Stu Farnham

January 6th, 2003

A Fly Fisher's Library
By Stu Farnham

The Internet is a powerful resource. It provides us instant access to information, and brings us together via email, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging. FAOL is a wonderful example of the Internet at its best. The Internet, however, will never replace the printed page.

I've loved books and fishing since my youngest years, although I did not start fly fishing until 1993. This column will give me an opportunity to share reviews of some of my favorite fly fishing and tying books (and some that are not such favorites) with my friends here at FAOL. My library reflects my tastes and interests, and so will this column. It will be heavily slanted towards cold water fishing and tying for trout and steelhead, and won't touch much on areas of which I know little, such as warm or salt water fishing.

I hope that these reviews will motivate some of you to pick up a good book, on this or any subject, and read. ~ Stu Farnham


Dry Line Steelhead and Other Subjects

Dry Line Steelhead and Other Subjects
by Bill McMillan
Paperback; 144 pages
Publisher: Frank Amato Publications, (January 1988)
ASIN: 0936608625

Tonight I am tying Bill McMillan's beautiful and beautifully named Winter's Hope. It has been a dry fall here in western Washington, but the rains returned this week, and with them, the hope of fresh, bright winter steelhead.

As the legends of steelheading go, Bill McMillan is a relative newcomer. Born in the foothills of the Oregon Cascades above the Clackamas River, Bill has lived most of his life in Clark County, Washington, where he has fished the famous and little known rivers of the Columbia River system, notably the Wind and the Washougal. Dry Line Steelhead and Other Subjects is a collection of McMillan's essays on fishing, mostly for steelhead and mostly with a floating line. The essays, published over a period of years in periodicals such as The Flyfisher, American Angler, and Salmon Trout Steelheader, are augmented with letters from Bill's personal correspondence.

McMillan's life as a fly fisher spans the period of dramatic decline in wild steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, Bill is an eloquent spokesman for our wild fish populations, arguing eloquently based on both personal observation and scientific research that hatchery stocks have both harmed wild, native populations by competition for food and spawning habitat and by weakening of the gene pool. While this is conventional wisdom, McMillan also points out that, in many watersheds, massive infusions of hatchery fish have barely increased the total steelhead return above pre-hatchery native levels. For example, an average plant of over 76,500 smolts per year in Washington's Wind River over the period 1961 through 1977 resulted in an average catch of only 1100 fish per year over corresponding period of return. In the last year prior to the hatchery returns, to total catch was 838 fish.

Along with the essays arguing his case for the preservation of wild fish, there are some wonderful pieces about fishing. In The Railroad Grade Bill talks about his introduction to fly fishing and his early days fishing Oregon's Deschutes River with his father. Winter's Hope and the Steelhead Caddis introduce two of the four fly patterns for which Bill is known (the others are the Washougal Olive and the Paint Brush). Steelhead to the Fly: Season by Season reviews flies and tactics that can be used to catch steelhead at various water levels and temperatures; McMillan points out that these, and not the calendar, are what drive fish behavior and should therefore drive the methods and patterns we use.

The book is illustrated with eight pages of color plates and numerous black and white photographs taken by McMillan as he fished the Pacific Northwest.

This book is long out of print. However, if you, like me, share Bill McMillan's passions for wild steelhead, conservation, and the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, it is worth seeking out. Feel free to send me an email, and I will refer you to several dealers in used sporting books who should be able to help you locate a copy. ~ Stu Farnham

About Stu

Stu tying Stu Farnham is a New Englander by birth, who was transplanted to and put down roots in Oregon in the early 1990s, now residing in the Seattle area. A software engineering manager by vocation, he can be found in his spare time chasing trout and steelhead in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, chasing his four Gordon Setters (who in turn are chasing chukar), tying flies, reading, or working on his website. Colleen, his long suffering wife of 28 years, is a professionally trained personal chef.

Previous Stu Farnham Book Columns
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