Like a lot of people, I keep a couple of lists; one is
of my "most used" flies, much like that many fly fishers
keep. The other, which might be of interest to other
fly fishers, is my list of "Damn You" authors, to which
I made an addition recently.
That list of authors is short, and it isn't a list of bad
authors - I ignore them. It's a very short list of authors
whose book, often small in size but weighty in thought, that
once I start reading, usually looking for some specific
information, I mutter, "Damn you," and continue reading
when I should be doing other things. Right now that list
has grown to six names, in the order they made the list:
Aldo Leopold, Colin Fletcher, Dave Hughes, Datus Proper,
Bill Black, and Art Scheck.
Aldo Leopold wrote a little book entitled
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches
Here and There, which was published shortly after
his death in 1948. A lot of it is about Wisconsin's "Sand
Counties" where I grew up, but more importantly, it has a
powerful message about the land and man's relationship with
it. A Sand County Almanac was and is the bible
of the environmental movement. It went with me to Korea
during the "Forgotten War," and has never been far from
me since. An audio tape of the Almanac is in my car and
gets frequent playing on long drives.
I'm sure many of you recognize the name of Dave Hughes
because he's written nearly two dozen very good books on
fly fishing and related subjects. Dave made my list with
two small books that don't tell much about how to fly fish
but tell a lot about why he fly fishes and places where he
fished: An Angler's Astoria and Big
Indian Creek. Try 'em; you'll like 'em.
Colin Fletcher, a British immigrant, could have made the
list with his books on solo backpacking, especially The
Complete Walker in its three editions. The book that
really nailed his name in my "Damn You" list is a small one
with no "how-to" about backpacking, but a lot of "why-to" and
"why-I-do" about backpacking: The Secret World of Colin
Fletcher. It's a collection of essays about some of
his backpacking trips and his thoughts while out there. An audio
tape of Fletcher reading from "The Secret World" is another
frequently played on long trips.
Datus Proper is another author who made my list with two books:
What the Trout Said, an excellent book on the
design of trout flies, and Running Waters, a
small book of essays about the fish, the people, and the
places he knew during his career in the U.S. Foreign Service
and his retired life on the Gallatin River in Montana.
Running Waters contains very little "how-to"
about fly fishing, while What the Trout Said
tells much about the how of designing flies and the hooks
they're tied on but also much about the why of the designing.
Dr. William C. Black could have made my list had I been
keeping it when I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If the
classes he taught at the University of New Mexico's School
of Medicine were as interesting as his fly tying class that
I took, he must have been on a lot of favorite teacher lists.
His book Hooked on Flies; Confessions of a Pattern
Inventor, led me away from sticking strictly to
someone's recipe for tying a fly and down the path of
modifying flies to suit the conditions of the waters I
fished, like the "Golden Adams," using gold calf hair
for the wings of the traditional Adams dry fly to increase
its visibility. Bill not only entertained me, but "Hooked
on Flies" made me think-a feat in itself.
The latest author to make my list was Art Scheck. He almost
made the list with his book, Tying Better Flies:
Techniques and Tricks for Making Durable and Effective Patterns,
but he did make it with his latest book, Fly-Fish Better;
Practical Advice on Tackle, Methods, and Flies. What
"Fly Fish Better" did was confirm some of the thoughts I
had developed about fly fishing over the years and led me
to think more about why some things were successful astream
and others failed. Will it make me a better fly fisher? We'll
have to wait until the season is fished out.
All of these men are or were fly fishers. Aldo Leopold
fished with a bamboo rod because that's about all that
was available in his lifetime, but I suspect he would
choose it over the plastic rods available today. I can't
recall Datus Proper and Colin Fletcher ever stating their
preference for bamboo, but again I believe it would have
been their choice. I know Dave Hughes has a weakness for
the "lovely reed;" he's stated that in several of his
writings. I'm not sure about Bill Black's or Art Scheck's
use of cane rods, but I would almost bet on it.
These "Damn You" authors have done something few modern
authors have done: written books that make you think about
fishing, people, the environment, and him - or herself.
There is a plethora of books about how to fly fish and
tie flies, but darned few that give you reason to think
about why you do it. Those are the books you'll go back
to looking for specific information and wind up re-reading
again and again, muttering "Damn you." ~ John Colburn,
Phly Tyer, The Soldiers' Home, Washington, DC