Book of the Month February 2019

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Something Old, Yet Something New. When the Library recently upgraded it’s collection with a sizeable purchase, the primary goal was to add more recent volumes. However, curiously, while most of the works recommended for purchase fit that description, there were requests for a book published in 1969 – Ray Ovington’s Tactics on Trout.

A quick perusal immediately revealed why this book is unique. It is entirely given over to tactics, with reading water being the primary focus. Yet there is so much more in the way of tactical instruction. It is so devoted to this purpose that it contains no photographs. Photos would be, I think, insufficient for this book’s stated purpose. What is provided, instead, are many attractive watercolors and pen and ink drawings, all in simple black and white, that illustrate the tactics being described. When we in fly fishing think of a “manual” a book of fly patterns and tying recipes usually comes to mind. However, Tactics on Trout can be considered a manual as well – a textbook on the various techniques and procedures utilized to pursue trout in virtually all stream situations one can expect to encounter.

While the text is built around reading different types of water, there is a wealth of diversion into other tactical matters. Proper wading technique, for example, is displayed with diagrams of footprints on a cobbled creek bottom illustrating the author’s admonishments to wade using short “mousy” steps, without stepping on rocks “that will roll with your weight”. Throughout the narrative the author repeatedly advises regarding the advantages of sparsely dressed flies. Fly patterns appropriate to each situation, described in the various chapters, are well illustrated by pen and ink drawings. Entering and positioning one’s self in each type of water encountered, as well as casts appropriate to fish it properly, are well described and illustrated with diagrams. Discussion of the use of slack line casts, to achieve necessary drift and sink in each water situation encountered, is thoroughly diagrammed. All illustrations are the author’s own.

And, by the way, should you think Ovington a purist, in the chapter on Ledge Pools check the sketches showing how to properly hook a caddis larva and case to a bare bait hook (he’s serious!). Tactics… is not without it’s entertaining, sometimes humorous asides.

The author’s style is that of a plain­talking, homespun, gentle instructor. The reading is comfortable, entertaining, and not overly technical. Ovington himself describes it best in his Introduction when he asks the reader to “remember that you are not supposed to be reading this book. You are, rather, meant to listen with me and wet waders with me on some of my favorite and frustrating bits of trout water”. This style, along with the quaintness of the artwork already described, are what lend this book its charm.

My generation of fly fishers grew up with written instruction such as this – simple prose and hand illustrations that were sufficient to impart the desired knowledge while leaving enough room for the imagination to roam. So, for those of you who think you need the high-­tech quality of today’s manuals, dripping with expertise and with high-­definition photography delineating every fine detail of stream, landscape, fish, and fly, a volume such as Tactics on Trout will be something new… and wonderful.

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