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  • A Primer of Fly-Fishing

    By Roderick Haig-Brown
    ISBN: 0-295-95932-0
    (Fourth Printing with an introduction by Nick Lyons)
    189 pages, 18 Chapters.

    “Good sense and gentle wisdom rooted in long experience never go out of fashion” are Nick Lyons’ first words which fittingly introduce us to the coming words of a legendary fisherman. Some eighteen years after the first printing, how else would one approach introducing a book by Mr. Roderick Haig-Brown?

    Now, forty some odd years after Nick Lyon, I’m humbled to introduce to you this fine collection of gentle instructions and sage reminders.

    So with that, where else would a fly-fisher being, but with worms? Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. The first chapter extols the virtues of worms, particularly the process of learning the craft of fishing with limited resources that fit the abilities of a youth – a pole, some line, a hook and a worm. The value in this style of learning I can attest to, as it is how I learned to read the water and stalk fish much in the way described.

    From there, the chapters progress naturally as would the development and curiosity of any fisher. From worms, we are guided to fly fishing. Though many chapters are dated in their information, well crafted prose on the topics of rods, reels and lines brings to light the history and progression of these technologies. Wooden and cane as well as fibreglass rods, their design and construction, are married with a natural bias towards English reels and silk lines. The affection for the tools of fishing is evident in the writing and the sense of a deep personal attachment. A brief chapter on hooks segways nicely into what many of us fly fishers spend the rest of our time obsessing about.

    Flies and fly tying techniques are covered in several chapters. Beautiful sketches of various flies dot many of the pages. Both dry and wet flies are discussed, and I particularly enjoy the straightforwardness of the discussion, that, and the myriad of drawings of patterns not commonly used on our streams and lakes, such as spiders and traditional wet flies.

    Of course, no book on fly-fishing would be complete without a chapter on knots and gadgets, but more importantly, a chapter on casting. Haig-Brown’s enjoyment of casting as a pleasure in itself is evident. What lacks in pictures is made up in words. Though not in a step by step sequence as enumerated and illustrated in many modern fly casting magazines, the instructions are laid out simply and the maxims are as true then with a cane rod as they are today with carbon composite. Shooting line and considerations for wind and obstructions lead into a separate chapter on the roll cast and a brief discussion on double hauling.

    From there we get into the fishing of it. Wet fly fishing is broken down into several categories: The ordinary wet fly, nymph fishing, greased line fishing, streamer fishing, and the deeply sunk fly. Chapter ten is dry fly fishing, and considers what was then the orthodox way to prepare and fish a line. The often troublesome subject of drag is dealt with seriously and gives way to the art of persuading a fish to rise by way of imparting natural movement with subtle spider style flies or intrepid hair wing flies.

    From the presentation of a fly, Haig-Brown takes us to the next step. After one persuades a fish to rise and to take, of course one needs to know when to strike and how to get that fish to hand. Playing the fish through obstructions, swift currents as well as dealing with powerful runs and jumps is a pleasure and a challenge described in detail. The wealth of experience of Haig-Brown is evident in the level of detail he has noticed in the signs of a fish ready to come to shore as compared to a fish just about to take off on a knuckle busting run. Lastly, and with great importance, even contemporary of Haig-Brown’s day where fish were in much greater numbers than today, is how to release a fish peacefully and respectfully.

    How to wade, boat, predict and stalk land fish in streams, lakes, estuaries and beaches is not limited to only trout and it’s closer cousins, but is certainly the focus of these middle and latter portions of this book. The final chapters leave us with some direction for some further reading, some varied opinions on being a “purist” and of course a deep consideration of ethics and aesthetics of the art. It is in these final chapters where one most vividly sees Haig-Brown as a gentleman and an open hearted thinker who is sure of the sublime and beautiful connectedness of all things great and small.

    Putting A Primer of Fly-Fishing side by side with newer books such as The Gilly, one can see a pleasing continuation of the long ripples in a fine tradition to which Roderick Haig-Brown belongs. A Primer of Fly-Fishing is a classic that, along with all my rods, reels, lines and flies, I’d trade for just for a few moments in my very early youth to have met the man, Roderick Haig-Brown. But I’m glad that, in his stead, there still lay many a fish to be caught and his words to guide me to them.

    By Btree,
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Rick Baerg's Avatar
      Rick Baerg -
      Great review btree, thanks for sharing!! Click here to enlarge