Stu Farnham

May 13th, 2002

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


Soft Hackles in America: three books by Sylvester Nemes

The Soft Hackled Fly
128 pages
Stackpole Books
Reprint edition (September 1993)
ISBN: 0811716708

The Soft Hackled Fly Addict
125 pages
Stackpole Books
Reprint edition (September 1993)
ISBN: 0811716716

Soft Hackled Fly Imitations
113 pages
Published by the author; (1991)

Soft hackled flies have great appeal to fly tier, fly fisherman, and trout. The flies are simple to tie and elegant in their appearance, and do not require exotic materials. They are simple and versatile to fish, and will catch trout when fished as emergers, cripples, or searching nymphs or wet flies.

Soft hackles are well established in the history of fly fishing in the U.K. References are found in Dame Julia Berner's a treatyse of fysshyng with an angle (1496). Perhaps the definitive works are Edmonds' and Lee's 1916 Brook and River Trouting and, perhaps best known to modern anglers, Pritt's North Country Flies (1886), and W.C. Stewart's The Practical Angler (1857).

Sylvester Nemes Bozeman, MT, resident Syl Nemes is largely responsible for the popularization of this sparsely dressed style of fly in North America via his three books on the subject: The Soft Hackled Fly (1971), The Soft Hackled Fly Addict (1981), and Soft Hackled Fly Imitations (1991). The former two are available in reprint editions from Stackpole books.

The first book provides a history of the soft hackled fly and of the author's adoption of the style. The historical view traces soft hackles from Berner through the fly fishing literature of both the UK, even placing these flies in the context of the relatively modern work of Halford and Skues. Nemes also ferrets out the few references in the North American fly fishing canon in Schweibert's Nymphs and Leisenring's/Hidy's The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph.

The patterns and methods described in this volume are traditional in nature. Among the patterns are the familiar Partridge & Green, Partridge & Yellow, and Snipe & Purple. Methods are limited to the across-and-down swing.

The Soft Hackled Fly Addict explores the works of Pritt and Edmonds & Lee in depth. All 11 color plates are reproduced from Pritt. Nemes also goes into considerable detail about his own methods for tying and fishing soft hackles, with information on line control, upstream presentations, and more. Another six patterns are added to the 14 presented in The Soft Hackled Fly. A set of pen and ink drawings in 'addict' augment the black and white photographs and tying instructions found in the first volume.

It is too bad that (to the best of my knowledge) no one has issued a reprint of Soft Hackled Fly Imitations. In this, the third and final volume, Nemes' thinking is at its most evolved and original. He goes beyond the traditional attractor patterns described in his first two books to bring soft hackles in line with contemporary hatch matching, presenting modern patterns and methods adapted to specific hatches including the grannom, baetis, pale morning dun, and others. Syl's Mother's Day Caddis soft hackle in a personal favorite of mine for the grannom hatches which follow the March Brown's on Oregon's McKenzie River. I reach for his Syl's Midge in the winter months when the Crooked River is dotted with rise forms but no hatch is apparent.

These are wonderful books, steeped in the history of our sport and building into the present on the historical foundation. They are of equal value to the fly fisher, the fly tier, and the historian. Armed with a good grounding in these traditions, the modern fly tier can add their own variations of this simple but effective style of fly. ~ 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. 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.

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