A Practical Treatise on Fly-Fishing (1888)

Red Palmer’s little book on fly-fishing is a wonderful glimpse into the fishing world of the late nineteenth century. The book begins with wet vs. dry flies. Palmer begins, “I think in this matter, if we want to deceive trout, we should follow Nature as closely as possible” (ch. 2). He goes on to explain the necessity of false casts in keeping dry flies floating. In chapter 3, discussing rods, he recommends “greenheart, or hickory” or “bamboo” and says it “should be tolerably stiff, for in windy weather it is impossible with a light whippy-rod to throw against or across the wind and attain any degree of accuracy.” The former advice about rod materials is outdated, but the latter is still spot-on, it seems to me. He also recommends a landing net as essential equipment in chapter 4. In his chapter on flies, chapter 5, he recommends a reasonable number of flies in your box. While others recommend thirty or sixty, he recommends only 20, giving examples of each. Interestingly, he outlines a drop-line tactic in which the fisher uses the main line and then up to eight flies on drop lines tied perpendicular to the main line—this would be illegal in most places these days. The more relevant advice concerns “size, shape, and colour.” He says that flies are primarily three different colors: “green, yellow, and brown.” North American fishers should add black to that list, it seems to me. Chapter 6 talks about fishing upstream and letting flies float back down toward the fisher, over the fish. The rest of the book discusses trout habits and when to go fishing and the like. All in all, it’s an enjoyable read that transports the reader back in time, to 1888 sporting London, which seems a nice place to go for a while.

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