Published Jun 30. 2007 - 14 years ago
Updated or edited Mar 29. 2017

Book review: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackled Nymphs

A modern look at this ancient genre of fly fishing. Very well done.

Allen McGee
Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
Publishing year: 
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To borrow a phrase from the great G.E.M. Skues, wet fly fishing continues to be a minor tactic among fly anglers. Granted, there has been an increase in the amount of print (and electronic) media devoted to all manor of wet flies, but if you inspect the bins of your local fly shop or glossy catalog, dry flies and nymphs still rule the trout waters of America. It is not surprising, then, that fishing wet flies, and to a large extent their distant cousin streamers, is the realm of fly tyers who provide their own flies. Unless, and until, a wet fly captures the imagination of the angling public much the way flies such as wooly buggers and copper johns have, wet fly fishing will remain a somewhat obscure part of fly fishing.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

What is curious to me is how wet fly anglers are so fixed on tradition. Most nymph anglers are continually jamming their fly boxes with the latest and greatest contraptions - a Gold Bead Headed Rubber Leg Epoxy Thorax Olive Micro Mayfly Nymph, for instance - whereas a wet fly person will almost get weak in the knees talking about the perfect hackle for a pattern older than dirt - a Waterhen Bloa for instance. When is the last time you heard of a nymph fisherman using a plain old gold ribbed hare's ear? That is not to say there have been no advancements in the world of wet flies - but the primary interest is in tying and fishing flies that are ancient in their origins.

With that said, Allen McGee has given us a modern look at this ancient game. With the support of outstanding camera work and excellent illustrations, he provides anglers both new and experienced with an excellent summary of the topic.

I was curious about the use of "soft hackled nymphs" in the title of the book, as it seems every work prior to this would have considered the topic to be wet flies. Even inside the text he refers to "these soft-hackled wingless wet flies", so I wonder if the title will confuse the potential buyer. Will the person interested in learning more about nymphs wonder why the book concentrates on wet flies, and will the person interested in wet flies leave the book on the shop shelf because it mentioned nymphs? It was an interesting choice in title, to be sure.

Title aside, the book is excellent in every respect. The photography is crisp and clear, in full color on glossy heavy stock paper. The text is excellent - Allen McGee has a very comfortable voice in his writing. The organization of the book is classic - history up front, tying the flies next, then a bit about tackle, closing out with some thoughts on fishing techniques and advice. Mr. McGee clearly knows what he is talking about and has the skill to present it to his readers. There is enough new information to keep veterans interested, but the audience of the book appears to be new tyers and fishers interested I learning more about this style of angling.

The tying section is outstanding - especially the steps required to tie smaller flies with larger hackles - something any fly tyer would struggle with. In addition to the step-by-step instructions (complete with photos), there is also a good pattern index which has a mix of wet flies both old and new, including some patterns which incorporate (gasp) beads in the recipes.

Mr. McGee's book has taken a very deserving place alongside some modern classics such as Dave Hughes' "Wet Flies" and Syl Nemes' "The Soft-Hackled Fly". I recommend it highly.


To bad you feel that...

To bad you feel that way about wet flies. I am 73 yrs old have been fishing Nymphs for over 50 yrs I also
teach Nymph fishing here in Michigan. I started using the old stile wet flies last summer, like the wickams
fancy and the winged hares ear and a few more old patterns, I am a guide here on the Muskegon river and
my friends thought I was nuts to use them old flies. I never caught so many nice fish, some 20 inch browns
and rainbows. I can tell you one thing it's not the flies that are so effective it's the way you fish them, that
makes the the big difference.


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