Tying Small Flies

Reviewed by Charlie Chambers

Those of us enamored with fly fishing can usually thank a mentor for our initiation into the sport and the development of our skills.

In my case, I attribute my fly fishing start to Mike, a flyshop owner whose modest operation was much more than a location to buy equipment. Mike was busier introducing his customers to each other than hawking a flyrod made of titanium-cadmium or some transitional material that you needed the periodic table of elements to identify. His was a place where a hearty cup of coffee accompanied tutelage in tying an effective parachute pattern.

Such is the environment that can make learning a new skill efficient and enjoyable. Books and videos certainly serve their purpose, but they remain a distant second compared to learning at the hands of an experienced master.

However, Ed Engle's latest book, Tying Small Flies, comes the closest in my memory to recreating that atmosphere of mentorship.

Gierach Buddy

For those of you unfamiliar with the author, I consider Ed Engle, A.K. Best, and John Gierach as the holy trinity of Colorado fly fishing. Any chance to glean knowledge from their wisdom is a major opportunity. Further, Engle wrote the "Small Flies" column for Fly Tyer magazine, which should make him uniquely qualified to author this book.

Writing a technique-related book can be as challenging as a good work of fiction. It's no easy task to describe the "how to" of a skill without rendering the reader comatose.

I found reading Engle's book from cover-to-cover easy and enjoyable. His writing is clear, succinct, and conveys a friendly attitude toward teaching. Seventy-five practical patterns of various styles are included. That allows this book to serve as a reference or to be enjoyed in its entirety.

Blue-Collar Flies

Engle espouses the use of "guide flies," or what I like to think of as "blue collar flies"--the kind that aren't dressed in formal wear but get the bulk of the work done. "Guide flies" emphasize the ability to catch fish, not fisherman, and can be quickly tied with just the key elements for attraction. Engle reveals his approach when he says," . . . there is that much less between me and the trout. Tying small flies and fishing them is fly fishing stripped to its bare essentials. There's no room for fluff, no way to fake it, and there is nothing added. It's the trout and me with as little in between as possible. That's the way I like it."

Organized and Practical

That simplicity of fly design makes this book an excellent resource for both novice and expert. If you are the type that can only appreciate a fully-dressed spey fly, then this book may seem blasphemous. However, much lies in the design and tying of small flies that could be generalized to larger flies. If you concur with those who believe that the flies stocked at your local shop are sized larger because that's what fisherman want, and not necessarily what the fish want, then this book is for you.

Chapters are organized by patterns or distinct structural features, e.g., parachutes. A few introductory chapters are helpful, with concise discussions of thread, tools and, most importantly, hooks.

Engle has tested and compared threads, wire, and dubbing. He shares his findings with us so we can make the right choices. I found the section on threads especially enlightening; it confirmed my suspicions that the "ought" system is unreliable. The chapter on hooks does an excellent job of grouping styles and manufacturers of hooks to simplify choosing amongst all the plethora of choices; the fine, detailed photography shows the minute style differences between hooks.

Treasure Trove of Small Patterns

The portions of the book devoted to patterns are a treasure trove of flies that I can't wait to try on my local waters. The photos are detailed and clear. The bulk of the patterns not only include recipes, but clear, detailed tying instructions. Don't bother looking for patterns that require exotic jungle species from Borneo. Most of the patterns make use of commonly-stocked materials that most experienced tiers already possess. Engle also stresses that these patterns are merely a starting point and encourages individual variation and innovation.

Overall, I would consider Ed Engle's Tying Small Flies to be a must-have in the library of any devoted fly tier. Tiers that only value flies for their artistic content will be disappointed. The only deficiency of the book was the absence of an index.

Tying Small Flies appears readily available at stores and online. I encourage you to purchase the book, pull up a comfortable chair, pour a cup of joe, and learn from the hands of a master.