Neil Travis - Nov 04, 2013        

I have had this small pamphlet in my angling library for many years. As you can see it cost a total of fifty cents back when it was for sale at Jack's Rod & Fly Shop in Roscommon, Michigan in the late 1960's.

As you can see from the cover it claims to contain the "Angling knowledge accumulated in 45 years of fishing," and "contains the knowledge of some of the nation's best fishermen." Quite a purchase for a mere fifty cents, however when you open it up the pages, all twenty of them, are blank!

When contemplating the claims of this little pamphlet and the reality that all the pages are blank I am drawn to conclude that is the most appropriately titled book in my entire angling library.

King Solomon was a man of considerable wisdom, in fact, his wisdom exceeded all those of his time in history. Concerning the written word he wrote, "My son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body." Eccl. 12:12 The Bible While this bit of wisdom was written nearly 3,000 years ago I wonder what Solomon would think if he was to visit one of our modern libraries and see the stacks of tomes, many of which are devoted to a singular subject. Certainly it could be said that the writing of many books, articles, blogs, etc. that deal with fly fishing appear to be endless, and the same could be said about many other subjects.

Recently I have been reviewing many of the books in my personal angling library, which, after nearly 50+ years of collecting them is fairly extensive. My nephew, Tom Travis, has a similar library that dwarfs mine in both scope and volume.

I tend to categorize fly fishing literature into two groups – foundational – books written before 1900, and modern – from 1900 to the present. From Dame Juliana to Halford the early authors laid the foundation for the modern sport of fly fishing. This foundational era covers a period of over 400 years [1496 to 1900] and is marked by advances in all phases of the sport. The modern era covers 113 years and is marked mostly by technical advances in tackle. However, I find it interesting that after reviewing books from both the foundational and modern eras I notice that most of the books espouse a certain style of fly fishing that the author puts forth as the only proper way to fish. This goes beyond the idea of dry flies versus wet flies, and has become even more prominent in the fly fishing literature that has appeared since the renaissance of fly fishing that started in the late 60's.

In the foundational era the Halford versus Skues debate, which spilled over into the modern era, codified the basis for the broader debate; fishing the rise or fishing the water but modern era anglers have narrowed that debate even further. The debate in the modern era involves discussions about practices within a given method – imitative verses representational flies, using indicators verses sight nymphing, long verses short leaders, and presentation verses imitation; to name just a few. These debates generate more articles and books, and more confusion for many anglers. This confusion is created from a lack of understanding about how to utilize information. Let me explain.

I have many excellent books in my angling library. Some are technical volumes; aquatic entomology, fly tying instruction manuals, casting dynamics, fly rod construction and similar topics. They do not contain any specific angling techniques, they simply provide information. Then there are other volumes which talk about angling techniques, and this is where discernment is required on the part of the reader.

For example, I have recently been reading a couple books that deal with fly fishing for trout on spring creeks and tail-water streams. The authors of both of these books are excellent anglers and the books are filled with much information that is very valuable to anyone that desires to fish these types of water. However, each author is a very accomplished angler that has spent years perfecting their personal angling style, and it is a mistake to believe that you must adopt their style of angling if you hope to be successful on these types of waters. In fact, both of these authors embrace an angling method that the average angler would find impossible to replicate. Unquestionable both of these anglers are very successful using their methods, but it's important to remember that is the way they prefer to fish, but it's not the only way. This is where discernment is required on the part of the reader.

Recently I left home in mid-afternoon and drove out to one of our local spring creeks. It was a partly cloudy day with a stiff wind blowing upstream and gusting occasionally. I spoke with a couple anglers and they indicated that the fishing was challenging. I walk around some and observed that the Baetis hatch was coming but it was a mixed lot with some regular fall Baetis, size 18, and some much smaller flies - #22 to #24. It is a phenomenon that we have observed this year on many of the streams in our area. It was just cool enough and the wind was just sharp enough to make to decline the opportunity to get into my waders however, I did find a place that was somewhat out of the wind with several nice fish rising within easy casting distance from the bank. Without getting my feet wet and using two simple patterns, a size 18 soft hackle fished dry in the film, and a size #20 pheasant-tail nymph, I proceeded to hook and land a half dozen trout in less than an hour. Now I relate this incident not to show what a great angler I am but simply to show that I was able to catch several nice trout under what other anglers told me was difficult conditions using two very simple flies and a 5x tippet.

Part of the joy of fly fishing is experimentation. Get out on the water and play around try a variety of techniques, make mistakes, enjoy your successes and develop a personal style that works for you. Lose flies and fish, discover what works and what doesn't then try to discover why, observe, enjoy the day, be thankful for life, and remember it's only fishing.

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