Charlie Craven's Basic Fly Tying

Reviewed by Rex Baldwin

How many thread wraps do you use to hold the material? How do you decide the number of pheasant tail fibers to build the body? How do you reverse taper an RS-2 Emerger ? How do you select hair? You mean I don't have to spin the first clump of deer hair on the Goddard Caddis ?

It was a very good day when I received my copy of Charlie Craven's latest book, Basic Fly Tying. Finally I had a fly tying book that speaks to my obsessive search for details, explanations, and guidance. I found myself saying over and over, "So, that's why you do it that way!!"

Twenty-Four Chapter, Seventeen Basic Patterns

Basic Fly Tying has 24 chapters, and is well illustrated with numerous photographs. Of the 24 chapters, seven are tutorials on tools, materials, and techniques. The remaining 17 chapters are tying instructions for standard patterns: Brassie, Black Beauty, RS2 Emerger, Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, Prince Nymph, Copper John, Woolly Bugger, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Adams, Rusty Spinner, Parachute Blue-Winged Olive, X Comparadun, Royal Wulff, Humpy, and Goddard Caddis.

In addition there are pattern variations and recipes for another 85 flies. That's 102 total patterns! Each of the 17 flies builds upon the previous pattern to give the student the skills and experience to be successful.

Searching for Perfection

The author writes well, uses humor, and the photographs are world class. Although I have never met Charlie Craven, I feel the teacher-student link when he says, "If tails, wings, or other body proportions are off when you tie them in, fix them immediately. I know this sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many times a student brings me an otherwise perfect fly, and I say, 'The tail is a little long,' and they reply, 'Yeah, I noticed that when I tied it in.' Then why didn't you fix it? I think. The whip-finish does not magically fix any errors you've made in the tying process, so be sure that you do."

Craven expresses his search for perfection in himself and his students. "Please, also promise that you will never utter the terrible phrase, 'The fish don't care.' I most often hear this from someone who ties ugly flies as a way of justifying their incompetence."

The step-by-step detail underlines the message, "I can always do better." Craven also discusses the advantages of dominate hand tying, his preference for materials and tools, how to prepare a hare's mask for dubbing, why he uses particular hook types, how and why he washes his peacock herls, and many other insightful observations and conclusions.

What's Good?

What's good about this book? Nearly everything. The writing is easy to follow, often entertaining, and never boring. The photographs are outstanding. With the step-by-step process, the approach is fail-safe. The Bad: The book is not spiral bound to lay flat.

Who Should Buy It?

This book uses the same structure and philosophy as Craven's beginning fly tying class, i.e., learn one technique, learn it well, and then you'll be ready for the next challenge.

If you have ever seen the YouTube video of Craven tying a Parachute Adams in less than two minutes you will see touch, symmetry, conservation of energy, and the delightful blend of art and industry. This book attempts to transfer that talent and ability to the reader. For the beginner, that means less frustration and more flies. For the professional tier, more flies in less time. Using the techniques in Basic Fly Tying, Craven's book will have appeal to beginners and experienced tiers alike.

Rex Baldwin is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner living in Utah, and fishes the rivers and still waters of Northern Utah and Southeastern Idaho. His wife encourages him to pursue all good things, including fishing and fly tying. Rex is now introducing fly fishing to his grandchildren.