Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: Selectivity by Matt Supinski

Fishing books are an antidote to winter doldrums. The water beckons but daylight is fleeting, ice guards the banks and fish sulk. I'll still get out there if I can manage but I eventually succumb to the call of the fire, a deep glass of spirits and the company of family and friends. And a good book.

A few weeks ago, I  received a package in the mail containing Matt Supinski's new book, Selectivity. This tome focuses on advice for angling to fussy trout, steelhead and Atlantics. It's a coffee-table-book sized book and is visually stunning. It also has a heft and a feel that book junkies will appreciate.

Most "how-to" books are prescriptive and, frankly, I find them of marginal value. Angling is highly situational and it's hard to take specific advice - fish this fly, go to this spot, wait for this condition - and make it yield a tug on the line. More valuable is the nugget of general wisdom that you can mull and test and the add to your repertoire if it seems to fit. This is the strength of Selectivity. While there is some prescriptive advice, the sweet spot of Matt's book are the observations and the anecdotes that accompany the techniques.

The book starts off with twenty pages that cover angling history and the language Supinski uses to describe the phases of selectivity: Aggressive/Active, Selective/Reflective, and Passive Dormant. The book then shifts into the first of three sections covering trout, steelhead and Atlantic Salmon:

The trout section comprises half of the book and will likely be the greatest benefit for most anglers. The section starts with a detailed discussion of each of the trout species and some behavioral commentary. I didn't expect this section to be valuable but Matt has a very conversational style and he talks about his experience angling for each species. The discussion about lake-run rainbow and brown trout in the Great Lakes make me appreciate the resource even more than I previously did. I've added a trip to Michigan to the bucket list.

Building on Vince Marinaro's work, Matt discusses how trout see surface prey and what the implications are for anglers. Then he gets into the techniques for tempting these trout. It's everything from the obvious (stealth) to the subtle (decoding masking hatches). He also addresses subsurface presentations and, for those keying in on trophy trout, fishing meaty streamers and dries to Active/Aggressive trout both during the day and at night. As a bonus the section also includes details about fishing sixteen hatches that Matt considers foundational knowledge for trout anglers. The section ends with color plates of dozens of flies (recipes for all in the back of the book) with details and anecdotes about several. My favorite is the Big Spring Mouse. It is big and not a mouse.

I spent some time on the Steelhead section as that's where I've recently found some frustration. Matt is known for his expertise in this area and this section, while not as long as the trout section, seems the best organized and most direct. There's almost too much information to gather in a first reading and I've got to go back through it slowly before my next trip. Steelhead fishing is one of those things that rewards time on the water. Matt reinforces this belief talking about the importance of getting to know the river, slowing down the pace of angling and being thorough in each run.

The last thirty pages of the book deal with Atlantic salmon. I didn't spend too much time on this section as it's not something that really interests me. That said, there are pictures of some absolute beasts. Maybe there's something to it after all....

Overall, I like this book and recommend it with two slight reservations. The early chapters don't seem well organized; I had a bit of trouble getting the pace of things. But once Matt hits his stride things begin to click. Also, my copy had two pages with production errors - a slight blurring of the text - which is disappointing in a book that is produced to such high quality. [UPDATE: The publisher checked copies on their end and it seems mine is an isolated example] But these faults don't detract from the overall value of this tome; well worth the price of admission.

If you're in western Connecticut, you can meet Matt at Housatonic River Outfitters on Wednesday, January 22nd at 6 p.m. He'll be there for a book signing and presentation. They'll also be local beer and wine to taste. I'll be there around 6:30 p.m. I hope to see you there.

Selectivity: The Theory & Method of Fly Fishing for Fussy Trout, Salmon, & Steelhead, Matt Supinski, $39.95 or about $36 at online retailers.

Full Disclosure: Stackpole Books sent me the book free of charge for review.

A Passive/Dormant rainbow that I  tempted yesterday with a large yellow stonefly nymph.


  1. Great observation about "how to" books. I agree. So many varying situations. This sounds like a keeper though. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It's got a cover that only a mother could love.