Cathy Beck's Fly-Fishing Handbook

Reviewed by Hugh O'Donnell

Can a male fly fisher find enlightenment and success when reading a book written primarily for women?

Well, yes.

Ditch the Sexism

Cathy Beck's Fly-Fishing Handbook was written with women in mind, but the author never puts the male reader in the uncomfortable position of thinking that he is a trespasser between the covers of what is a nicely done introduction to the sport with enough detail to refresh the duffer.

Beck endears herself by dispensing with hackneyed views on sexism in sport, saying that although she insists on waders cut to fit women and boots made on ladies' lasts, "I am content to be a fly fisherman."

Useful for Beginners, Intermediates

Although the book is especially friendly to women, with many references to female concerns such as appropriate clothing, anyone in the beginner to intermediate skill range can benefit from a thorough reading of this book. Experienced non-experts may find opportunities to improve their fishing with patient readings of her chapters on casting and presentation.

Beck's prose is clear and understandable, more so if the reader has had streamside experience with a skilled teacher. The sections on tackle, using gear, the basics of casting, and line, leaders, and knots are comprehensive and clear, with the exception of weak knot illustration. She also covers finding and pursuing fish, as well as hooking, catching, and releasing.

But the breadth of these subjects puts her in the uncomfortable position of starting a topic without having space to go into depth. This probably won't annoy a beginner, but those with some experience may hunger for more. An introduction to fresh and saltwater fishing rounds out the instruction, albeit the previous reservations apply: there's just too much topic without enough detail to make it work.

Photographs are black and white, and line illustrations prevail. With the exception of the knot illustrations, all serve their purpose.

Beck and her photographer husband Barry are near-ubiquitous figures in the fly-fishing world, having paid their professional dues for the last 20 years, mostly in the East. They make their home in Pennsylvania.