Charlie Craven. I have mentioned, in past reviews, the volume of tying manuals possessed by the Library. At last count, tying manuals made up about a third of our entire collection! Many of these are dated and reflect the styles of tying manuals peculiar to their times. From those of the 1950’s and ‘60’s that were very simply illustrated with hand sketches, to those of the 70’s and 80’s in which photography started to accompany recipes, and on to the more modern versions using advanced photography, one can see a steady progression of tying manual development. While our Library’s collection has been quite dated for a while, we are now, through purchase and generous donations, substantially updating our collection.
When I began tying in 1963 there were few manuals or texts dedicated to tying. The equipment was very basic – simple vices, hackle pliers, bobbins, and not much else. I don’t recall seeing a whip finisher or hair stacker until the 1980’s. What manuals existed were illustrated with drawings (see my review of The FlyTying Works of Roy Patrick in the March 2013 Barbless), and utilized the tyer’s own imagination. I have, in previous reviews, decried the ever increasing technicality, along with the reliance on poor (by current standards) photography, that seemed to dominate newer tying books. Such works could be discouraging in their details and complexity (note Craven’s remark regarding “Wizardology”, below)
The works of Charlie Craven are at the forefront of our new additions. Craven’s Basic Fly Tying, published in 2015, was donated to the club by Mike Melmoth. (Check Charlie’s dedication to Mike, with accompanying sketch, on the title page.) Much more than a manual, with its simple organization and progression it serves as a textbook for some of Charlie’s own classes, and could do similar duty for anyone teaching tying classes. Charlie’s style is most encouraging and a paragraph in the introduction says it best:
“…anyone can learn to tie flies well, given a modicum of manual dexterity, the willingness to learn, and the ability to reason. Much of fly tying is merely a compilation of skills learned one at a time. Developing these skills takes time and practice but is not beyond the capability of anyone with at least an average level of intelligence and dexterity. There is very little magic involved in lashing fur and feathers to a hook, but reading some books would make it seem as though one needs a Wizardology degree to even get started. Fly tying is not that hard (italics mine)” Cravens begins with a short section explaining how to use the book, with easy definitions of terminology. Then come simple yet comprehensive descriptions of equipment, with excellent tips and recommendations on what to purchase. Next, his chapter on hooks demystifies, with simple definitions and plain language, what can be a complex topic. Likewise, his discussion on thread types. Craven then moves into actual tying instruction, beginning with basic attachment techniques.
Each chapter is headed with a list of the skills to be learned by tying the patterns selected. Attachment Techniques are illustrated and taught by tying the Brassie, Hairs Ear, and Pheasant Tail, Hackling Techniques by teaching the Prince Nymph and Woolly Bugger, Hair Selection by Elk Hair Caddis and Stimulator, and so forth. In all, eighteen such patterns, most of which will be familiar to club members (Hairs Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Stimulator, Adams, etc.) are utilized to teach various tying principles. Aside from its easy reading and simple instruction, the quality which sets this volume apart is the absolutely outstanding closeup photography, not only riveting interest but clearly illustrating what is being taught. Check, for example, the photo on page 19, showing the proper way to flatten a barb while the hook is in the vice. The clarity and size of the photography renders ease in following the instructions and is thus easy on the ego as well as on the eyes.
Those, like me, who have found tying to be of marvelous enjoyment over time, as well as those new to the game who seriously want to expand basic skills, will probably want to add a copy of Basic Fly Tying to their personal collections. Yet why not, if you are one of those, or rather if you are merely curious about fly tying and want to examine it for the first time, borrow this volume from your SFF Library? You won’t be disappointed, in any case, and you will probably find your interest invigorated!