When The Long “S” Held Sway

Not many angling books survive for over three hundred years, but our local library has one such volume—The Anglers Sure Guide (sic). The photo above shows the title page, and in the lower right corner the year of publication: 1706. Holding this book in hand, I find it impossible not to wonder about its centuries-long journey from England to West Yellowstone. Who were its owners? How many owners have there been? Where did they live, and fish? Did they study and actually apply the advice proffered within? By what means did the book come to reside in America?

The Sure Guide’s twelve sections tell us pretty much all we need to know about fishing, and are yet another reminder that the only thing new in fishing is the history we haven’t read. Sections X, XI, and XII are particularly interesting in the sense that, even three hundred years ago, there was great concern over access to the water and getting along with our fellow anglers. (Some things never change.)

If you’ve never felt a sense of connection to the long history of angling, holding a book like this in your hands will remedy that right quick. When next you find yourself in West, I heartily recommend trying it.

The Truths We Accept

Another Plate From Halcyon

How to Tie Flies

In 1861 Henry Wade authored Halcyon; or, Rod-Fishing with Fly, Minnow, and Worm. It’s an obscure book (with a great title) and it contains some charming plates associated with fly fishing. Pictured above is the plate showing “a short and easy method of dressing flies”. Not entirely dissimilar from what we do today as fly tiers. The colors and detail of this plate are rather striking to behold in person, especially so given its publication date. A copy of Halcyon resides in the West Yellowstone library, and for those with an artistic or historical bent it’s well worth reviewing. 

More From Ronalds

This resplendent print—to me, one of the most beautiful in all of flyfishing—is from the 6th edition of Alfred Ronalds The Fly-Fishers Entomology, published in 1862. It wasn’t a feature of the first edition, but it was included by the fourth, published in 1849. Regardless, in showcasing the gamefish of the English chalkstreams (Brown trout, Grayling, and Atlantic salmon) the colors and detail are fabulous. Click image to enlarge.   

The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology

It should surprise no fly angler that paying close attention to insects, both aquatic and terrestrial, has a long history in our sport. After all, insects represent the root of fly fishing; without them there is no basis for the sport.

In 1836 Alfred Ronalds wrote The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology, the first comprehensive study of the insects that trout feed on. Not only was his book groundbreaking in its content, it also established the model that all angling entomologies published since then have followed. The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology also set the standard for quality of printing—every plate in the book is utterly magnificent. There’s no hyperbole in saying that in the almost two hundred years since publication, no equal exists among fishing books. Yes, the copper plates are that beautiful. (My photograph barely hints at this beauty.) 

To appreciate the printing, you’ll need to see a first edition. Subsequent editions, though also nice, are not the same. A certain delicacy and nuance to the colors of the first edition allows it to stand alone, unrivaled. As you might guess, first editions of this book are rare (and expensive). The West Yellowstone public library now possesses one, a part of the recently gifted Herb Wellington collection. As one of the seminal volumes in our sport—essentially defining what we do onstream and why—no serious angler should pass on the opportunity to browse the text and admire the plates.

An exquisite joy, to be sure.

I’ll See You in Boise

On January 10 and 11, 2020, I’ll be in Boise, Idaho, presenting programs at the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo. The expo is a yearly event put on by the Boise Valley Fly Fishers, and it features presentations by well-known fly fishermen and fly tiers from around the country. On Friday, January 10, I’m scheduled to do a casting seminar at 3:30 p.m., followed by a slideshow at 5:00 p.m. On Saturday, January 11, I’ll be casting again at 10:30 a.m. and presenting a slideshow at 4:00 p.m.

My casting seminars will focus on sharing what a fundamentally sound casting stroke looks and feels like, and showing easy fixes for some of the most common casting problems. If you want to know how to straighten out your line, leader and fly on every cast, how to prevent wind knots, and how to cast in the wind, be sure to stop by. My slideshows will be part photography workshop, part fishing talk, with a focus on the Yellowstone area.

It’s been a while since I last passed through Boise, so I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends and familiar faces again. If you can make it to the show, please do. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you.

A Brown Trout Quirk

For the past several seasons I’ve been spending much of my fishing time pursuing brown trout. Free-rising brown trout. While so engaged I’ve been reminded countless times of a feeding quirk particular to this species.  It’s this: Brown trout react to food according to their own whims and fancy, completely independent of its presence and abundance. Surround them with a good hatch, spinner fall, or stonefly flight, and brown trout might feed readily, might feed haphazardly, or maybe not at all. Give them the sparsest of hatches and it’s possible for every brown in the river to be on the fin, taking anything that drifts nearby. You just never know.     

Other trout species don’t act like this. Rainbows, cutthroat, brook trout—they all exhibit feeding patterns that pretty much correlate directly with the availability of food. When food abounds they can be counted on to eat it, and eat it well. When food is sporadic, so too is their feeding. But not the brown trout; they feed according to their own schedule. (A Henry’s Fork rainbow can be fickle like this too, but still fails to rank in the same class as a brown.)

What implications does this behavior have for fishing? For one, it suggests that patience is often going to be a key to success. Don’t give up too soon if fish aren’t responding early in a hatch. Brown trout can take what feels like forever to come on to a hatch. Even then, they frequently give the impression that rising is something of a bother, practically more trouble than it’s worth (uh, easily acquired, abundant food? Who cares?).

This quirk of feeding also means it’s important not to pass judgment too quickly about your choice of fly or its presentation. Just because a rising fish fails to take your first cast (or fourth, tenth, even thirtieth) doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Your fly may very well be right, your presentations perfect. Doesn’t matter. Brown trout rise when they’re good and ready.

Success then, at least for me, usually depends on figuring out the feeding rhythm of a given fish. Browns will often rise multiple times in succession and then go down for a period of time. This holds especially true for the largest specimens. Observing how many rises occur in each go-round, the interval between those rises, and the length of time the fish goes down for will help you plan your casting. Naturally, you want your fly covering the fish at the most opportune time. And, stating the obvious, the execution of all other elements of your presentation must be done well too.

I know that this sort of planning and fishing is not for everyone. That’s okay. But if you’re drawn to brown trout like I am, particularly rising brown trout, paying attention to their feeding behavior is more than just an interesting sidelight.  It’s essential to their capture.

“Float Fishing”, from Howitt

“Trout and Grayling”, from Howitt