By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
For quite some years now, the classic books of fly fishing have been skating on thin ice. Very thin ice. Recently it appears—at least from where I stand—that the ice has finally given way. With luck a couple of classic titles may flounder for awhile, but the bulk of them seem to be plunging unceremoniously to depths from which only the most intrepid of future anglers might dredge them. Yes, the classics are pretty much gone. I’m taking it hard.
As someone who has a stack of classic titles on my desk, nightstand, and one of the many bookshelves in my home, I feel John’s pain. But I also see some hope for fly fishing books, of which the revised 2nd Edition of Simple Fly Fishing is emblematic.
It’s categorically impossible to call Simple Fly Fishing a classic, but if the angling world can produce more books like this one, then perhaps the classics titles from the early-to-mid 20th century won’t fall into such abject obscurity.
What Simple Fly Fishing Does Well
For starters, this book earns its title. Authors Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo break down the complex world of fly fishing to something more approachable. The intricacies of mayfly hatches and aquatic insect life cycles are illustrated with great detail, helping to roll back that shroud of wonder and mystery. I imagine this will shorten the entomology learning curve every angler goes through.
Also included are detailed descriptions and illustrations on casting techniques, like the one pictured below.
Honestly, this feels like Simple Fly Fishing‘s biggest strength. The illustrations and directions are clear, concise, and easy to understand. If I’d had a book like this when I started fly fishing, I think I’d have picked it up quicker.
A Fly Primer
I’m no professional guide, but on the occasion I take folks fishing who’ve never been, the question I’m asked most is how to know which flies to use, and when.
I had the fortune of learning all about flies from a grandfather who tied commercially for 27 years, and a dad who took me fishing from the moment I could walk. For those not born into a situation like that, this book is a great primer on flies.
It’s not as scientifically-driven as Vincent C. Marinaro’s A Modern Dry-Fly Code or In The Ring of The Rise, so there’s not as much depth as more experienced anglers may expect. The details on flies in Simple Fly Fishing are much more akin to any of Jack Dennis’s books.
As a photographer myself, and a purveyor of fly fishing art and photos, I was absolutely blown away at the quality of the photos in Simple Fly Fishing. They’re above and beyond what I’d expect, and I think for a new angler they add to the grand aura that attracted so many of us to this sport in the first place.
How Simple Fly Fishing Could Improve
Pick Tenkara or Fly Fishing
I’ll likely catch hell for this, but I’m of the persuasion that tenkara isn’t fly fishing. I’ve spent enough time doing it that I feel confident in making that assertion, and I’ll even go so far as to say I believe the same thing about Euro nymphing. Fly fishing, in my mind, involves the act of casting fly line.
I also think both tenkara and Euro nymphing are too complex for beginners. Almost no technique from tenkara transitions to traditional rod and reel, which makes attempting it a waste of time if the goal of a new angler is to learn to fish in the classic “Western” style.
That’s not to mention losing out on the absolute thrill of feeling a big trout take line, and the immediate heft when you’ve hooked a brute.
If the authors would’ve picked a single form of fishing to focus on in this book, the overall instruction and presentation would’ve been much stronger. I know Yvon Chouinard loves tenkara, but out here in the Rockies it’s not practiced much.
More Emphasis on Gear
The authors do a good job describing what kind of gear you need, but fail to give specifics. Craig Mathews says he prefers a “slow-action rod” for dry fly fishing (pp. 125), but unlike the recommendation on tenkara rods for dries – “I prefer Temple Fork Outfitter’s ‘Dry Fly’ model rod (pp. 115)” – there aren’t any recommendations for traditional rods or reels.
With this book being published by Patagonia, they obviously have a vested interest in selling Patagonia gear. But Patagonia doesn’t sell rods or reels, so why not suggest anglers try a Sage X, Winston Air, Scott Radian, or the outrageously-cheap-yet-impressive Fenwick Aetos? This at least gives newcomers a better starting ground than walking into a fly shop, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, asking for a “slow action rod.”
In all, Simple Fly Fishing is just a nice collection of easy-to-digest fishing knowledge from some of the best in the sport. It’s simple enough that newcomers won’t feel intimidated while reading it, but those who’ve only been fishing for a year or two can still learn a lot from it.
I’d like a narrower focus and more specifics on gear, but those are two minor complaints about a work that is, overall, a great introductory tool to the sport of fly fishing.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.