Can it be that 3,000 flies have virtually disappeared from our fly boxes? Can it be that names like Carrie Stevens, Preston Jennings, Ray Bergman, and Charles Defeo are no longer known in fly-fishing households? You bet. But they will now gain their just renown thanks to the specialty do-it-yourself book publishers, notable among them Paul Schmookler and Ingrid Sils.
I mention them prominently because they have created the most professionally done, most aesthetically pleasing and beautiful books in the history of fly fishing. Their books reprise for us the best of fly tying. And, fortunately, Schmookler and Sils have only just begun their exhaustive work in book publishing. Their Forgotten Flies is now out (see review in On the Bookshelf), following Schmookler’s initial Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History (Volumes I and II), and there are three more new volumes to come.
The Schmookler/Sils books are not for the faint of heart, small of purse, or diminutive of physical stature. They should be sold by the pound; this one weighs in at 11 pounds, 3.3 ounces, unquestionably the heaviest book in fly-fishing literature. (It costs $5.23 per book to mail under the U.S. Postal Service book rate.) So what’s all the fuss?
The paper is as heavy as it comes in a book—106-pound gloss-art paper—as white as a trout’s belly, and it’s acid-free and printed (unlike magazines) on the world’s best flatbed press. The books are handbound (in China) and there are 500 pages of Schmookler/Sils studio-quality color plates showing over 3,000 flies. Little wonder that this book was priced at $110 before the price increase to $120! It will inevitably sell out quickly, as have all the previous Schmookler offerings, for they have earned their reputations as the cream of fly-fishing books.
Who buys these books? Active fishermen are notoriously value driven, so much so that you’d think few would pay this price of admission. But, as Schmookler points out, there are some 50,000 fly tiers worldwide who specialize in realistic and radical tying techniques and many of them don’t fish. They are a hobby group—a subculture of fly tiers who do not need to fish.
Schmookler has hit on something: Fly tying is a worldwide affinity group whose members are now tied together by the Internet. They talk to each other, and they buy high-quality, high-priced books. His elegant Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials, Volume I, is going into its third printing, to appear this fall, and Volume II is in its second.
Austin “Mac” Francis’s Land of Little Rivers (see review in On the Bookshelf) is another self-published labor of love that no establishment publisher could afford to touch. It’s simply too expensive to turn a writer loose for 25 years and send a world-class photographer upcountry to the Catskills to snap shutters for a year. Costs be damned, Francis decided he would tell the story of the place he has haunted as a fly fisher his entire life, and he got renowned photographer Enrico Ferorelli to spend a full year capturing the Catskill streams and their moods on film.
Land of Little Rivers describes the major (not the only) birthplace of American fly fishing the way no other book has, from the geology, the rivers and their histories to the lives of fly-
fishing icons Theodore Gordon, Art Flick, the Dettes, Ed Hewitt, Harry and Mary Darbee, George LaBranche, Joan and Lee Wulff, and the great regional bamboo rodmakers Pinky Gillum, Hiram Leonard, and Everett Garrison.
The photographs of the legendary split-bamboo rods and heavily-hackled drys and wets recall a gentler time when fly fishing was gaining a small foothold in the post-frontier American culture. It was an era when country boys joined city socialites onstream in the Catskills to learn how to catch the new trout from Europe (browns) on dry flies. The fraternity compared notes and developed the flies that led to many of the modern offerings and adaptations that we use today. These fly-fishing pioneers found their pleasures, and in many cases their livings and reputations, on the Catskill streams.
The Ferorelli landscapes echo the T. Morris Longstreth quote that opens this book: “The Catskills are a well-watered mountainland of Cooper’s tales and the Psalms of David, deep forests and green peaks, no lava flows, no vast sterilities of sand or ice. The holy of holies, however, has always been a quiet place. Let sublimity stun. The heart warms easier to serenely sloping ranges and the sweet-scented streams of man’s oldest pursuit.”
Francis has told this story of the Catskill Mountains sweetly and from his heart.
Graydon and Leslie Hilyard in Carrie Stevens (see review in On the Bookshelf) have portrayed yet another important chapter in the history of our sport—the epic of the Rangeley Lakes region and its legendary fly tier Carrie Stevens. Anyone who has fished these lakes will find this book a haunting reminder that great wild fisheries spawn exceptional fly fishers and tiers. Such sporting challenges create cults of their own where necessity mothers invention, thus the greatest American streamers for lake fishing were created here. Thank goodness the Hilyards took a decade of their lives to research and recall for us the flies that haunted the fishing dreams of our fathers and grandfathers.
We owe the authors of these three books a debt of gratitude. At a risk far beyond any chance of fair monetary remuneration, they made huge investments in time and money to re-create worlds that had great personal meaning for them. They brought those worlds back for us, the fly fishers of the world. Bravo!
Fly Tying Patterns