by John S. Barr, photography by Charlie Craven
John Barr is probably best known as the creator of the Copper John, and "Barr Flies" describes how to tie and fish that and many other flies. The book combines design rationale, discussion of naturals, fishing tips and step-by-steps to great success. An excerpt describing the Web Wing Caddis pattern, in Fly Fisherman magazine, was what encouraged me to buy this book.
There are 20 flies described in the book. The first 4 chapters all deal with variations of the Copper John. I can't help feeling these 40 pages could have been shortened up a bit. There are also patterns for all the usual suspects, stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, as well as craneflies, damselflies, hoppers and some streamers. There's a good range for the whole water column from top to bottom. All of Barr's patterns are very slick and commercial looking, for want of a better term. They look well designed to catch both fish and anglers - the damsel nymph is particularly fetching - and I have no problem with that. They seem like practical and not overly fussy designs.
Each chapter starts off with text which covers a range of topics. There is usually some motivation for the pattern, a discussion of what the fly is or isn't imitating, tips for fishing it and the occasional anecdote. This text section can be quite long, running to several pages in some cases. For the most part it's interesting and worth reading. The text is often accompanied by nicely photographed grip-and-grin and fish porn, as well pictures of the finished fly, the creature being imitated and the odd black and white illustration. As you might expect, there are also the fly recipes, which are easy to follow.
Next come the step-by-steps. These are definitely a high point of the book. They are all tied and photographed by Charlie Craven, and both the photography and tying are excellent. The photos are large and clear. Each step is well described by accompanying text. The step-by-steps definitely haven't been scrimped on, the most complex fly in the book has 12 pages of steps! Funnily enough this is the one fly in the book I wouldn't tie, because it has a deer hair bullet head and I don't find that very durable. The construction techniques are interesting though. Aside from that particular fly all the patterns are fairly straightforward. One thing I really liked was that some of the flies are shown wet, which brings them to life.
There are handy little boxes describing appropriate bead and wire sizes for the different sizes you might tie the fly in. The final part of each chapter has any pattern variations. These take the form of fly recipes, sometimes accompanied by a photo of that particular variation.
The last chapter in the book talks about fly combos, rigging and fishing multiple flies of various sorts. This is also discussed throughout the book, but having it collected together in one place is handy. Barr is very much into using multiple flies. His Hopper-Copper-Dropper system combines a big dry (Hopper) on the top, followed by a Copper John and then a nymph on a dropper below that. That's actually more or less how I fish rivers, and often on lakes. Many of the approaches Barr espouses will be familiar to New Zealand fisherman and others as "NZ style" nymphing, with droppers tied off the bend of other flies. This chapter also features pictures of Barr's fly boxes, which can be seen on the Fly Fisherman magazine website. Interesting stuff, I wonder if he keeps them so tidy all the time...
My favourite fly from "Barr Flies" is the Graphic Caddis. What really grabbed me about it initially was the appearance of the fly when wet. It just looks so buggy, with a very subtle amount of flash. I've caught a few fish on size 14 olive ones, on both rivers and lakes, and a couple on a brown one. My next favourite pattern is the Web Wing Caddis, although I haven't fished it much and haven't caught anything on it yet! I blame the fish.
There are a few things I don't like so much about the book. One is that the step-by-steps run top to bottom, left to right rather than across the page, which I always find a bit harder to follow. I keep looking up to the next step to find I'm looking at the wrong one. The black and white sketches used to illustrate various points, while helpful, do look too much like sketches rather than finished drawings. They don't match the quality of the photography. Finally, I feel there is quite a bit of filler in the book. For example the variations for the Pure Midge pattern take up a whole page, spread over two, and the only thing which differs is the colour of thread used in the fly. Overall these aren't big issues though, and for me just prevent a very good book being a great one.
The book is very nicely put together, with good quality paper and excellent reproduction of the equally excellent photos. My copy is hardback. There's a good index of the fly patterns at the back. Normally in a book with this much text I would expect a general index, but a lot of the pertinent content is gathered in the last chapter so it's not a big deal.
As an aside, step-by-steps for the patterns can be found on Charlie Craven's website, along with many others. However the presentation of certain aspects of the fly, such as the recipe, are better in the book. In fact some of the content of the book is also available on the Fly Fisherman magazine website, though usually in an abbreviated form.
All in all "Barr Flies" is a book is worth having, and it's a cut above many pattern books. The fishing tips are almost as useful as the fly patterns. As already mentioned, the photography for the step-by-steps is superb, as is the tying. I'll certainly be tying up and fishing a few more flies from this book.
Reviewed by Jo Meder
Book details, as reviewed:
Published in 2007 by Stackpole Books
RRP $39.95 USD
Jo Meder (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in New Zealand's South Island on the side of a mountain. Since rediscovering fly fishing a few years ago he's become a hopeless addict and can often be found roaming the banks of both rivers and lakes, supporting his habit through work as a software developer. One day he will catch a fish from his kayak. He likes to cast just because and seeks to pass on the enjoyment of casting in his capacity as an FFF Certified Casting Instructor.