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 future 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 today 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. The ideas contained in them are good enough to believe in. The essential truths they reveal are ones which, to this day, we profitably fish by. It’s that simple. No disrespect towards current authors, but those 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 and guides 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 got to 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.