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Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients: A Celebration of Five Centuries of Lore and Wisdom

Modern fly fishing is only the latest chapter in a two-millennia saga of technological creativity and passionate observation of the natural world. In the whimsically titled Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients: A Celebration of Five Centuries of Lore and Wisdom, historian-naturalist Paul Schullery explores the earlier chapters in that saga and unearths a host of provocative theories, techniques, and insights that helped shape the modern fly fisher. Schullery demonstrates that whether we’re looking for a good fish story, a clearer understanding of why we fish the way we do, or even a way to improve our own sport, we ignore our elders at our peril< He also offers the beginning fly fisher an unprecedented opportunity to come to terms with some of the sport’s most fundamental theoretical and practical challenges, at the same time that he offers the expert fly fisher a chance to test current angling dogmaand his or her own pet theoriesagainst that of the sport’s greatest past masters. And He offers all readers a fresh, probing, and often-humorous take on the great endless fish story we perpetuate and enrich every time we cast a fly.

"The book is chock-full of humorous anecdotes, interesting illustrations and photographs, and useful lessons from cover to cover. Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients is a perfect midwinter read for anglers dreaming of spring."⎯American Angler

Excerpt from Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients: A Celebration of Five Centuries of Lore and Wisdom, from Chapter Seven, "The Hatch-Matching Non-Debate," on the question of whether we need to carry many fly patterns or just a few:

Each new fly pattern brings fresh hope on fishless days. We love fly patterns and we enjoy being beneficiaries of today’s amazingly gifted fly-tying craftsmen. If we also tie our own flies, we enjoy the creative challenge and the joy of catching a fish on our own pattern. We may even secretly crave the small glory of developing a famous fly pattern ourselves. Last, and perhaps most important, even the skeptics admit that sometimes getting the pattern exactly right really does matter to the fish.

Most of us get such a kick out of trying new flies that we’d be missing out on a lot of what makes fly fishing fun for us if we stuck to one pattern, no matter how good it was. A “one-fly” tournament is fun because of its novelty and challenge, not because we would rather fish with the same fly all the time. As so often happens, fly fishing comes down to these personal choices. We fish as we most enjoy fishing. I once wrote a little novella, Shupton’s Fancy, which explored what happens when a fly fisher actually stumbles onto a fly pattern so perfect that he needs no other. He discovers, as I think most of us would, that such a miraculous fly would not be a simple blessing.

The arguments pro and con are circular and more than a little self fulfilling. If you read between the lines of enough fly-fishing books it eventually becomes apparent that working really hard at imitating specific insects will help you catch more fish⎯especially if your presentation skills are also top grade. The real message of all these position holders in the hatch-matching dialogues seems to be that there aren’t any shortcuts. If you’re not going to bother with a lot of fly patterns you’d better be a really terrific caster, and if you’re not going to bother to be a really terrific caster no amount of scientifically derived and expertly tied flies will save your bacon when the fish get choosy.