In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit now that Gary Borger was my first fly fishing hero. I started tying flies like most guys - with a purchased kit of seemingly random materials tossed together with a crappy cam operated vice and an instruction booklet that might as well have been written in a foreign language. Who else has ever put a hook in a vice, held a threaded bobbin in their hand, and thought "Now what?" I remember very clearly struggling to just get the thread started on the hook, to say nothing of the mystery of other tying procedures. It felt pretty hopeless, and I was getting discouraged.
Up the road from where I lived at the time was a Video King rental store (if you're too young to know what I'm talking about - replace "video store" with "youtube", heh heh) that had a modest sports section with some fly fishing tapes. Among them was my fly tying salvation - Gary Borger's 3M video "Tying Trout Flies". Just minutes into watching the tape, light bulbs were going off over my head one after another. "So that's how you tie on your thread!", "So that's how you apply fur dubbing", etc. etc. I went from being all thumbs to tying fishable flies in a pretty short order - entirely thanks to Gary Borger and his video. It provided the visual instruction I desperately needed to get started, and with those fundamentals I was able to dig into books and actually understand what they were talking about and repeat the instructions on a vice which opened the whole world of tying to me. I bet I borrowed that tape 20 times, and when he came out with his ground breaking book "Presentation", it was the only thing I asked my wife to get me for Christmas. To this day, when I see someone ask a question how to get started in fly tying, my suggestion always includes Gary's tape.
Fast forward some twenty years later, and after fiddling with just about every genre of fly tying known to man, I spend most of my vice time these days tying streamers and wet flies, especially the old classic patterns. So you can sorta guess that my reaction to finding out that Gary Borger was writing a book called "Long Flies" is kind of like what my daughter's reaction would be to a Harry Potter themed episode of Glee. OMG!! Nine parts anticipation and excitement, one part nervousness.
I'll admit why I had that one part nervousness. I am pretty conservative when it comes to my streamers (my friend Chris has called me stodgy - and he's probably right). I believe, for example, that if you're going to talk about a Gray Ghost in an instructional medium, you need to be faithful to the Carrie Stevens method of tying. Gary Borger, on the other hand, has made his name in fly fishing and fly tying by developing original patterns and techniques from a scientific approach, based on known designs but with a unique Borger twist. I was a little worried that he would do what Dick Talleur did several years ago and present a "Groovier Ghost" and give thrift to the rich tradition of streamers.
As my wife would say to me, I worry too much, and needlessly in this case. The long and interesting history of streamers (long flies) is well represented here. I should have known better - Gary Borger has been at this game far longer than I have - but I guess I feel a little defensive or protective when it comes to this genre of tying because I have seen far too many abuses by respected authors in books and magazines. To my delight, Gary Borger quotes directly from Bates, Hilyard, Flick, Fulsher, and many of the founding fathers of streamers and bucktails. At the close of Chapter 3 is a beautiful artistic rendition of a Doctor Oatman. I don't think I need to say more on the subject.
To be fair, "Long Flies" is not intended to be an exhaustive study of the development and history of bucktails and streamers, and it certainly is not intended to be a complete catalog of patterns. It's also not a fly tying instructional book. That being said, every style of streamer from the Aztec to the Zonker is covered here. There is something for everyone - from the most strict traditionalist (a tandem Gray Ghost, maybe, or a Supervisor), to the ultra modern "Xtreme Generation" anglers ("Still Got the Blues for You" would be a good example). All manners of streamers, bucktails, muddlers, buggers, matukas, and "others" are presented here, as are surface flies and even some "long" insects. If it's tied on a long shank hook - or even if it's tied on a short shank book but is a "long" fly, chances are it's here.
Like I said above, "Long Flies" is not just a book about flies. A good third or more of the book is devoted to angling techniques which, if you don't do much with your streamers but the across-and-down-strip-it-back technique, will surely give you something to think about the next time you're out. Lord knows I fall into that pattern of cast, strip strip strip, take a step downstream, and do it over again, until I've reached the end of the pool. I definitely learned some things I am going to try the next time I'm out streamer fishing.
The text in the book is typical Borger - very comfortable reading, lots of personal anecdotes supporting his ideas, detailed background information on why something works or doesn't work, and crisply detailed instructions on techniques. He is a scientist - by education and profession but also clearly by his nature - but he is also a teacher. He has the gift of being able to present material in a way that captures your attention and ensures retention. It is one of those books where you learn things while simply enjoying the experience of reading. I like that.
What is most impressive about this book is the way he can give proper respect to the tradition of streamers and bucktails, but avoid the common (and deadly) trap of simply regurgitating what has already been written. Gary Borger has his own ideas about things - which helps separate this book from so many other books that try to cash in on the revival in classic flies.
As most of us know, Gary Borger productions these days are usually a collaborative effort with his son. We hear Gary's voice when we're reading, but are treated to page after page of Jason's artwork. Some of the illustrations are instructional - like those classic overhead views of an angler in a stream demonstrating a fishing technique - but others are pure eye candy - like many of the fly drawings and paintings decorating each chapter (the aforementioned Doctor Oatman is a fine example). I'm a lover of drawing and Jason's work lifts the entire book - taking it to a level that more typical photography could not. I wish we could see some of this in color - but such is the world we live in that there is a trade off to be made between color printing and affordability.
"Long Flies" is the third in a series of books entitled "Fly Fishing, the Book Series", which lists twenty titles in all. Talk about a magnum opus! If they are all like this one, what a treasure they will be.
"Long Flies" has earned a spot on my bookshelf right next to Bates, Stewart and Leeman, Wilson, and Fulsher. High praise, indeed.