There is no question that the internet has profoundly changed the way that fly anglers, and everyone else for that matter, gets their information these days. I’m not here to complain (maybe a little) or argue about it, but I am here to write, and I hope that whit I write makes you think, or laugh, and maybe even inspires you to do something that brings you a little bit of joy.
Thanks to the internet, for better or worse, the availability of angling related information has never been greater, and the access to that information has never been easier. And, most of what is online is free to anyone with access to a computer or a smartphone! From fly casting, to trip planning, to knot tying, and especially fly tying, there are now so many resources available online that, anymore, many anglers get most or all of their information via the internet.
And that is perfectly ok, I guess. A person can get online and learn a ton about fly fishing, and get inspired to grab their rod and go fishing, or maybe practice casting in the park, or tie up a new fly pattern. Some of these sources of online information that include video content are absolutely wonderful from both a teaching and/or filmmaking perspective. I would have loved to have unlimited access to fly tying videos as a kid when I was learning the ropes of that craft. Armed with internet information, a person can learn a bunch, and go catch some fish, have a great time, and maybe even make some great new friends along the way. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.
But maybe it isn’t.
There are quite a few of us here at BSA that came into fly fishing before the days of the internet. That means that we are getting old, for one. But we also very fondly remember the era when word of mouth, the tutelage of an angling mentor, and the written word, printed on actual paper and wrapped into a book or magazine were THE sources of angling information. Were things better back then? I don’t know. But at the same time, I think that there are certain elements, variables, and limitations of mentorship, the written word, and print media that influenced the style and quality of the information that we had access to prior to the internet era.
First and foremost, I suspect that the commitment required to produce a proper book or magazine article was enough to limit the number of participants in the game and therefore the amount of information actually available. On the down side, that may have kept a lot of amazing knowledge in the dark. But, it likely also had the effect of filtering out casual efforts and half-baked ideas. One does not casually produce a 330-plus page tome about aquatic insects (Schwiebert, 1973, Nymphs: A Complete Guide to Naturals and their Imitations) without a significant amount of effort and commitment. Arguably, the end result was that the average quality the information available back then was higher. No doubt, there is plenty of angling information of the highest quality available on the internet today. I would never deny that. However, there is also a huge amount of stuff out there that was thrown together at the last minute, whimsically, and posted haphazardly. I know that to be true, because I did quite a bit of it myself back in the day!
If there is one thing that I really don’t like about the sheer quantity of digital information that we have easy access to these days is that it distracts many of us from the vast body of work that came out in print prior to the onset of the internet era. As such, the knowledge shared by incredible authors and anglers like Gary LaFontaine, Doug Swisher, Carl Richards, Ernie Schwiebert, Trey Combs, Gary Borger, Bud Lilly, John Juracek, Left Kreh, and many others is being overlooked and fading away into obscurity. Even worse, perhaps, is that there is a new generation of fly anglers who I fear may never get to experience the joy hidden in the words and art of geniuses like Nick Lyons, Dave Whitlock, and Roderick Haig-Brown.
When Big Sky Anglers moved into the space formerly occupied for decades by Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop, we inherited a lot of history. Cleaning out the nooks and crannies of the basement we discovered some incredible artifacts: printed photos of Ernie Schwiebert fishing the North Umpqua, shot by Dan Callahan, acclaimed angler/photographer and inventor of the Green Butt Skunk; fishing maps of our area drawn for Bud Lilly by a young Dave Whitlock; books from authors we knew and loved as well as some totally new to us; and a pile of old mail order catalogs from the Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop glory days. It was like opening up a time capsule and finding a treasure chest inside filled with the gold and jewels of fly fishing’s past.
The Trout Shop catalogs alone hold enough information, knowledge, and art to fill a blog for several years! These printed catalogs are not merely “memorabilia” from a bygone era. The include informative pieces on local angling, hatches, and fly tying from Bud Lilly, his family, and others, as well as original artwork from legends like Dave Whitlock.
Sadly, Dave passed away in November 2022, leaving behind an unmatched legacy as an angler, tier, author, teacher, and gentleman. He brought us so much joy through his writing and art and will forever be missed. He will, of course, always live on through his vast body of work and in the memories of all those he influenced.
It was shortly after Dave’s passing that I started to think about how there are so many new anglers out there who are or were unaware of people like Dave and their contributions to fly fishing. Knowing how much that I have enjoyed the works of the past, it made me sad that a new generation might miss out on not only a mountain of angling knowledge, but also a lot of truly wonderful art.
Now, a year later, and with the help of my friends at Big Sky Anglers, I’ve found a way to help bridge the gap between the Internet Era and Pre-Internet Era of fly fishing. “The Book Shelf” will be a blog series dedicated to shining some new light on the works of the old masters. In the spirit of the modern era, these pieces may be quick vignettes, half baked and composed at the last minute. They may be poorly edited and rambling. But they will hopefully inspire some of you to visit a library, a used bookstore, or the basement shelves at Big Sky Anglers, pick up an old fly fishing book, and soak up a bit of old knowledge and be inspired by words and images once, but no longer, forgotten.
So stay tuned for some musings about books from some of our favorite angling authors like LaFontaine, Schwiebert, Kreh, Whitlock, and more.