Fly Fishing - by E. Donnall Thomas
It would be easy to miss this book. Most of us have more books about fly-fishing than are really good for us, and this one's somewhat prosaic title is unlikely to catch the eye of anyone whose shelves are already bulging with Clarke, Gierach, McGuane, Skues and their many partners in fishy crime. But it would be a terrible shame to pass this one by.
For one thing, it is not really about fly-fishing. You will find almost no discussion of techniques, tactics or rigs within its handsomely designed pages indeed, even fly-patterns are treated somewhat scantily (Thomas's advice on fly-patterns for Tierra del Fuego: "Basic anadromous selection, weighted and unweighted"). Instead, it is a guide of sorts to some of the places where you can have a pretty wonderful time trying to catch fish with your flyrods. Arranged geographically, it contains chapters on some of the world's most famous flyfishing destinations, as well as some places and waters of which you have almost certainly never heard. New Zealand, Montana, the Bahamas and Belize are all described and explored in loving detail, alongside other less-travelled spots Christmas Island, Venezuela and Midway Atoll among others.
A casual glance at this book might confirm it to be the usual fish pornography more torrid descriptions of epic battles, accompanied by pictures of tanned, good-looking men and women holding improbably bent rods and enormous fish. But dig deeper and you'll discover that not even the best pornography is this interesting. For sure, you will learn all about the sorts of fish that you can catch in these places.
Along the way, this book describes some of the the mysteries and qualities of all manner of fish that few of us encounter trevally, snook, permit, taimen, amberjack, roosterfish, queenfish and Dolly Varden queue up for our attentions alongside the trout, salmon, bonefish and tarpon that are the staples of flyfishing authors everywhere. At least as interesting, though, are Thomas's lyrical musings on the natural beauty of these places, their history, their people and the myriad other elements that make fishing the remarkable pursuit that it is. Every chapter is full of interesting asides on these other, essential elements - fish markets, frogs, mermaids, manowar birds, shipwrecks, stingrays and there's advice on clothing and seasons, recommended lodges and hotels, cost estimates and expectations, and even recommended reading lists which include wildlife and historical tomes in equal measure with the angling books. Add to that some excellent appendices on potential hazards (bears, snakes and bush-flying in particular), sensible precautions while travelling and standard fly collections, and you have an asset that even with its decidedly American focus should be enough in itself.
But this is still at heart a fishing book, and there is more than enough of that to keep even the most curmudgeonly reader happy. Don Thomas writes as well about fishing as almost anyone alive or dead. There are enough descriptions of screaming reels and bending rods to keep the most hardcore fish lovers happy, but much of the joy of this book is about what he leaves out rather than what he puts in. Size and weight of fish are much less important than the place and time and experience indeed, they are often not mentioned at all. They are shown, often magnificently, for you to draw your own conclusions and the pictures reveal some of the author's unapologetic biases. There are a lot of bonefish and tarpon, for one thing, and there is a marginal emphasis on saltwater flyfishing generally. It is none the worse for that, but if you're looking for exhaustive reference to the trout fishing in New Zealand, for example, you won't find it here (although there is an excellent if sometimes gently disparaging chapter on New Zealand). What it does give you is a powerful urge to go to the places he describes and see it all for yourself. The writing is often poetic, the photography beautiful and the sentiments ringingly authentic.
In short, this is not merely a book about the relentless pursuit and capture of fish - instead, it is a truly affectionate, insightful and entertaining look at what flyfishing is really all about. I came away from reading it with a powerful urge to go fishing with the author more or less anywhere, in the knowledge that fish or none, I would learn something new and fascinating about them and their world. That, for me, has always been the test of a truly worthy writer. In the meantime, I'll have to make do with more of his excellent books. Sean Geer
Sean Geer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance journalist and author. When not writing, he specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in New Zealand, where he failed spectacularly in his quest for a six-pound brown trout. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.
Fly Fishing by E. Donnall Thomas retails for ฃ18.29
Fly Fishing by E. Donnall Thomas is currently available from WHSmith for ฃ16.46 (10% discount)... if you buy through this link we get a 10% commission, half of which we will give to the Wild Trout Society :-)
And we have two copies of this great book to give away!
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