Tales, Travel & Tying

Snook on a Fly

Tackle, Tactics, and Tips for Catching the Great Saltwater Gamefish

By Norm Zeigler
(Stackpole Books: 2007; 800-732-3669;
120 pp.; hardcover; $21.95

Got to like a man who loves a fish.

I always do - somebody who finds himself mesmerized, profoundly appreciative, frankly and hope-lessly fond of a species.

Much better if said soul is also an author who communicates the above effectively enough that a reader catches the spirit; or at least the passion so inspired. And about halfway through Norm Zeigler's prose description of the snook's physical features-a paean partly biological, partly architectural and mostly aesthetic-I found myself grinning, fully prepared for the declaration that these are "the most elegant fish in the water."You don't even have to agree to enjoy the pitch. But it certainly frames the author's foursquare smile in every photograph in which he holds one snook or another-"snuke" as it's still pronounced by some old timers-and made me imagine how desperately he might have liked to sub-title the book "the Greatest Saltwater Gamefish."

Snook on a Fly certainly makes the case for a champion, creating a vigorous, living image of a fish most of us have only heard about, or caught only by accident. And who knew that male snook turn into females later in life, super-fecund madams producing upwards of 1.3 million eggs at a time. For that matter, who knew how threatened snook once were, saved by a ban on commercial fishing pressed forth by "a handful of angry anglers and courageous fish-and-wildlife officials."

However interesting, and important, the two professed goals of Snook on a Fly are these: "(1) to provide basic information and instruction for neophytes so that they can quickly and effortlessly become successful snookers, and (2) to offer advanced tips and techniques for experienced snookers seeking to enhance their knowledge and skills." As the former I got the message, including the idea that this doesn't need to be a high-end-by-flats-boat enterprise-that snook provide plenty of opportunities for those who want to wade out and cast. Thus the caption for one illustration showing "A cheap and functional stripping basket constructed from a department store shopping basket," and another, on the facing page, revealing what a New Yorker would expect and enjoy: "The New Jersey-style stripping basket is adapted from a plastic dishpan."

The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories

Edited and introduced by Nick Lyons
(Skyhorse Publishing: 2007; 212-643-6817;
812 pp.; hardcover; $24.95

Gigantic it is, thicker still because of a heavy paper presumably intended to preserve the roughly 10 dozen pieces included. Preserved they deserve to be: "What a lot of fun I've had collecting the stories, memoirs, articles, and poems in this gigantic book," writes Lyons, the man who has known, nurtured and published more of America's fly-fishing literature than anybody in our history-and also written much of the best. "It is probably the largest, fullest, and most diverse collection of this sort ever compiled."

Not all of it American, not all fly-fishing; but any reader who can wade through the eight-page table of contents without halting again and again, arrested by a remembered title, or a favorite author's name, or a subject that diverts-in my case instantly to "Memories of a Mahseer," by P.R. Bairnsfather-is either drinking far too heavily or not nearly enough.

Apropo of the mission shared by the FishAmerica Foundation, which receives some of the proceeds from Gigantic's sale, it was a modest pleasure to imagine this book landing in the hands of a fishing-obsessed boy, and to calculate on the hundreds of hours he would have wandered these pages-transported, awed, occasionally confused by "grown-up" materials; but most of all also astonished and grateful to discover the great writings of a world full of fishers who-unlike everybody he knew in Phoenix, Arizona-would understand that he was not crazy.

Or, if so, not alone in his yearnings and madness.

Fly-Fishing Secrets of Alaska's Best Guides

By Will Rice
(Stackpole Books: 2006; 800-732-3669;
190 pp.; paperback; $19.95

To my mind the most valuable quality for anybody trying to write a fly-fishing guidebook is modesty. It helps if the pilgrim can write clearly, organize information-or lift somebody else's format-and can produce or find excellent photos and maps. A willingness to commit large caches of time is a given.

But modesty's the thing. Or it is if an author or author-cum-editor hopes to include more than a complex system or two. The days are gone, I'd argue, when a single person can pretend to know a state (for example) well enough to present him or herself as the expert. Instead, the wise will seek out those who live their lives on these waters and have learned them through decades. He'll listen carefully, give his sources full credit, and through them create something of larger value.

Which happens to be what Will Rice aims to do in Fly Fishing Secrets of Alaska's Best Guides, the second book on this state I've seen recently. Rice constructs an overview from his own research of an area; then, through trips and interviews with the right people, develops a hands-on how-to set of chapter-length articles. My bet is that it will provide prospective travelers perspectives on special destinations in a state too big for anybody to learn in 30 lifetimes.

Saltwater Flies for the Northeast

By Angelo Peluso, with photographs by Richard Siberry
(Frank Amato Publications: 2007; 800-541-9498;
200 pp.; hardcover; $39.95

Saltwater Flies for the Northeast looks to contain better than 300 patterns illustrated here, from over a hundred tiers, presented with recipes and tucked into a binding that lays flat and ought to last. The book includes both classics and flies arising from the 1990's "Renaissance" in the region, "a remarkable revival," writes Peluso, "blending old traditions with new, and enriching a long and storied legacy." Fly photos are mostly three by two inches, with the subjects sometimes set against backgrounds a little busy for my admittedly bleary eyes, but I think I could tie them all. And "all" here is a hell of a lot.