Stu Farnham

May 20th, 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

The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph

The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph
James E. Leisenring and Vernon S. Hidy
second edition, 1971
Crown Publishers, New York

It is fitting that this small book (160 5"x7" pages, 30 of which are forwards and introductions) is dedicated "To G.E.M. Skues Master Angler and Talented Writer." This is the first book in the North American fly angling canon to be devoted to the tying and fishing of subsurface flies. In fact, Leisenring is often referred to as "the American Skues," and the two corresponded by mail for a number of years prior to Skues' death in 1949. Ernest Schwiebert's introduction to the 1971 edition does a fine job of placing Leisenring and Hidy's work in the historical contexts of both UK and North American fly angling literature.

James Leisenring The book was originally published in 1941 as The Art of Tying the Wet Fly, by Leisenring "as told to Vernon S. ['Pete'] Hidy. When Nick Lyons approached Hidy about printing a second edition in 1971, twenty years after Leisenring's death, Hidy was asked to update the original text and to add his coda on fishing the flymph. Leisenring favored wingless wet flies; Hidy coined the name 'flymph' because he felt these imitations represented the emerging stage, between the nymph and the adult fly.

Vernon S. ['Pete'] Hidy This is mostly a fly tier's book. Only a single chapter each from the wet fly and flymph sections deals with methods. The book is notable for one of the methods it introduces: the Leisenring lift, and the chapter which describes it is a scant 3 pages long. Fished by many today as a searching method during early stages of a hatch, Leisenring employed it in more limited circumstances, fishing at relatively short distances to spotted fish.

The picture of Leisenring that emerges from this book is of a meticulous fly tier whose choices were made based on experience and careful observation. While the chapters on tools and hooks are pretty much dated, there is good information in the chapter on hackles, which the modern tier of wingless wets, flymphs, and soft hackles will find useful. Jim had very specific opinions about bodies, opinions which were validated 40 years later by the observations of Gary LaFontaine.

"Since the bodies of most trout stream insects are somewhat translucent the fly tier must choose materials to imitate them with qualities which produce or reproduce those little sparkles of light which transmitted light gives to the bodies of natural insects," he says in the opening paragraph of the chapter on body materials. Leisenring preferred dubbed fur bodies as he felt that other materials such as stripped quills lacked the necessary translucence. Jim had his own method of preparing pre-spun dubbed bodies much like those made with dubbing loops. He prepared a number of bodies at one time, in colors blended to match his streamside observations of the naturals, and save them on cards for later use in tying.

Chapters are devoted to the details of his method of tying winged wets and nymphs, accompanied by clear pen and ink illustrations and followed by a chapter detailing his favorite fly patterns.

The first couple of chapters of "Fishing the Flymph" describe the importance of the emerging insect as a trout food and so also to the fly fisherman. Hidy dismisses the notion that wet flies are strictly a searching pattern, describing the use of flymphs in hatch matching situations. Rick Haefle's March Brown flymph is perhaps my favorite fly for this early season hatch in the Pacific Northwest. Since March Browns often emerge on cold, rainy days, they can be slow to escape the surface film, and so are ideally matched by a flymph fished damp.

The final chapter describes methods for fishing the flymph. I have found that flymphs can be fished upstream as dry flies, then, pulled beneath the surface and fished damp or wet when drag sets in.

Copies of the 1941 edition are both scarce and expensive. Copies of the 1971 edition are easier to find, and there is rumor that a reprint in the works. ~ 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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