Published Jun 30. 2007 - 16 years ago
Updated or edited Apr 30. 2017

Book review: The Fly-Fisher's Craft

The Art and History

Whoa. This is a really thought provoking book, taking us back through the years of fly fishing and showing us how the craft has developed, from fly tying to hook making to rod building. Really interesting reading, well researched as you would expect from Darrel Martin.

Darrel Martin
The Lyons Press
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I've enjoyed all of Darrel Martin's fly fishing books, and "The Fly-Fisher's Craft" is no exception. In a world where it is often said that there is nothing new to write about fly fishing, Darrel always seems to find a new angle, a new approach, or some interesting research to offer his readers. His latest book takes us on a trip through history to look at the origins of the basic tools of fly fishing - the fly, the hook, the line, and the rod. Anyone who has an interest or appreciation of fly fishing history will enjoy this book.

The book opens with a look at antique tying. One might think this is a look back at Victorian England, where ghillies were holding salmon irons in one hand while wrapping exotic furs and feathers with the other. Not so. Antique to Darrel Martin is ancient Rome circa 200 A.D. That's two hundred- like eighteen hundred years ago. Based on the writing of Claudius Aelianus (who no doubt looked like Russel Crowe and spoke with an Australian accent), Martin gives us his thoughts on what fly tying was like back then, to the point of offering a three step tying sequence for the Macedonian pattern. Red wool with a light ginger hackle wing? I bet that would work today.

Fast forward 1300 years to The Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle, Martin goes forward in time to such luminaries as Charles Cotten, W.C. Stewart, Halford, and Skues. There are several of the original pages of those books, along with a few photographs of modern flies based on the instruction. Plenty of excerpts are included, and explained (some of the old language is hard to understand - especially to American's eyes). My question is - where did he get this stuff?!?

In the chapter "Fly Design", Martin walks us through the basic elements of a fly - the tail, wing, body, etc - and discusses different design options and what purpose they serve. Each section is supported with numerous sketches and photographs and, as you would expect, a great deal of historical references. While this book is not a "how to" book, even experienced fly tyers
will learn a thing or two while reading this chapter.

Probably my least favorite chapter in the book was "Personal Designs", where he goes off into his own favorite flies. Sure, these are interesting flies, and you will learn a thing or two while reading about them, but the chapter seems out of place in the book unless you feel Darrel Martin's personal patterns are of particular historic or artistic importance. While I might be convinced that a fly such as The Shucking Poly Humpy is a personal pattern, I'm not sure how a Clyde style Greenwell's Glory fits. Interesting reading - just not quite fitting with the theme of the book, I guess. Some flies - such as his Peacock Bass fly "The Tracer" - really seems out of place.

He jumps from his favorite flies to the origins of the fish hook. Included in this chapter is a detailed set of instructions for making hooks at home with rather simple tools. It certainly is an extraordinary amount of work for what you get in the end, but I have no doubt in my mind that there are anglers out there who are dying to know how to make their own hooks. Some fly fishers are like that. Myself, I'll stick with my $4 per box hooks made by professionals. I enjoy tying leaders, but I'm not going to extrude my own nylon.
In "The Line", Martin walks us through the origin of the fly line, including how to furl a horse hair line with old fashioned tools, and a tapered furled leader with modern tools and materials. Furled leaders are very popular these days, and I know Martin was at the beginning of their rise from the dead when he wrote his book "Micropatterns", so it's not surprising that he includes his thoughts here.

The last chapter of the book is a discussion of the fly rod, and includes a discussion on how to make a "loop Rod" in which the line is fixed to the rod via a loop-to-loop connection. Again - given what I know of rod builders - someone will make one of these rods and fish with it. Heck - I'm half tempted to give it a try myself. The instructions are not all the difficult to follow, and it would be a fun winter project I bet.
"The Fly-Fisher's Craft" is not for everyone. I know some anglers who really don't care a lick about the origins of flies or tackle, and would just roll their eyes at a story about some old Roman dude out catching trout in Macedonia. These same folks will no doubt believe that furled leaders were invented somewhere during the internet revolution, since much of the word-of-mouth about them spread via online instructions on making them. For those of you who are genuinely interested in how this thing of our started, you will enjoy this book. It is thought provoking, very interesting, and in many ways just plain fun. Give it a try.


I hope Darrel reads...

I hope Darrel reads this peace of literature. I miss the old man,the Rocky Ford is the place where we hooked the nicest fish ever. that fish took an 18 dry fly and ran to my backing. It was a great one and we had a great time!!!!!


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