Published Nov 5. 2002 - 21 years ago
Updated or edited May 7. 2016

Book review: Drag-Free Drift

Joseph A. Kissane
Stackpole Books
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Drag-free drift is more than just adding a couple feet of 7x to your leader. Much more.

When I first heard of this book, I couldn't help but wonder how an author could fill an entire volume describing leaders and how they affect the drift of the fly. At what point does redundancy set in? How much material science to include? How many engineering principles? At what point do we leave the audience (anglers) behind?

Being a trout fisherman, I am as curious about leaders as the next guy. The subject of drift, with or without drag, is near and dear to my hearts. I've seen enough snooty fish refuse my dragging flies to realize that this topic can literally mean the difference between catching and not catching. Given the choice, I'll choose catching anyday.

It was with all those thoughts in mind that I read Drag-Free drift.

I must say - I was surprised to encounter a pretty wide ranging set of topics in a book about drifting flies, and more gory detail than I thought possible.

There's an entire chapter devoted to lines, rods, and rod flex. Included are the Hoffman-Kooper-Kyte Fly Rod Calibration Test, the Orvis Flex Index, and the Phillips Stiffness Profile. Lots of charts, equations, and technical sounding terms. Holding a degree in engineering, these didn't bother me too much, but even a techno-nerd like myself didn't really care about all that. How are these related to the subject of the book (that being the drift of a fly)? I read the chapter a couple times and still wasn't sure.

In some cases, I feel Mr. Kissane lost of sense of who is audience was. There are a couple pages in one chapter devoted to selecting a fly rod, which doesn't go too far beyond what is found in any intro-to-flyfishing book - or even some good mail order catalogs. I'm guessing the people who bought this book already own a bundle of fly rods and don't need help in this area, and those that do need help picking a rod probably don't care much about the Hoffman-Kooper-Kyte calibration test. A book such as this has to assume the reader has progressed beyond the novice stage.

For the most part, fortunately, the book is not quite so technical. The opening chapter deals with The Big Picture - "Drag and the Drag-Free Drift". As most of us know, the crux of the problem is that our flies are not free floating but rather tied to a leader, which is connected to a fly line, which is spooled on a reel that is connected to a rod being held in a relatively fixed location by a fisherman. (phew) This isn't such a problem if the water was absolutely still and there was no wind pushing on the fly and line, but the presence of current demands that the fly act "unattahed". The trick is to make a cast such that the fly acts as if it were free floating, while still allowing the angler to tighten the line should a fish rise to the offering sometime during the drift. Mr. Kissane does a nice job describing the problem and quite correctly informs us that it takes more than a well tied leader to address the problem.

Other chapters deal with such topics as the elements of the leader (butt, tippet, etc.), the methods of constructing leaders, different leader designs - including braided and furled leaders, and even the "paraphenalia" associated with making leaders. To me, however, the most valuable chapters of the book are those dealing with the design of leaders - how leaders are built to solve specific fishing problems - and those describing different casting and angling techniques (e.g. mending) to solve drift problems on the water. When required, Mr. Kissane's points are supported by excellent line drawings by GFF partner Steve Schweitzer.

Speaking of Steve, the book also includes a copy on CD of his very popular Leadercalc software. Leader suggestions given by such luminaries as Dave Whitlock, Gary Borger, and George Harvey are included, as well as a number of commercial leader designs and even some of Steve's own invention. Anglers who tie their own leaders are as greedy for new formulas as fly tyers are for new patterns. In that regard, Steve has given us the Holy Grail of leader resources.

Mr. Kissane's book is not for the casual angler. It is for people who need to learn why things work the way they do - the desire to understand more about their equipment and how it relates to their fishing success (or lack thereof). It's not a pleasure book - one to be read on the lawn chair while sipping iced tea. It's a reference book to be studied and used to improve our fishing.


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