Books about Bugs

Books about Bugs

And fishing pressured water

  • By: Seth Norman
Fish Flies: The Encyclopedia of the Fly Tier's Art By Terry Hellekson (Gibbs Smith: 2005; 800-748-5439 www.gibbs-smith.com) 720 pp.; hardcover; $50 Sometimes one finds a book that is both fish and fowl: Aiming primarily at one or two goals, it accomplishes others along the way. Terry Hellekson's Fish Flies: The Encyclopedia of the Fly Tier's Art falls into that category. "Encyclopedic" describes the breadth of the author's knowledge, accumulated as a commercial tier, scholar and founder of Fly Fishing Specialties.That's obvious from chapters beginning with "The Beginning," carrying on through "Vision and Color," and proceeding to flies tied to represent all kinds of prey, including patterns designed specifically for shad, steelhead and the salmons of both coasts. To my mind, however, the tone here is far friendlier than in our old Britannica, and the organization is best described by "inclusive," a kind of writing-in-the-round intended to reveal a subject in multiple dimensions. For an example of how that works, take Chapter nine, "Nymphs." Hellekson begins with a half page of history--these are big pages--in which the author describes the importance of subsurface food in a trout's diet, mentions American nymph patterns' relations to British wet flies, then how Hellekson was influenced early on by Jim Quick's Fishing the Nymph (1960) and Polly Rosborough's self-published Fuzzy Nymphs (1965). And on like that, recipes interspersed with sketches, comment, attributions and anecdotes. Especially attributions: with something like 25,000 fly patterns recognized today, "although no one, to my knowledge, has determined just what constitutes a recognized pattern," and with some older classics falling from favor, Hellekson hopes to help keep things straight. He would also like to make certain that innovators whose names are fading retain their places in our collective consciousness. I suppose one can argue, and a few may, that if "encyclopedia" suggests "comprehensive," a fly-tying edition might contain 10 tomes this size, authored by a host of sages. I'd like to see such a reference but know I'd never get through it; and, meanwhile, would happily settle for one-tenth of Hellekson's grasp. Fish Food: A Fly Fisher's Guide to Bugs and Bait By Ralph Cutter (Stackpole Books: 2005; 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 212 pp.; softcover; $19.95 Ralph Cutter sheds light on a number of topics for the entomologically inclined fly-angler (and who isn't one?) in Fish Food: A Fly Fisher's Guide to Bugs and Bait. Cutter--long a gleeful maverick, a dedicated researcher, explorer and innovator--describes tools and practices required for collecting adult insect specimens. "For the budding fly-fishing entomologist, probably the best method is hanging out by the riverside with a butterfly net, a collecting jar, and a six-pack." Why that last item? "No matter how impressive the gear and innovative your technique, you will look like a dork prancing around the fields swishing a butterfly net. This is where the six-pack comes in." There's more where that comes from in the 39 lively chapters contained here. In "Part One: Know Your Ingredients," Cutter lays out fundamentals in detail. Along the way, he chastises those who consider scientific names "confusing and snobbish," reminds us that gardeners "have no problem identifying our plants as 'petunias,' 'begonias' and 'delphiniums'" and wonders if it isn't time to "liberate (ourselves) from the stifling chains of tradition and start using some Latin and Greek." Two pages later he's describing how to raise bugs in your own kitchen aquarium, and more than one reader will be surprised at how easy, cheap and fun Cutter makes that sound. "Part Two, The Menu," begins with "Ants," and continues through just about every other natural item I've heard of trout eating, including "Fur Balls: of Mice and Trout," also "Snails: Beetles Rule," "Threadfin Shad," and even a chapter devoted to "Cut Bugs: When Only Half is Sometimes More than a Whole." Most contain photos and line drawings provided by Cutter's wife, Lisa; in all, the most salient element is excitement, a sense of wonder amplified by Cutter's delight in creating some seriously eccentric images. Like when he asks you to imagine your own "newborn baby girl swaddled in warm fuzzy pink blankets," for example, who on closer study reveals herself as a hellgrammite, which "with a lightning-quick thrust…snaps jagged mandibles into your face and drives them deep with a deliberate chewing motion…" Fly-Fishing Pressured Waters Tying Tactics for Today's Trout By Lloyd Gonzales, Photographs by Norm Shires (Stackpole Books: 2006; 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 222 pp.; hardcover; $49.95 This book seemed to fall from the blue, intelligently written and superbly illustrated. Lloyd Gonzales has a talent for prose, also with a paintbrush and colored pencils; and he cleverly recruited Norm Shires to shoot photos. This virtuosity is particularly important, given some of the challenges the author presents to the opinions of other experts. It's difficult to cover the most interesting of these in a few hundred words: far easier to focus on a few examples. Gonzales' doubts about beadheads, for example, which too often "roll over and play dead," and even when properly constructed provide "a distinctive trait" that becomes "a reliable way for educated trout to distinguish between the natural and the artificial." The nexus of Pressured Water is the author's assertion that when pursing well-educated wild trout in heavily fished Eastern streams, proper presentation with a popular "suggestive fly" isn't enough, at least not when fish are feeding in one or two of the five modes Gonzales describes. It's at times like these that it takes patterns tied to standards of "practical realism" he knows many fishers will consider extreme. But there's something else in play here: However gorgeous the form, it's function that rules the author's approach to tying. "Realistic imitation is often maligned in fly-fishing literature, with the detractors leveling the incomprehensible accusation that such flies are poor fish catchers because they are too realistic. That is not possible, and what they really mean is that the materials used to achieve a realistic appearance are too stiff and lifeless, producing a fly that does not move or drift in a convincing fashion--in practical terms, such flies are not realistic enough…ignoring the aspects that appeal to the trout. I am never satisfied with a fly until I can make it behave like the real thing…copying the characteristic drift, posture and movement of the natural prey…" To achieve that end, Gonzales employs some difficult techniques, made easier at times by homemade tools, along with materials I've never used, including Tyvek, a plastic paper he considers "an artist's canvas" that can be easily shaped, burned and marked upon. In his hands, tying thread--colored and coated and crimped--creates legs that threaten to ambulate off the page. Lots of steps rely on coatings of Zap-a-Gap, Flexament and epoxy; he bends hooks left and right, up and down, weights these precisely; and, for creatures that wiggle, ties tandem. Often, but not always, he ends a set of instructions with an assurance that what you see isn't quite so hard as it seems.