High-End How-To

[ by Christopher Camuto ]

columnist_camutoI have an impressive stack of how-to fly-fishing books this year, the first on Atlantic salmon, interest in which has only grown in the face of diminished stocks. Salmon anglers are necessarily conservationists, angling naturalists of the highest order. Topher Browne fits this description perfectly. His Atlantic Salmon Magic (Wild River Press, hardbound, 455 pages, $100) begins with a masterful essay on the natural history and distribution of wild Atlantic salmon, their dependence on habitat from the gravel of spawning beds to the peregrinations of the North Atlantic oscillation. Browne’s well-informed admiration for a species he pursues with sporting passion underwrites the practice of his angling. The bulk of the book is a brilliant postdoctoral course in salmon fishing well worth the attention of even seasoned salmon anglers. Although mindful of the history and traditions of a centuries-old sport, Browne is intent on bringing fresh observation and thought to the problem of taking salmon under current conditions: “I strongly believe that it is important to separate fact from fiction when fishing for salmon. Many of the tired maxims of our sport are little more than empty prophecy on the river.” He doesn’t get bogged down in the endless discussion of why salmon take flies, but bears down hard on when and where they take them. His thoughts on reading water in relation to flows are especially instructive. He brings a keen mind to the choice and presentation of dry flies, wet flies, and the hitched fly, as well as tackle, tactics, and techniques. The book is illustrated with world-class photography and includes an extraordinary DVD (Home for Salmon) about the mission of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve on Russia’s Kola Peninsula, an effort to protect the salmon stocks of the Rynda, Kharlovka, and Eastern Litza rivers. 

Topher Browne’s 100 Best Flies for Atlantic Salmon (Wild River Press, softbound, 238 pages, $25) is a small-format album of the patterns that can be put to good use with Browne’s advice on presentation in Atlantic Salmon Magic. Together these volumes give the angler access to Topher Browne’s high regard for the “king of fish” and his considerable expertise in catching them. 

I‘m not sure that the pragmatic Topher Browne would get along with the imperious George M. Kelson (1835–1920), the late-19th-century British salmon fly authority. But The Essential Kelson: A Fly Tyer’s Compendium, compiled and edited by Terry Griffiths (Coch-Y-Bonddu Books, UK, hardbound, 313 pages, $57), will delight and instruct aficionados of the classic salmon fly. Terry Griffiths has brought together all of Kelson’s work on tying salmon flies: the relevant sections of his influential Salmon Fly: How to Dress It and How to Use It (1895), the supplemental Tips (1901), and his series of fly plates, Land & Water. Along with Kelson’s texts, glossed and clarified by Griffith, the book reproduces 78 classic salmon fly patterns tied by Marvin Nolte. Griffith’s purpose is not only to help preserve interest in Kelson’s monumental contribution to the history of the sport, but also to make his patterns and tying techniques available to contemporary tiers. Griffiths’s introduction puts Kelson’s work in historical context, his ornate flies an expression of a Victorian aesthetic. In retrospect, Kelson’s patterns represent the salmon fly evolved into an end in itself, though the flies saw enough casts to catch their share of fish. This excellent book—full of brilliant color photos of these most brilliant flies—will be a boon for accomplished and aspiring tiers. Several limited and deluxe editions of the book are available. See www.anglebooks.com

Tom Rosenbauer, a long-standing angling authority at Orvis, has put a brace of useful fly-fishing books in play. The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing (Rizzoli/Universe Publishing, hardcover, 208 pages, $35) reminds us, in lucid detail, that the pleasures and challenges of small-stream fly-fishing should never be taken for granted. Because we find wild trout, fine surroundings, and relative solitude on small streams, Rosenbauer’s attention to the craft of small-stream angling is timely. In addition to excellent coverage of the subjects you might expect (flies, casting, wading, and such), he is attentive to the varied nature of small streams. Always strong on the subject of reading water, Rosenbauer brings a lifetime of experience to this most essential skill. He distinguishes among several varieties of small streams and offers succinct advice on how to fish them successfully. The Orvis Guide to the Essential American Flies: How to Tie the Most Successful Freshwater and Saltwater Patterns (Rizzoli/Universe Publishing, hardcover, 208 pages, $35), lives up to both its title and subtitle. It is a useful, well-designed pattern book for the beginning and intermediate tier, especially tiers who want to cover a basic range of essential flies for trout, bass, steelhead, and salt water. 

“Each of the Atlantic’s migratory species has its own cult following. And each spring when their favorite fish returns, the afflicted awake from their epoxy-induced tying haze and dig out their waders. When the fish are in it’s game on, and every day on the water brings the hope of a colossal gathering of predator and prey.” So writes Pete McDonald in his and Tosh Brown’s Blitz: Fly Fishing the Atlantic Migration (Departure Publishing, hardbound, 216 pages, $49.95). Writer McDonald and photographer Brown offer up a fine tribute in words and pictures to the free-spirited men and women who fish the Atlantic coast from Maine to North Carolina. They capture the edginess of the edge of the sea—anglers perched on piers and jetties, wading the tidal rips of barrier island beaches, or casting long lines from boats of all description. They remind us of the wonderful juxtaposition of natural and cultural history that clutters the eastern coast in its most fishable locales—the birdlife and bustle, bait shacks and boats, lighthouses and cedar-sided homes. The book is rich in images of the long horizon line to seaward and of the exciting foreground of a littoral churning with the sudden action that characterizes the payoff for the persistent saltwater angler—the air exploding with gulls and terns, then bluefish and stripers suddenly everywhere: the blitz. Offshore, bluefin, drum, and weakfish bend boat rods into classic arcs. The heart of this thoroughly enjoyable book is its interest in the varied personalities, quirks, genius, and gear of anglers driven to fish the coast hard and joyfully from Casco Bay to Jamaica Bay, the Cape to the Banks, Montauk Point to the Susquehanna Flats. 

Chris lives and writes at Wolftree Farm in central Pennsylvania and professes English at Bucknell. He has been angling lately less than he ought, a condition for which he seeks a cure.