I have a sizable collection of fly fishing books. Sometimes I’ll review one. I’ll keep it under 500 words. Any longer and you should just go read the book. Expect slander, personal opinion, and unbridled honesty. I like both books and fly fishing too much to be nice.
I have a bad habit. I spend a bit too much time cruising Amazon and Abe Books for new fly fishing books to add to my collection. There’s no rhyme or reason to what I look for. Sometimes I’m looking for early editions of some of the classics on salmon fly tying, sometimes I’m on the hunt for some Gierach books to fill gaps in his bibliography. And sometimes I just purchase before I even know what I’m looking at. Hardy’s Aid to Angling was one of those, an impulse buy when lying in bed at night. It was the cover art that attracted me, and the fact that I had never heard of the book. I have a deep fondness for England, English history, and the roots of fly fishing in England and Scotland. I suppose everyone has their own weird, right? And in that moment this book, and its slightly wonky 1960s trout on the cover, connected me to Hardy, England, history, flies like Greenwell’s Glory and the glorious Spey and Dee-style patterns, and all the time I’ve spent watching Davey McPhail tie flies in YouTube videos.
So what’s the book about? It’s a hardbound sales pitch from 1966, but an endearing one. Comprised of a series of essays on trout and salmon fishing there’s some solid advice for the beginner, good generalizations about tactics and gear, and an almost unceasing pitch to purchase Hardy fly fishing gear. It’s a miracle of history that this, like so many other books, has survived so long. The rummage sale sticker on the cover reads “15p”, a bargain considered I paid the princely sum of $13 for a first edition printing with “uncommonly tight binding and little wear or discoloration”.
But, when I hold it, when I look at the Hardy logo on the back cover, or flip through the pen and ink illustrations denoting the difference between salmon and sea trout, I am in touch with something more. Isn’t that why we’re all stuck on this lifestyle pursuit, passion, obsessive hobby, or whatever you want to call it? When I opened the envelope and tipped Hardy’s Aid to Angling onto my desk it didn’t matter what it had inside. I didn’t even read the book for a solid week. But I flipped through it, read the names of the hotels and sporting resorts recommended in its final pages, and learned about the London Casting School, run by the same man responsible for writing the introduction to this book and posting the giant full-page ad for the same institution in the back of the book. And then I poured a measure of Scotch and sat down to tie a trio of proper Greenwell’s Glory flies, with Primrose silk bodies and jauntily cocked starling for the wing. Because sometimes, to know where we are at present, we need to be connected to our past.