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The Fly - Andrew Herd

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Reviewed by Terry Lawton

There are many different types of book to be read today. From page-turners such as popular thrillers and holiday romances that can often be read in a single sitting to other, perhaps more serious books that can be dipped into and picked-up as and when the mood takes you. With these books there is usually no plot or characterisation to be forgotten.

The Fly, by Andrew Herd, is a book that can be read as and when the spirit moves you. This is, perhaps, just as well as the new paperback version runs to 360 densely-packed pages. But don't be put off because the book is a very good read. The subject - the history of fly fishing - is serious but Dr Andrew Herd writes in a light, approachable but authoritative style. He obviously enjoyed researching and writing the book and this comes through very strongly. He rattles along but does get carried away slightly at times: for example when commenting on Fitzgibbon's assertion that the action of Spey rods of around the 1890s was very stiff, he says: "they certainly weren't stiff and in general they were as loose as an old whore's stays.".

One aspect of the history of fly fishing that interests me is the lack of certainty about so much of it, particularly the very early years, which is perhaps easy to understand, but more recently as well. There is still much uncertainty about where and when fly fishing first started even though there are many other areas of history covering similar time periods and areas where we know an awful lot.

The seven chapters cover the beginnings of fly fishing in Macedonia and medieval times; the 17th century; the 18th century; the early 19th, and the late 19th century (two chapters); dry fly fishing; and finally, the 20th century. Most chapters look at the particular period - and quite a lot of non-fishing things that were going on at the time - rods, hooks, lines, reels and flies. Thus if you want to investigate the history of fly lines, you can read the relevant section of each chapter.

When we arrive, eventually, at the 20th century, Andrew Herd's fairly extensive commentary on Halford and his peers has, to some extent, been overtaken by the publication in 2003 of F.M. Halford and The Dry -fly Revolution by Tony Hayter. Andrew Herd was anxious, writing his book to "set Frederic Halford in perspective.". Having read, and reviewed Tony Hayter's book, I am not sure that I agree with Herd's assessment of Halford. But I do agree with him when he says that Halford and his peers' fault was that they forgot that fly-fishing is a pastime and not a religion.

I think that every fisherman who reads this book will be a more knowledgeable fisherman and, even if only some of the many lessons it contains are learnt, they should be better fishermen too. To crib the title of a BBC Radio 4 programme, this book is, very definitely, "a good read" and can be recommended with enthusiasm.

The Fly by Andrew Herd is published by The Medlar Press at £19.95. Paperback with flaps, 383 pages with colour photographs and black and white illustrations and engravings. It was first published in 2001 in a limited hardback edition.

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