Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies
Author: Sylvester Nemes
Reviewed by Bob Petti This is the book that soft hackled aficionados have been waiting years to see. Not only is it chock full of wonderful patterns and photos of well tied flies, but it contains summaries of all the classic soft hackle texts that are out-of-print rare collectibles out of reach to all but the ardent collector.
If you've ever wanted to know more about T. E. Pritt's North Country Flies, W. C. Stewart's The Practical Angler, or the Edmunds and Lee classic Brook and River Trouting, Nemes comes to the rescue. Nemes was able to borrow or photocopy sections of these and many more books thanks to generous museum curators, book collectors, and dealers. He shares with us his thoughts on the books, summaring the text and offering up excerpts when appropriate.
Each chapter in the book is devoted one of these famous works spanning more than two hundred years of literature, opening with Richard and Charles Bowlker's Art of Anging, which was initial published in 1747 and closing with Reid's Clyde Style Flies and their Dressings from 1971. Instead of pure excerpts from these books, Nemes writes about the books, both their place in history and their influence on his own fishing and tying. Where appropriate, he does make use of excerpts, especially reproductions of plates containing artwork or other illustrations. One example I especially enjoyed are the pictures of feathers in The Natural Trout Fly and It's Imitation, by Leonard West. You certainly will not find photos of brown owl, ,corncrake, or landrail in modern fly tying texts.
As you would guess, the photos of the flies in this book are wonderful examples of the soft hackle, or "North Country spider", style. Sparsly dressed with delicate hackles and bodies of silk or fur, Nemes is a recognized master of this particular style of fly tying. While some might argue that if you can tie one soft hackle style fly, you can tie them all, there are some subtleties in style and dressings that warrant the individual photos.
I must say, I thought the composure of the fly photographs to be someone unique. It seems as if a blob of Vaseline was put on a table top and each fly stuck vertically into the blob and photographed. It certainly makes for an interesting presentation, and shows the flies well, but I would like to ask the author why that particular method was chosen.
Along with the text and the photographs, there is a wealth of fly patterns available. It has been my experience that tyers of soft hackled flies are pattern nuts of the highest order. I can say with much sincerity, fellow pattern junkies will not be disappointed. All the classics are represented, along with minor variations of these flies and many others that are much less well known. You could burn quite a few winter evenings tying up samples of flies from this book.
Is this the last word on soft hackled flies? Hardly. I was talking to a fella a short time ago who has been tying original soft hackled flies to match some of the hatches on his home waters. Still others who are starting to add bits of synthetic, like pearlescent mylar bodies, or even sparkle and weight in the form of a bright brass bead. I've even seen some anglers tie spiders especially for steelhead.
Soft hackled flies are centuries old, but certainly deserve a place in the modern trout anglers fly box.
With both original photos of well tied flies, and reproductions of illustrations in original works, Nemes has given us the best of both worlds.