Published Oct 4. 2008 - 12 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 13. 2015

Book review: Charlie Craven's Basic Fly Tying

Headwater Books
Publishing year: 
Charlie Craven
Reviewed by: 

Charlie Craven is no stranger to anyone who hangs out in the online fly tying bulletin boards, so the announcement of his new fly tying book was warmly received with a sense of keen anticipation. Most of us have seen his online tutorial and could not wait to get our hands on an honest-to-goodness solid flesh-and-blood book of his tying. With "Charlie Craven's Basic Fly Tyingâ", he has given us a chance to follow along as he teaches beginners the fundamental skills required to tie quality trout flies.

Ok - so you say - beginner fly tying books are a dime-a-dozen, right? What sets this one apart? Will this one accomplish the goal of teaching me to tie flies? Is the material presented in a way that a real beginner - someone who has yet to pick up the bobbin - will be able to follow along?

Let's see.

The premise of the book is to start at the beginning and follow through to the end, tying the flies in each chapter. There is an accumulation of skills, knowledge, and techniques that are important, as the later flies rely on what has already been demonstrated earlier in the book. However, there is some work to be done before we put the first hook in the vise. This is where things take a slight turn to the "yeah - maybe this *is* a different book".

Page 2. I mean - really - page two. Charlie makes the case that right handed people should learn to tie flies left handed. You think he's crazy? Read the page. For me - it is impossible to comment on the guiding principle, as I've been tying flies traditionally - with the bobbin in my right hand - ever since I started and my hands are trained to behave in a certain way. For me to do otherwise would feel completely weird. However, for someone who has yet to wrap thread, it is hard to argue with his premise. Agree or not, it is thought provoking, and it makes me wonder what other surprises I'm going to find as I read on.

No beginner book would be complete without a discussion of tools. Here Charlie gives real advice - complete with brand names. That is vitally important - not so much because the brand name is critical but because it gives specific advice, not just a generic "buy the best you can" advice. Too many authors and books are afraid of making a recommendation for fear of upsetting some sponsor, so they describe every tool they've ever heard of and leave it to the reader to decide. The reader walks away more confused than before. Rest assured if you buy the tools Charlie recommends, they will do the job that they are expected to do. For each he describes what function they perform, what characteristics separate quality from junk, and which ones he chooses for his own tying. Good stuff.

Keeping with his theme of start to finish, next up is a short chapter on hooks and thread, the two components of every fly anyone ties, whether it be a 2/0 bass popper or a size 28 trico spinner. A novice might wonder what there is to say about two such basic things - thread is thread, right? Well - no - and here Charlie helps the newbie navigate their way through the mysteries of denier, shank, and barb. Choosing thread and hooks is not quite as simple as selecting a fly tying vise. Each fly has its own demands on hooks and threads and Charlie helps clear up some of the confusion and explain why a particular thread or hook is important.

Before he gets into tying flies, he sets the stage with two techniques that are basic to almost all trout flies - attaching materials to the hook and dubbing material onto the thread. It is important to understand these two concepts - and get comfortable with these procedures - as they are so key to everything that happens in the rest of the book.

At this point, he jumps into tying flies. While there are other material and technique chapters mixed in to his fly chapters (a nice chapter on hackle, for instance), the rest of the book concentrates on step by step instructions to tie a series of flies, from the most simple thread bodied midge larva to the bane of all fly tyer's everywhere - the Humpy. Each of these fly chapters opens up with a nice still shot of a selection of flies, a brief listing of what key principles are being demonstrated, an essay about the fly, and a nicely done "anatomy of the fly" graphic where a single fly is shown and different attributes are highlighted.

Let me stop here and make a couple points. First, the photography in the book is outstanding, both the artistic posed shots of flies opening the chapters and the macro shots of tying procedures. Those of us who've known Charlie from the internet appreciate his photographic skills, but here they are kicked up a notch. Nice work, Charlie.

Second, the flies themselves are perfect examples. When you want to teach flies, you want to show the very best so the student knows exactly what a good one looks like. I've seen some tying books where the finished flies are a little rough around the edges. Not so with Charlie's flies. Each is a by-gosh museum quality example of the fly being demonstrated in the chapter. He's really good at this - an inspiration to us all.

So - where were we? Oh yeah - tying flies. After the intro, he walks us through a step by step procedure for tying the fly, with each step having both a color photograph and supporting text. What I find most impressive here is that he doesn't take any shortcuts. You might think the publishers would give him the stink eye for wanting to print so many pictures. "Charlie - can't you do this with less steps and save us a few pages?". Nope. The Beadhead Prince Nymph has 45 steps - each one with its own picture. Very little is left as an exercise to the reader. You are going to learn how to tie flies. Following the steps, there is a short pattern reference which shows variations on fly, such as ten different variants built on the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear foundation.

This is an outstanding book in every respect. While I might quibble over choice of flies (Charlie - no real streamers?), and I might argue about his not teaching a hand whip finish (I don't even own a whip finish tool), that's just beyond the trivial. Charlie's goal was to teach new people how to tie trout flies, and demonstrate techniques they can use to expand their tying. I gotta say - job well done.


I love this book. Ba...

I love this book. Basic or beyond, anyone can benefit from Charlies insight on technique, tools and materials. Check out is his "Two Minute Parachute Adams" on youtube.

Regarding the whip finish tool, Charlie explains in the book that whipping by hand can twist the thread preventing the thread from seating tightly.


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