Fishing Small Flies

Fishing Small Flies

Smoking fish; a return to Travers Corner; and more

  • By: Seth Norman
Fishing Small Flies By Ed Engle (Stackpole Books: 2005; 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 164 pp.; hardcover; $24.95 Before Boomers and bona fide seniors begin to groan, know that author Ed Engle wears polarizing sunglasses to fit over his bi-focals, so maybe there's hope. Then, consider that this title doesn't reveal the scope and value of information readers will discover in this intelligently constructed book. About tailwaters, for example: Engle explains how climate and water-release practices conspire to narrow the range of temperatures on these rivers, thereby limiting the diversity of insect species while promoting "astronomical numbers" of smaller mayflies and midges.For different reasons, small flies can play a major roles on spring creeks; and, in both venues, "The trout that fin these waters are highly selective to tiny naturals. Catching them requires the highest level of fly-fishing expertise. I haunt those places and they haunt me." Readers will get a sense of that. Better yet, they will find text and illustrations that begin by describing Vince Marinaro's three types of rise forms, then progress to the eight variations Engle identifies. Pay close attention: while a "bulge" suggests "trout taking small, emerging flies," a "boil," described as "a more energetic bulge," suggests trout eating larger emerging insects. Elsewhere, Engle discusses how rise forms should influence how and when an angler strikes, from upstream or down, while specifically considering the implications of using a hook forged from wire so fine "it takes virtually no force to drive it into a trout's mouth, so the idea is to lessen the force… " Just about everything I could think to ask about fishing small flies appeared here, treated with similar attention to detail. That's a lot, from rods that protect light tippets to leader construction, fly patterns and illustrations of how and where to fish the several stages of hatches. Ultimately, everything ties into presentation, which is really about observing closely before wading carefully and casting precisely, a fly that makes sense given the conditions. As complex as this seems, to Engle it's really a distillation: "As much as I seek out new small fly patterns, and as much as I've said about how to fish them, I must also say that I have come to believe that fishing small flies is ultimately about having as little as possible between me and the trout. It's fly-fishing reduced to its most basic elements. For me that means going light. But there's a paradox. I don't think I could have gotten to this point without the weight of everything that came before it." Creative Fly Tying By Mike Mercer (Wild River Press: 2005; 425-486-3638; www.wildriverpress.com) 158 pp.; $39.95 In sport and art there's a marked difference between amateur and pro; also between pro and all-star. Tying patterns is one thing, inventing them another, and while I suspect most of us with a serious vice try to do a little of the latter, if you ever wonder what distinguishes work that will last, influence others, and even earn royalties, you might wish to examine Creative Fly Tying. I'll excuse myself from the reviewer's role, and leave it to two of FR&R's own, excerpting from cover blurbs and the foreword. "This book is not merely the listing of materials and methods: it is the story of discovery," writes Darrel Martin, who ought to know. "These tales of tying-stuffed with hints and solutions-make rich reading… Mercer's quest for the perfect pattern-his search and discovery-is pure adventure." A.K. Best adds, "Creative Fly Tying is an excellent book with detailed tying instructions, crisp photographs, and accompanying text that thoroughly explain Mike's cunningly designed and exquisitely tied flies." And, yes, there are patterns to tie, a dozen, which may also form the basis for scores, or hundreds, of more amateur variations. Smoking Salmon&Steelhead By Scott&Tiffany Haugen (Frank Amato Publications: 2005; 800-541-9498; www.amatobooks.com) 94 pp.; $19.95 Plank Cooking: The Essence of Natural Wood By Scott&Tiffany Haugen (Frank Amato Publications: 2004; 800-541-9498; www.amatobooks.com) 152 pp.; $19.95 Speaking of fodder: even diehard C&R types may harvest a hatchery-bred salmon or steelhead in season. Authors Scott and Tiffany Haugen have produced two brightly illustrated books aimed at those who'd like to make the most of their bounty, and for whom preparation is part of the pleasure. Smoking Salmon&Steelhead discusses wet and dry brines, types of wood, preparation of flesh and even canning of smoked salmonids, while offering up several approaches from assorted connoisseurs. One chapter includes a dozen dishes in which smoked fish play the lead role, ensembles ranging from quesadillas to quiche, salmon puffs to pesto pinwheels, pasta and potato salad. There's even a "troubleshooting" section where chefs can learn how to remedy everything from oversalting to what to do if the drip pan corrodes. I've smoked enough to appreciate what I found here, and to slaver at the possibilities. What I've not yet done is raid my woodpile for the slabs of cedar, alder and maple requisite for Plank Cooking: The Essence of Natural Wood. The book by that title begins with Getting Started, and proceeds through Plank Preparation; so when I'm ready to bake on boards, I'll know where to look for a guide. Readers will find 12 fish entrées here, including Crispy-Coated Bluegill, Herb-Stuffed Trout and Christmas Salmon, along with roughly similar numbers of recipes for seafood, wild game, beef, pork, poultry, vegetables and even desserts. Travers Corners: The Final Chapters By Scott Waldie (The Lyons Press: 2005; 888-249-7586; www.lyonspress.com) 272 pp.; hardcover; $22.95 Imagine a dramatic spectrum. At one end suspenseful plots are driven by threats to innocent children, world peace, life on this planet; and victims die awfully, by inches, or en masse. Such conflicts create blockbusters and spawn movies with budgets larger than Bulgaria's. Non-fiction versions ruin newspaper headlines every morning. At the other end…If this genre has a name I don't know it: more-or-less life-size people struggle with issues on an almost familiar scale, albeit in situations suffused with sentiment, nostalgia and humor. If not necessarily more "realistic" than tales about sexual sadists, terrorist cells or virulent plagues, these are at least easier on the psychic digestion, providing escape of a more optimistic variety. Take the Travers Corners series, of which The Final Chapters are just that. Set mostly in and around a small Montana town, and on trout waters thereabout, Travers stories weave the lives of characters into a special place; and, by using the journals of early pioneers as touchstones, tuck this place into time, if not timelessness. It's about love, friendship, the perils of angst-mostly posed by brief invasions from the outside world-and, of course, the great pleasure of fly-fishing. The insularity is deliberate. Beginning on page eight, for example, boat builder and protagonist Jud turns off his radio when a DJ begins to talk about "recent bombings in…" because "life was too good to hear of war." He consults his grandfather's Waltham, "a pocket watch with time all its own, (which) lost about twenty minutes on the hour during summer months and lost about fifteen minutes during the winter;" and then, a few hours later, passes on the chance to star in a PBS documentary because he'd already made arrangements to go fishing that day. The world the way we might want it to be, in other words-or even have it, "if only," per the trials of a cameo character in "Rosie's Ragtop." As happened in its predecessors, Travers Corner and Return to Travers Corners, a few newcomers contribute stories and vignettes to the flow of Final Chapters, while a set of previously established players rise from prime lies in the mainstream narrative. If life moves slower in this piece of Big Sky Country, plots do catch up, in ways that fit with the Travers tradition of warmth and wisdom.