For quite some years, the classic books of fly fishing have been skating on thin ice. Very thin ice. It appears now—at least from where I stand—that the ice has given way. With luck a couple titles may flounder for awhile, but the bulk of them are sinking unceremoniously to depths from which only the most intrepid of anglers might dredge them. Yup, the classics are pretty much gone. I'm taking it hard.
Try finding a classic on the shelf of a fly shop or bookstore today. It's nearly impossible. Explanations for their absence run to: "They don't sell." "No one is interested." "No one has time to read anymore." "Old information." "It's all on the Internet." Heck, it isn't easy today to find even one fly shop employee or guide that has read a classic. Doubly so (or more) if they're under the age of thirty-five. But it's not only the folks in the fishing business. Anglers of all ages and stripes have been eschewing the classics for a long time. I can think of several reasons why they shouldn't.
As in any genre of writing, the classics of fly fishing represent the best of what has been thought and said on the subject. It's that simple. The ideas contained in them are good enough to believe in. The essential truths they reveal are ones which, to this day, we profit from. No disrespect towards current fishing writers, but the authors who penned the classics were more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, more articulate. They showed us the way, and did it beautifully.
Along with their technical insights, the classics provide something else of at least equal value (to my way of thinking). They provide the philosophical foundations by which we define our engagement with the sport. That is to say, in addition to showing us how to catch fish, they also present a system of values and beliefs by which we can fish. Values that have proven meaningful enough over the long term to serve as models for entire angling careers. (My own fishing has been satisfyingly directed by the classics for some forty-plus years and counting.)
The classics also help us understand our origins and how we arrived at where we are today. I think that's good stuff, and knowing something about the history of what I do adds infinite enjoyment to my days astream. If you've never read a fly fishing classic, try one now—while a few remain afloat.
Looking for a place to start? Consider Nymph Fishing for Chalkstream Trout by G.E.M. Skues and A Modern Dry Fly Code by Vince Marinaro.
December 6, 8:54 a.m., West Yellowstone, Montana.
A friend and I went fishing one afternoon last week on the Madison in the Park. We had our sights set on doing some Baetis fishing, and were hopeful that we'd find some big fall-run fish rising. When we pulled over to look at the river above Seven Mile bridge, a vicious upstream wind accompanied us. Mayflies were already emerging. Fish were feeding. We felt that we had to fish, and knew that it wasn't going to be easy.
Our flies were #22 Sparkle Duns, our tippets 6x, our leaders fairly long. A difficult setup to control, but from previous days experience one that we knew was necessary. My friend was excited and wasted no time in singling out a big fish. He waded out and began casting. In short order, he put the fish down. On to the next one. After several casts, same result. And then twice more. What was going on here?
My friend is an excellent caster. Perhaps too good, for I believe this was his downfall. He had chosen to approach each fish from cross-stream, in deference to the river's tricky currents and the need for a drag-free drift. But casting cross-stream in such a violent wind requires driving the fly to the target at high speed in order to achieve accuracy. My friend had no problem doing just that, but in the process was unable to get sufficient slack into his leader. Almost immediately his casts dragged, something those big fish wanted no part of.
I took a different tack. Figuring that the wind was too strong to fight, I deferred to it instead of to the currents. I cast straight upstream, wind at my back, which permitted me a reasonable degree of accuracy and a chance to bring my fly down softly. With luck, I'd also get a little slack. (This upstream approach also enabled me to get closer to the fish, which made the presentation easier yet.) I didn't catch as many fish as I hoped for (do we ever?), but I got some fine ones. I attributed their capture exclusively to my approach.
Talking afterwards, my friend was hesitant to accept that our respective angles of approach were responsible for his failure and my success. But there is no doubt in my mind. I've seen the same thing happen too many times.
So the next time you find yourself fishing in high wind, consider giving in to it. Put it at your back, regardless of what approach other factors might favor. Hopefully, it will help you as much as it's helped me.