The Pursuit of Stillwater Trout - Brian Clarke
Reviewed by Terry Lawton
When a book is re-published and the author writes a preface to the new edition, highlighting the short-comings of the original book, it certainly makes life a lot easier for the reviewer. We are told of many of the weaknesses of the book and how, if the author was to write the book today, if he would have remedied those weaknesses.
There are a lot of fishing books that will never be re-issued perhaps because they were not well written or produced no original thoughts but Brian Clarke's book of 1975, The Pursuit of Stillwater Trout is very definitely a book that justifies being re-issued. It is some time since I first read this book but I enjoyed reading it again much more than I did the first time. It is a very enjoyable and readable book.
One of the great things about the book is that the author shares his thought processes with the reader. Any book that makes you think about why fish are doing what they are doing or how to work out how to catch them has to be recommended. It is too easy to adopt a simple mechanical approach to fly fishing.
Brian Clarke's aim in writing this book was to share understanding and his enthusiasm and love of the sport. '. . . . . I had a stroke of what for me, at least, seemed inspiration: I realised that the critical difference between the expert at anything, and the inexpert, is not information at all, but understanding. I came to see that the inexpert angler fails most of the time because his success depends upon meeting conditions which coincide with a fixed, and usually limited, range of mentally-catalogued techniques; whereas the expert angler, because of his fundamental understanding of what he is trying to achieve, in relation to the fish he is after, thinks more in terms of how and why, than of what; and thus is able to devise specific techniques in response to the demands of specific conditions.'
To me, the following quotation sums-up so much of successful fly fishing:'All fish must eat. A fly which looks a bit like food, and which is presented to a fish that is interested in eating, has a chance of being accepted if certain conditions apply. It is the task of the angler to create these conditions: he needs to present an appropriate dressing naturally, where the fish can see it, at a time when the fish has no cause to be alarmed. He needs to know when his fly has been taken.'
Every new or tyro stillwater angler will have suffered the trials and tribulations of the first chapter, How it all began. Changing flies, trying to cast to the far side of the lake and, when a fish does take his fly, he is not concentrating! We've all been there. And how important is that word concentration: it should be printed indelibly on everyone's mind.
In his new preface to this edition, Brian Clarke wrote that he would have added a section on fishing booby nymphs and that the chapter on dry fly fishing would have been different. I think that the chapter on leaders would also benefit from updating but there is still plenty of sensible and practical information in it.
It's worth listing the chapter headings because they do give you an good idea of the scope of this book: How it all began, Thinking the problems through, Entomology without anaesthetics, A common-sense approach to artificial patterns, Early experiences of practising what I preach, Rise forms and other signs of fish, Variations in the 'take', The importance of the leader, The dry fly, Some experiences of fishing to rising trout, Fishing to deep trout, An all-round day and ..... where it all ended. There is also a list of important fly dressings, while a little dated and not extensive will give you enough flies to catch fish under most conditions.
So there we have it: a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. If this book makes you think more about your fishing, stops you doing the same thing every time you go fishing, and helps you to concentrate, Brian Clarke will have done his bit for the good of the sport. It is a book worth reading more than once and this is easy to do because it is a pleasure to read.
The Pursuit of Stillwater Trout by Brian Clarke. 192 pages, hardback, published by Robert Hale Books.
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