Production Fly Tying: Second Edition
Softbound: 148 pp.
Pruett Publishing $39.95
A . K. Best's approach toward teaching others how to tie flies is more that just remarkable. It is also entertaining. Most fly tying manuals explain how to tie specific flies, which if you are a beginner, is sometimes a good approach. But if you've tied a few flies and have some of the basic patterns down, then you might need the help of Best to send your table-top creations to the next level of fly fishing acumen.
Best starts us out where most fly tying manuals begin, with the tools of the trade. Best's tools are different though. He is a craftsman in the truest sense in that he puts as much thinking into his tools as into his flies. Many are home spun to match the exact tool for the precise job. I mean, why buy a bobbin when you can stick a needle in a cork? He also offers valuable advice on how to prepare and maintain tools to get the highest performance out of them, such as grinding down the edges of hackle pliers to better grab the tip of a hackle feather. And if a commercial tool doesn't server a purpose, such as a popular bobbin, Best is not afraid to voice a strong opinion.
The opening chapter sets the tone throughout the book. Best doesn't waste any time here. He presents the kind of detailed tips and insightful observations rarely encountered in other fly-tying manuals. I think his readers will quickly adapt many of his techniques and drop some of the more traditional methods of fashioning materials to hooks. Especially useful is the way Best hackles his dry flies. After reading about why it is better to tie in the butt of a feather near the eye and then wrap backwards, I'll never hackle my March Browns any other way.
Best doesn't present specific tying instruction for specific flies. Instead, his chapters are arranged by tying operations: methods of tailing, winging, hackling, etc. The actual fly we want to tie is left to our own imaginations. This is a far more useful approach than presenting 10 chapters on ten flies, which might gives us ten new flies, but not much more.
You'll probably find your fingers are doing different things at the vice, and picking up some new materials the next time you browse your local fly shop. When I started reading Best's book, I thought that I would try out a few tying procedures, just to see if it made a difference in my tying. Then I tried a few more procedures, and rearranged my tools, and bought a spring-loaded palm-style scissors that A. B. Best uses (not a Wise brand, but a Fiskar), and even stuck a needle in the end as he suggests. Soon, I was tying flies in about half the time, and the flies were beginning to look much better. I'm especially impressed with how the needle in the end of the scissors acts like a third hand. On nearly every fly, I use it to poke and prod my fly's material into obedience. The needle trick alone is worth the price of the book.
You might even find yourself being more observant on the stream, too, as you ponder what new materials will match your observations of fish and the bugs that excite them.
--Toney J. Sisk
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