertain and teach. It may also lead readers to look hard in their own boxes, perhaps to pluck out a favorite, and memories. Smallmouth Strategies for the Fly Rod By Will Rice Illustrations by Chris Armstrong (The Lyons Press: 1996 and 2004; 888-249-7586) 212 pp.; softcover; $19.95 If you're fishing for smallmouth bass and looking for first-class information to help out, or if you're interested in testing yourself against this gamefish, but could use good advice and a prod, here's a book I believe you'll like. I sure do: Smallmouth Strategies for the Fly Rod offers an overview, plenty of well-turned anecdotes, genuinely pertinent research results, classy illustrations, and instructions detailed enough to include appropriate retrieves for selected patterns cast on specific line types to work depths determined by season, habitat and the discrete swimming styles of prey. I needed this book. Jack Ellis, a favorite of mine, says it rightly in a quote on the cover: "No, these fish aren't just frustrated largemouth that nature condemned to coldwaters, nor is their capture as simple as tying on a trout fly." Amen. Maybe you've had days on a river when a score of bronzebacks snapped up your popper. Me too; but I've also gone fishless too often on the big lake down the hill, stripping trenches, through water that should have produced given everything I knew. Which wasn't much, I discovered. Just one example: I understood that crayfish ranked near the top of smallmouth's preferred menu, in waters where they could get them. What I didn't know was what time of the year "mudbugs" usurped baitfish as the "daily special." Ryan informed me. Then he took my education several steps farther. In Chapter 10, "Imitating Crayfish," the author offers "Crayfish Biology 101." It's interesting enough to discover that of North America's 366 species, only two genera commonly live in smallmouth waters, occupying different micohabitats. It's important to grasp that smallmouths have distinct preferences when it comes to this prey, liking best specimens 1 1/4 to I 1/2 inches long, with smaller "chelae" (claws), in the soft-shell stage of their molt. This makes sense, if you imagine eating alive one of these pugnacious crustaceans. Now, look at the claws on crayfish flies… "The irony is remarkable," notes the author. "The very feature that dominates fly patterns, indeed identifies a crayfish patterns as such, may actually cue smallmouths to look elsewhere for a meal." There's more: surprising reports on smallmouths' sensitivity to natural movement and lifelike texture; and then, again by contrast, their idiosyncratic sense of color, which definitely leans more toward Bob fluorescents than muted Audubon shades. "In short, color choice has little to do with matching the natural forage, particularly in stained waters. This, of course, bothers the hell out of the trout fisherman, and for years I worried quite a bit about it. Meanwhile, pro bass fishers got rich nailing shiner-eating smallmouths on things like licorice-flavored plastic lizards… " Tying Emergers By Jim Shollmeyer and Ted Leeson (2004: Frank Amato Publications; 800-541-9498) 344pp.; softcover; $45 Two years ago, a reader chastised me severely for praising one of Ted Leeson's books, insisting that I spend a week in a "cold sitz bath" before I dare approach another work by this author. I responded by sending him a day-by-day description of the ordeal he prescribed-the chills, the angst, the algae-along with a copy of the book in question, which he had not even read. My critic mailed back an apology with caveats, primary among these my poor choice of excerpts from so many better passages. I appreciated his honestly, but am still faintly green when observed in direct light. If you doubt Tying Emergers, a Leeson and Jim Shollmeyer production, is superbly done, broad in scope, cleverly organized and beautifully illustrated, check it out for yourself at your local fly shop. Twenty-nine large pages covering "Emerger Design and Materials," 20 more on "Basic Tying Techniques," 22 covering "Trailing Shucks and Bubble Sheaths," then 270 dedicated to step-by-step instructions for over 200 flies… Talk about smart touches: The table of contents is 12 pages long, because every pattern gets a photo to help direct your search; and beside each is an icon indicating what type(s) of bug it represents. For a tying book. I don't what else to ask for. Save this: on the off chance you know a better book on this subject, by all means please send me a copy. I promise to sitz right down and review it.