Nymph-Fishing Rivers and StreamsA Biologist's View of Taking Trout Below the Surface
Author: Rick Hafele
Reviewed by Bob Petti
Rick Hafele should be a well known name to most fly fishers. He's been the entomology columnist for American Angler magazine for years, co-authored the successful "The Complete Book of Western Hatches" with Dave Hughes, and did a popular video for 3M called "Anatomy of a Trout Stream" which co-starred a large fish-shaped rock. With "Nymph-Fishing Rivers and Streams", he brings it all together with an excellent textbook on the subject of nymph fishing for trout which also features a 72 minute DVD.
A entomologist by degree and an aquatic biologist by profession, Rick clearly knows his way around a trout stream. As it turns out, he's equally comfortable as an author and educator.
"Nymph-Fishing Rivers and Streams" opens with a discussion of the history of nymph fishing, hitting all the literary highlights from Dame Juliana Berners to Brooks, Borger, and other American authors, with stops at Skues and Sawyer along the way. For those who want to learn more, he includes a nice bibliography at the end of the chapter, although most of the books will be a little hard to find at your local book store.
This is not a history book, however. It's a book intended to make the reader a better nymph fisherman. After touching on history, Rick moves on to a subject he's obviously quite comfortable with - the biology and environment of trout. Quite a bit of this is basic stuff - what trout need to survive (food, shelter from currents, and protection from predators), and where are the hot spots in different rivers. However, I think the book would have been incomplete without this, and even advanced anglers could use a refresher on this information.
From here, Rick takes us through a typical fishing lesson - tackle, fly selection, and angling techniques. Sure, quite a bit of this is "nothing new here", but the book cannot deal with only what is new. The classic nymphing tackle and techniques are every bit as effective now as they were way back when. It would be unwise for Rick Hafele to ignore what everyone already knows and just concentrate on what is new. Instead, he tries to give an overview of the entire nymphing scene as it is practiced today, including fishing with strike indicators, Czech style nymphing, and even the classic Brooks and Sawyer methods for fishing nymphs. Each tactic is accompanied with full color step-by-step photos which show the angler fishing one of these nymph drifts from cast through pickup.
The book concludes with what we know Rick for best - entomology. The section is grouped according to the "order" of the insect in question - mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and "true flies". In each section, Rick offers information about the most common and important of the insects within each order, starting off with a photograph of the natural nymph and then talking about its habitat and behavior. He concludes each section with a discussion of fly patterns and some effective fishing tactics. If I have a quibble with this section, it is that it is heavily oriented toward the Western US. That makes sense since that is the area where Rick has done most of his work, but certainly the audience of this book will reside in other areas. Perhaps he could have worked with other experts to offer details on popular hatches in other parts of the country - such as the Hendrickson in the eastern US. Another minor complaint is the lack of pattern recipes to go along with the pattern photographs. I know this is not a fly tying book, but not all of the patterns are well known and it wouldn't take up much room to give a recipe listing for each.
The DVD that comes with the book brings to life some of the discussions he has in the book. It's also a pretty funny video - with Rick and John Smeraglio goofing off in "Bugwan University". You can't say these guys don't have a sense of humor. One of my favorite chapters in the DVD is where they collect samples from a stream. Here is where Rick the Biologist kicks into gear. There is also an excellent discussion of strike indicators, as well as a good lesson on how to fish nymphs with indicators. Overall, this is really a great supplement to the book. I just wish they spent a few extra minutes of DVD time showing all the techniques offered in the book. Nothing fancy, just a very brief introduction to the technique, and then a couple cast-drift sequences to show it in action. No need to show a fish being hooked. It would be very helpful to see in motion what is described in step-by-step photographs in the book.
I hope this combination of book and DVD is a sign of things to come, because they complement each other perfectly. A book is a great reference text, especially when it comes to insect and fly pattern information. A DVD is a great way to show in motion was is difficult to show in a book format, such as tying procedures or fishing tactics. I think Rick achieved an excellent balance.
Footage from the DVD, Rick and John discussing strike indicators.