The Fly-Fishers CraftThe Art and History
Author: Darrel Martin
Reviewed by Bob Petti
I've enjoyed all of Darrel Martin's fly fishing books, and "The Fly-Fisher's
Craft" is no exception. In a world where it is often said that there is
nothing new to write about fly fishing, Darrel always seems to find a new angle,
a new approach, or some interesting research to offer his readers. His latest
book takes us on a trip through history to look at the origins of the basic
tools of fly fishing - the fly, the hook, the line, and the rod. Anyone who
has an interest or appreciation of fly fishing history will enjoy this book.
The book opens with a look at antique tying. One might think this is a look
back at Victorian England, where ghillies were holding salmon irons in one hand
while wrapping exotic furs and feathers with the other. Not so. Antique to Darrel
Martin is ancient Rome circa 200 A.D. That's two hundred- like eighteen hundred
years ago. Based on the writing of Claudius Aelianus (who no doubt looked like
Russel Crowe and spoke with an Australian accent), Martin gives us his thoughts
on what fly tying was like back then, to the point of offering a three step
tying sequence for the Macedonian pattern. Red wool with a light ginger hackle
wing? I bet that would work today.
Fast forward 1300 years to The Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle,
Martin goes forward in time to such luminaries as Charles Cotten, W.C. Stewart,
Halford, and Skues. There are several reproductions of the original pages of
those books, along with a few photographs of modern flies based on the instruction.
Plenty of excerpts are included, and explained (some of the old language is
hard to understand - especially to this American's eyes). My question is - where
did he get this stuff?!?
In the chapter "Fly Design", Martin walks us through the basic elements
of a fly - the tail, wing, body, etc - and discusses different design options
and what purpose they serve. Each section is supported with numerous sketches
and photographs and, as you would expect, a great deal of historical references.
While this book is not a "how to" book, even experienced fly tyers
will learn a thing or two while reading this chapter.
Probably my least favorite chapter in the book was "Personal Designs",
where he goes off into his own favorite flies. Sure, these are interesting flies,
and you will learn a thing or two while reading about them, but the chapter
seems out of place in the book unless you feel Darrel Martin's personal patterns
are of particular historic or artistic importance. While I might be convinced
that a fly such as The Shucking Poly Humpy is a personal pattern, I'm not sure
how a Clyde style Greenwell's Glory fits. Interesting reading - just not quite
fitting with the theme of the book, I guess. Some flies - such as his Peacock
Bass fly "The Tracer" - really seems out of place.
He jumps from his favorite flies to the origins of the fish hook. Included
in this chapter is a detailed set of instructions for making hooks at home with
rather simple tools. It certainly is an extraordinary amount of work for what
you get in the end, but I have no doubt in my mind that there are anglers out
there who are dying to know how to make their own hooks. Some fly fishers are
like that. Myself, I'll stick with my $4 per box hooks made by professionals.
I enjoy tying leaders, but I'm not going to extrude my own nylon.
In "The Line", Martin walks us through the origin of the fly line,
including how to furl a horse hair line with old fashioned tools, and a tapered
furled leader with modern tools and materials. Furled leaders are very popular
these days, and I know Martin was at the beginning of their rise from the dead
when he wrote his book "Micropatterns", so it's not surprising that
he includes his thoughts here.
The last chapter of the book is a discussion of the fly rod, and includes a
discussion on how to make a "loop Rod" in which the line is fixed
to the rod via a loop-to-loop connection. Again - given what I know of rod builders
- someone will make one of these rods and fish with it. Heck - I'm half tempted
to give it a try myself. The instructions are not all the difficult to follow,
and it would be a fun winter project I bet.
"The Fly-Fisher's Craft" is not for everyone. I know some anglers
who really don't care a lick about the origins of flies or tackle, and would
just roll their eyes at a story about some old Roman dude out catching trout
in Macedonia. These same folks will no doubt believe that furled leaders were
invented somewhere during the internet revolution, since much of the word-of-mouth
about them spread via online instructions on making them. For those of you who
are genuinely interested in how this thing of our started, you will enjoy this
book. It is thought provoking, very interesting, and in many ways just plain
fun. Give it a try.