THERE IS, in the end, very little that can be written about fishing that will satisfy fishing enthusiasts. The only things fishermen have in common are a desire to go fishing and hooks in the water. Everything in between is different for each person. For Joseph D. Bates, in Streamers & Bucktails, between the desire and the ready hook is science; for Muriel Foster, an Englishwoman whose diary spans 30 years of fishing outings, it is love of nature.
Bates' approach to artificial flies, fly tying and fly fishing is encyclopedic and monumental. The sportsman's feelings of getting away, of the outdoors, of earnest attempts in pastoral settings, of attention to tackle and knots and outerwear, of fresh air, of the return with friends or children to favorite spots, of meals of fresh fish -- all form an incidental background to the methods and materials of the experienced fly dresser.
Of the six general categories of artificial flies -- dry fly, wet fly, nymph, bug, streamer and bucktail -- 400 pages alone cover the latter two. Convention has it that streamers are articifical flies made with a long hair or feathers running back from the eve of the hook, down the shank and beyond, and are designed to look like a minnow or other foraging fish. A bucktail is pretty much the same fly but is slightly more durable because it uses hair from the tail of a deer (whence the name) and can be used more often for the large teethier fish. But to say this much is to say nothing, at least for Bates.
Regional tastes (here I'm talking about the fish's) dictate extremely subtle variations in artificial flies. It is possible (switching back to people's tastes) that west of the Mississippi people prefer -- and will only eat -- a sauce provencale with less garlic than they will east of the Mississippi? Or is it more like Manhattan clam clowder and New England clam chowder, where the change in the name is slighter than the vastly different soups they justify? Only the fish can tell. As for Bates, just like every other fisherman, he's always catching More and Bigger Ones.
To really enjoy Streamers & Bucktails, one must appreciate the relentless way in which Bates has catalogued names, descriptions and fly-tying directions. Sample:
The "wing" of a "Bali Duck Streamer" is "Two Bali duck feathers (sometimes called 'Yanosh')," tied so that the "cheeks" are made of "jungle cock," the "butt" of two turns of black chenille, the "tail" of 15 or 20 strands of a golden pheasant "tippett" and just behind the throat is a forward butt of about four turns of "peacock herl."
Would you choose, as a Christmas gift for that special flyfisher, a Black Ghost Streamer, a Bolshevik Streamer, a Bumblepuppy, a Carter Fly, A Rogan Royal Gray Ghost Streamer, a Two-Egg Sperm Fly, a Wooly Leech or a Bloody Butcher?
Fly dressing evidentally is an art form, approached methodically by Bates, who shares his secrets and lore in this definitive book, and fly dressers everywhere will be enriched. Weekend sportsmen not inclined to tie their own flies might do as well to buy the most successful artificial flies at the local tackle shop and head for the water.
Muriel Foster's Fishing Diary has in common with Streamers and Bucktails only a $16.95 price. The diary is a gift-boxed facsimile of an English spinster's fishing log. Those who buy this book will do so to give it as a gift. Following in the tradition of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, it contains some 30 years' entries beginning in 1913. Foster was an excellent illustrator and an ardent naturalist. Her diary pictures fish, artificial flies (including a Bloody Butcher), water birds and Scottish loch scenes.
The diary is the opposite of Streamers & Bucktails. It is entirely avocative. The facts are not useful. There are no "how-to" suggestions. The diary wasn't meant to be ready by us. There is no story, no development of character or scene or skill. It was and is simply Foster's personal record of her leisure and her hobbies -- fishing and drawing. Her diary is a short walk back in time in rural Britain: what it does is make you think of going fishing again.