Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Essential American Flies

Good saddle hackle and the heft of a good book are two simple, yet fine, joys in life.

Good saddle hackle
Whiting trumps others
I don't often have the need for good dry fly hackle. I nymph a lot so dubbing, assorted animal parts and flashy synthetics make up the bulk of my tying. The few dries I tie usually rely upon deer hair or rabbit's foot for flotation. But there does come a time when one needs more Stimis for dry-dropper rigs or a a turn of hackle for a Quigley.

The hackle I have, Metz capes, is generally crap. Sparse. Twisty. Tapered. Did I mention how sparse they are? Everything a dry fly hackle should not be.

For a long time I've looked longingly at Whiting saddles. They're described as lusciously dense and true to size and splendid to wrap. I never got around to buying some and now on account of the global hackle shortage they can only be found in hair salons. But thanks to ebay and a few fly shops selling online, Whiting 100s are pretty easy to come by. I ordered some.

After tying my first Whiting hackled fly (a yellow Stimi), I declare them worth every penny. Luxurious. Dense. Twistless. Save your pennies. Buy some.

Metz Cape on Left. Whiting Saddle on Right. You decide.

The heft of a good book
I'm a sucker for a good book. I don't mean one that tells a good tale or informs on something relevant or important. I'm talking about the feel of the book in the hand. The construction of the binding. The texture of the cover. The feel and, yes, the smell, of the pages. Those of you who understand are nodding slowly in appreciation, perhaps envisioning one of your favorite books; one with good "hand". The rest of you think I'm friggin' nuts (and are dreaming up "hand" puns to put in the comments).

On the subject of fly fishing and fly tying I have several many too many just the right amount of books. Fly tying books by their nature are "how tos" and the best are either reference materials for how to tie certain stuff onto hooks (the Fly Tier's Benchside Reference  comes to mind) or are pattern books. Of course, the internet and its myriad websites and tying videos has largely made the pattern book obsolete. I especially use the web for finding pattern recipes and find pattern books less useful and desirable these days. Unless you're a "book person" books with patterns aren't as valuable as they once were.

Which in a long winded way brings me to subject at hand.

I was up in Manchester at the mother ship and saw the new book by Tom Rosenbauer, The Orvis Guide to Essential American Flies. I didn't know what to expect though as I thumbed through the pages I thought, "Ah, a pattern book, I know how to tie these flies, let's move on."

But as I held the book and thumbed through it again it was one of those books that just felt right and so I made the purchase ($35 at Orvis but you can get it for $23 on Amazon) and gave it a read.

This book does have recipes for the flies that most of us carry when trout fishing (with a few saltwater flies as well) so is a valuable resource for tiers from that perspective. Almost all the photography in the book is by Tom and is top notch. I need to shoot him an email to learn his techniques for shooting flies in the vice; crisp and detailed.

Detailed, illustrated instructions
Each section includes the history of the fly and in most cases first hand personal accounts of Tom's discussion with the creator of the pattern. Some of this history is not only the history of the fly but the history of our sport. One or two of the stories I knew but the others were new to me.

The step-by-step instructions are illustrated, detailed, include tips as well as Tom's own brand of humor (those of you who listen to his podcast will know what I mean). My favorite is in his instructions on the Royal Wulff:
...If you put too much tension on these wraps, the thread will creep up the wings and those black winds over the white wings will show up in the finished fly. And no brown trout more than six inches long will ever take your fly when it sees how sloppy it is....
Who knew there was so much variation
in Elk Hair?
Each pattern also include popular variants of the fly and its recipe. Each pattern that introduces a new material has an extensive sidebar on the material, how to select a good specimen as well as material variations that can be used for different purposes. You'll also be introduced to techniques for handling materials as well as discussions about how to fish the flies.

Did I learn anything from the book? Yes. The history stuff was mostly new to me. I now have an appreciation for the use of the various types of Elk Hair I own and I can now tie a Stimulator in the proper proportions.

Overall, I rate this book very high and well worth the purchase price. Not only is it a good pattern book but it condenses tips and techniques you might find in a tome like the Benchside Reference to those that are relevant to patterns we all use. And as a bonus, you get it all in the Rosenbauer conversational manner that is so effective in the podcast.

Buy some good hackle. Tie some of the classics.


  1. Good saddle hackle and the heft of a good book are two simple, yet fine, joys in life.

    A very fine opening line. A pretty good review as well. THANKS!

  2. Whiting 100's have been good for me, although most of what I tie are streamers and drys. About the book, you can't have enough fly tying books.


  3. Whiting 100 packs are worth the money.
    Real quality.

    1. I'm glad I made the plunge. They tie beautiful flies.

  4. I don't tie any dries yet as most of my fishing is nymphing as well, so I currently buy my dries but this is helpful for sure. Thanks!

    1. You're welcome! I would start your dry tying with Deer Hair flies like Comparaduns and Sparkle Duns. Just make sure you buy some fine, or Comparadun Deer Hair.

  5. My essential American flies are all British.

    1. Yesterday, a chap from the U.K. made the comment that it's the "English" language not the "American" language. I said that it may be spelt E-N-G-L-I-S-H, but it's pronounced /əˈmerikən/

  6. Enjoyed that Steve, I'm going to have to try the Whiting hackles now. I've always questioned whether they were worth it or not, now I have a review to go with! Now to take the plunge...

    Also really enjoyed reading the painfully obvious tips.


    1. Thx, Scott. Yeah, I was surprised at how nice the hackle is.