Fly fishing for trout suffers from one almost unshakable curse. It orginated in the fertile chalk streams of Hampshire and catered to stuffy old Englishmen. The combination of the two cemented a tradition of method, fly patterns and literature that is largely inappropriate for acid American waters, yet relentlessly drummed into the heads of American fishermen since the late 1800s.
Few writers have attacked the traditions. One who has is Gerald Almy, orginally of Arlington and now of Woodstock, Virginia. Stackpole Books, which ironically is the traditional great American outdoor publishing house, has released Almy's first book, "Tying & Fishing Terrestrials." Though the title is esoteric, the book firmly implants Almy among the nationally significant outdoor writers. He has written the only book on the market today devoted solely to terrestrial insects, land-born as opposed to aquatic insects, that constitute a major portion of an American trout's diet.
The book is being released in time to help fishermen who have trouble tempting wary summer trout. In July and August, a trout's food supply changes from delicate and beautiful mayflies, which were the foundation of the English tradition, to terrestrials such as ants, grasshoppers, beetles and inchworms, right down to the lowly cockroach. Such filthy beasts were inconsistent with the genteel English approach.
The English taught us that fly fishing is delicate and graceful, and their craftsmen spun fur, feather and steel into charming fly patterns like Warden's Worry, the Silver Doctor, the Professor and Witcomb's Fancy. But, the English could never stomach taking the same materials and trying to make them look like an ant or, heaven forbid, a cockroach.
Almy had done that. His book overflows, and that may be its only fault, with entomology and ecology. Read it, study the many photographs, and you will find out more about leafhoppers, treehoppers, grasshoppers, caterpillars and crickets and their relationship to trout than you ever thought existed.
You'll learn whether a drowned ant floats or sinks, which will tell you whether to fish on the surface or on the bottom. You'll learn the time of year to look for trout feeding on inchworms, jassids and beetles. You'll learn where in the stream to find fish when terrestrials are in the water, and you'll learn to recognize from 30 feet away what a trout is eating just by the way it takes its food.
These are not earth-shaking problems, but, after all, avoiding them for a while is what trout fishing is all about. Isn't it?