Digging up old fly-tying books I never thought I’d ‘use’ to tie my first-ever trout flies.

I’m a competitive bastard. No, actually, I used to be a competitive bastard — groomed through years of high-level competitive sports is my only justification for those years. Through my early teens and into my 20s I refused to settle for anything but being the best. Whatever I tackled, I needed to be the best — kak (shit) type of human to be around really and it didn’t get me anywhere. It also burnt me out of a lot of love for many sports and is the reason I’ve not ‘pushed’ my groms into any major competitive sport. (But that is a story for another day). It’s also the reason I never took up the guitar – just knew I would suck. Is it too late?

Where am I going with this? I guess it is such a big part of what intrigues me about fly fishing. There are other things too, sure, but: YOU CAN NEVER STOP GETTING BETTER. This had me hooked since I first cast the magic wand at leeries in the Krom River as a 17-year-old. I realised then that no one could ever be the ‘best’ at fly-fishing – there are too many aspects, too many species, knots, leader configurations, destinations, techniques… There are too many things. I was never going to be the best and that was a beautiful realisation.

Fly-tying stands out prominently within this realm, both daunting and invigorating. The presence of the Feathers & Fluoro inner circle amplifies this sensation. Each member of this group appears to have pioneered, refined, or revolutionised a distinct fly pattern or tying style. From Andre van Wyk’s bucktail creations to LeRoy Botha’s grunter flies (anything that comes off his vise really), Peter Coetzee’s various innovations, Ewan Naude’s yellowfish and trout patterns, Conrad Botes and what he’s done with kob flies (and the Steve Austin), Platon Trakoshis in the tiger and carp field and, how many big saltwater species have not fallen to Leonard Flemming’s flash clouser as well as his countless micro freshwater patterns? To barely scratch the surface…

fly tying with ahrex hooks

You can understand then that I rarely show my flies to the crew, and when I do, it is with much trepidation. I very much tie for enjoyment, therapy and my own boxes, not to show off. We recently got a very generous shipment of hooks from Ahrex and I was super amped to improve on some of my tried and tested saltwater patterns and to fill my salt boxes.

Part of the shipment though, included some dry fly and nymph hooks. I’ve fished for trout since my First Year at University, bunking Sociology lectures to hit the Eerste River in Stellenbosch, yet I have never caught a trout on my own fly. Never even attempted to tie one. Don’t think I’ve ever owned a bare trout hook.

fly tying for trout
Recent trout not on my own fly.

The batch of hooks has me completely intrigued and, aside from the usual Youtube SBS tutorial rabbit hole, it had me digging through my old storage boxes of books in search of some books I’d collected along the way. These were always going to be ‘just to have in my library’ treasures, I never thought I’d actually ‘use’ them.

That is about to change…

Stay tuned for some flops and fluff balls and hopefully a trout on my own dry in the very near future.

Some of those treasured books include:

Fresh and Salt Water Fly Fishing in Southern Africa by Charles Norman. Norman’s deep knowledge and passion for the subject shine through. With meticulous attention to detail, the book covers a wide range of topics, from fly selection and casting techniques to local fish species and their habitats as well as some insightful notes on tying.

fly tying books
Fresh and salt water fly fishing Southern Africa by Charles Norman (1987)

The Fly-Tying Bible: 100 Deadly Trout and Salmon Flies in Step-by-Step Photographs by Peter Gathercole is an absolute gem for fly-fishing enthusiasts and aspiring fly-tyers alike. With its meticulously detailed step-by-step instructions and stunning visual guides, this book is a masterclass in the art of crafting irresistible flies.

Illustrated Dictionary of Trout Flies by John Roberts is an indispensable companion for any angler, seamlessly blending the practicality of a reference guide with the allure of a visual masterpiece. Novice fly-fishers will appreciate the user-friendly layout and clear explanations, while seasoned anglers will relish the opportunity to explore the nuances of various flies.

I’m pretty sure also have a Dave Hughes somewhere deep in a storage box.

I’m also delving deep into Elements of Fly Tying one of the original South African fly tying books, by Tom Sutcliffe. The man himself made this invaluable resource available for free download during Covid.

fly tying books

….More to follow.

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