Published Sep 6. 2008 - 12 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 13. 2015

Book review: LaFontaine's Legacy

The Last Flies from an American Master
The Lyons Press
Publishing year: 
Al and Gretchen Beatty
Reviewed by: 

It's hard to believe it's been over six years since Gary LaFontaine passed away from ALS. Among fly fishers and fly tyers, he was well known but I don't believe well understood. He looked at things differently from the average guy - and I don't think anyone would argue that such a viewpoint came through in his fly tying. Some of his flies - the Airhead, the Mohawk, the Double Wing - never gained widespread popularity like so many other more classic looking flies. Certainly his "sparkle pupa" series of flies are quite popular, but if you look at his writing over the years, there are dozens and dozens of flies that never caught on in the public.

His flies were never the sort to grab your attention in a glossy magazine or catalog. They looked different. Their purpose and reason for being was not immediately apparent. So many flies look alike - the difference between a Quill Gordon and a March Brown isn't all that exciting if you think about it - that when you see Gary's flies you can't quite place them in context with what we know and are comfortable with. To understand them - and what he was thinking - you had to read his books. Many who have taken the time to read the text come away with a richer understanding of trout behavior and the triggers that may cause them to strike at our flies, and a deeper appreciation of Gary and his dedication to understanding what makes trout tick.

With LaFontaine's Legacy, Al and Gretchen Beatty - no slouches in the fly tying department themselves - close the book on one of the most creative and innovative fly tying minds we've ever known. Ever the tinkerer, Gary wanted to publish one more work, capturing the new and changed flies he invented. As Al mentions in the forward, he started an outline, but that's as far as it went. Ordinarily - that would be the end of the story - but Al, Gretchen, and other friends took it upon themselves to finish what Gary started. The results are "The Last Flies from an American Master".

It's a beautifully done book. Each chapter is dedicated to an individual fly (or - in some cases - a "style" of fly), opening with an essay filled with anecdotes about how the authors remember the fly - how it was created or fished or whatever. It reads sort of like a bunch of guys sitting around the wood stove swapping stories, and I bet that's pretty close to how it was actually written. While you might not get every bit of Gary's thinking behind each fly, you will certainly get an appreciation for what he was trying to accomplish.

Each chapter comes complete with fly recipe and clearly photographed tying procedures, so that everyone can tie these flies. As with most of Gary's flies - they are not complicated or intricate. Tyers of all skill levels will be able to handle these flies, and with tyers like the Beatty's, you know the examples shown in the book are perfect.

Think about this - what sort of man must Gary have been for these people to take time from their lives and devote it to a project of this magnitude? I can think of no finer tribute. My hat is off to Al, Gretchen, and everyone else who contributed to this work. May Gary rest in peace, and may anglers everywhere enjoy his contributions to angling for generations to come.


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