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The Founding Flies
Almost every trout fisherman has heard of the Adams dry fly, it being ubiquitous on trout streams throughout the world. You know the old adage - when in doubt try an Adams. Some anglers tie their own flies and will understand the beauty of the mixed brown and grizzly hackle and will search through bins of hen necks looking for a specimen with just the right shaped feathers to use as wings. A majority of those fly tyers have probably read that the Adams was developed in Michigan by Len Halladay, but only a small percentage will know how it got its name or what sparked its creation. I would be willing to bet that very few have any idea who Len Halladay was other than the originator of the Adams dry fly.
Mike Valla's latest book "Founding Flies" answers these questions and many more.
So much in today's world is forward looking - everyone is in a hurry to "just do it". The digital age we live has put the entire history of humanity at our fingertips, but as the pace of life increases and more flashing lights demand out attention, it seems as if fewer take the time to look back and study how we got here. Fly fishing is no different - it is a status sport where the farther away from home you travel, the higher the cost of your tackle, the more exotic the species, the better.
"Founding Flies" seems to be the Mike Valla's reaction to the fast forward nature of the 21st Century. It is as if he is saying "Yeah - great - but hold on a minute. Lee Wulff did that 50 years ago, without an iPhone app". The possibility that some young gortex clad dude with an artfully created grubbiness would respond with a blank stare - having never heard of Lee Wulff (or - Heaven forbid - The American Sportsman television show) - would be enough to send Mike into a history spewing manic rage. The output of such rage could very well be a chapter in "Founding Flies".
It has been said about fly fishing and fly tying that everything that needs to be said has been said already. "Founding Flies" tells us when and where it was said, under what circumstances it was said, and then goes on to tell us some stories about who said it. Although the book is composed around flies and fly tyers - it's not a fly tying book. You might learn a trick or two - but you're not going to learn how to tie flies. That's not its purpose. It has beautiful pictures of flies, some tied by the originators and many others tied by contemporary tyers with a shared interest in history, but the text provides the true value. It's a reading book - and a delightful read it is.
The first reaction skimming through a book such as this will be to quibble with the selection of flies and tyers. I started to do that as well - who could resist? Then I saw Mike's rules for selection and I failed to come up with an obvious omission. I think he nailed it. Perhaps I would have made an exception for a few giants of fly tying who came to the fore in the 70's - Gary Borger and Poul Jorgensen to name just two since they had such a huge influence on the sport (especially yours truly) - but perhaps those will be left to someone else's books a few more years down the road. A line has to be drawn or the book will become a multi-volume encyclopedia.
Every chapter deals with either a major figure in fly tying - The Dettes of the Catskills, for instance - or a single fly whose originator has taken a back seat in the general public's point of view to the fly or flies which he created - such as George Griffith and his Griffith's Gnat. Each chapter shows the relevant flies in beautiful full color photographs, which are accompanied by a pattern listing in the appendix at the back. Along with photos of the flies are photos of their inventors and contemporaries as well as the places where the flies were developed - some photos speckled with age as you would expect.
"Founding Flies" is a beautiful, informative, and well written book - as pleasant to read as it is to browse. It has a place an every fly fisherman's shelf - as important to an angler as a study of the great composers is to a musician. Mike has done us all a great favor by cutting through the haze of time and sharpening the image of these great fly tyers, the flies they invented, and the times and places they lived. It is a book I will revisit on many occasions, especially those dark days in winter when I'm looking for some inspiration before heading to the vise.