A Primer of Fly-Fishing


189 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-88894-349-0





Illustrations by Louis Darling
Reviewed by Ronald Conrad

Ronald Conrad is a professor of English at Ryerson University in


A publisher might think twice before re-issuing a 1964 book about fly fishing. As Nick Lyons points out in his introduction, some things have changed greatly since then: line designations, fly patterns, materials, prices — and, he might have added — to an ominous extent the environment. But as he also says, “Good sense and gentle wisdom rooted in long experience never go out of fashion.”

Haig-Brown, the small-town Vancouver Island magistrate who became North America’s best-loved writer on angling and one of Canada’s best prose stylists, is very much alive in this book. In fewer than 200 pages he introduces us to rod and reel; lines; leaders and hooks; fly types and fly tying; knots; the basic casts; the differences between wet and dry fly fishing; the essentials of hooking and playing fish; the special challenges and pleasures of stream, lake, estuary, and to some extent salt water; the literature of fly fishing; and the “ethics and aesthetics” of his sport.

While certain technical parts of this “primer” are dated, the greater portion concerns itself with the unchanging essentials: skill in casting, learning the habits and habitat of the fish, protecting the fish’s environment, and in other ways practicing the high sportsmanship which, though it may limit the number of fish taken, is the door to anglings greatest pleasures.

Throughout this little book Haig-Brown’s flawless prose is complemented by Louis Darling’s exquisite illustrations — a reminder to modern readers that a book does not have to be the functional but bleak and even ugly object that in our time it so often is.


Haig-Brown, Roderick, “A Primer of Fly-Fishing,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38255.