Saltwater fly fishers in the Pacifc Northwest are enjoying something of a renaissance in fly fishing literature. For many years, Johnson, Ferguson and Trotters 1985 book Fly-Fishing for Pacific Salmon and Steve Raymond’s The Estuary Flyfisher (1995) comprised the entire body of work on the sport. But the publication in 2008 of the second edition of Fly-Fishing for Pacific Salmon II extended its reach and chronicled recent advancements in saltwater fly fishing. Earlier this year, Chester Allen’s book, Fly-Fishing for Sea-Run Cutthroat, broke important new ground in saltwater cutthroat fishing. And now Richard K. Stoll’s new book, Fly-Fishing Nearshore Saltwaters for Pacific Salmon, is the latest valuable contribution to the library of Pacific Northwest saltwater fly fishing books.
A Poulsbo-based fly fisherman, Stoll has almost perfect credentials for writing such a book. He has fly fished for salmon in the salt for nearly 30 years. He worked for decades as an aquatic biologist and environmental engineer. He owned two Kitsap County fly shops, and has written hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles on fly fishing. Stoll draws on all of these experiences in his book.
The book’s subtitle, “Science-Based Innovation for the Practical Fly-Fisher,” is an accurate characterization of what to expect in the book. As you would expect from a trained biologist, Stoll employed analytical thinking and extensive reading of the scientific literature on salmon and their prey in the development of his ideas about how to most effectively pursue the fish. That, combined with decades of “field work” with a fly rod in his hands, has resulted in a book that is innovative, shatters some long-held beliefs,and contains a wealth of interesting perspectives
For example, Stoll casts doubt on the notion that changes in fish behavior can be tied to the barometer. In our region that has often been expressed by the belief that fishing is usually poor on a north wind, which is typically associated with a falling barometer.
“Considering that fish experience significant pressure changes with relatively small changes in water depth, the comparatively very small barometric pressure changes would seem to be insignificant. It therefore appears very unlikely that changes in barometric pressure in and of itself would affect fish feeding. It is more likely that weather conditions coincident with pressure changes can affect the bite. These conditions might include wind, turbidity caused by wind and rain, wind-generated waves, and a general reduction in underwater visibility.”
Stoll’s book covers the importance of color and how fish see it in much more depth than previous books. He has studied how salmon see, how their color perception is different from ours, and how this applies to the way we should think about color in flies.
“Research has shown that salmon have a range of color vision that extends further into the blue to ultraviolet ranges than human eyes. Salmon have relatively poor vision for higher-spectrum colors such as reds, oranges and yellows. Likewise, salmon show a preference for blue under most background and light conditions. Further, salmon are able to differentiate between subtle difference of shades of blue, but not for other colors.”
He also explains why fluorescent chartreuse is such a productive color for salmon.
“Fluorescence captures light of one wavelength and then emits light most often of a longer and more visible wavelength. This is the reason that high light-emiting colors like fluorescent chartreuse seem so effective in deeper water. Non-fluorescent chartreuse would otherwise be substantially muted in color. As such, fluorescence makes a fly stand out only when there is adequate light for fluorescence to happen.”
The book is organized into seven chapters–1) “Understanding the Underwater World of Pacific Salmon”; 2) “How Salmon and their Prey Interact”; 3) “Putting it all Together: Angling Strategies”; 4) “Putting it all Together: Designing Effective Salmon Flies”; 5) “Equipment, Skills and Ethics”; 6) “Where to Fish”; 7) “Environmental Factors Affecting the Abundance of Salmon and their Prey.” The book also contains three appendixes (Salmon Identification and Characteristics, The Science Behind Salmon Perception, and Prey Species Identification and Characteristics), and a glossary and refereces pages.
By the way, before anyone pops a blood vessel, let me assure you that none of the places Stoll describes in the “Where to Fish” section is giving away a secret. It always amuses me when younger and newer fly fishers become enraged if a writer talks about locations. The beaches Stoll “reveals” in the book–Point No Point, Fay Bainbridge State Park, Finch Creek and Point Wilson, etc.–haven’t been secrets since Stevens was the governor of Washington. Similarly, three of his “favorite fishing locations” are in Alaska.
As for the flies, Stoll quotes something an angler once told him: ” . . . he could tell a good fly angler by the number of flies in his or her fly box. If the fly box is stuffed with a myriad of types and sizes of flies it is likely that the angler simply does not know what to use.” To that end, the book only features 10 flies, although they come in a number of variations.
Stoll says that he considers five attributes in flies for salmon: 1) color; 2) vibration; 3) reflection; 4) silhouette; and 5) footprint. His Coho Special, which comes in a range color and head variations, was created to exploit as many of these qualities as possible. The fly chapter also contains patterns such as Miyawaki Poppers, Glenn Starr’s Angel Hair Candlefish, and the Alien, created by Ted Teather, an instructor at Peninsula Outfitters.
As you would expect from a biologist, Fly-Fishing Inshore Saltwaters for Pacific Salmon is written crisply, without literary frills or an abundance of anecdotes. I found that refreshing. It also remains true to its subtitle and is, indeed, a rich trove of practical information. Stoll is the type of angler who wants a fly that works, not necessarily one that is beautiful or full of tradition or built entirely with natural materials. But if you do what he suggests you will become a better and more effective saltwater angler.
For me, the most compelling measure of an instructional fly fishing book is to what extent it changes how I fish or tie flies. Well, reading Stoll’s book has caused me to finally get around to adding eyes to one of my flies, the Keta Rose. I have fished it successfully for 15 years, and I much prefer the way it looks without eyes. But as I was going through all of the photos of chum fry after Cutts and Chum this spring, it became increasingly obvious to me that eyes are clearly a dominant feature on fry. Reading Stoll’s thoughts on eyes finally convinced me to change the fly.
If a book can teach an old dog like me a new trick or two, I imagine it will do the same for you. I highly recommend Richard Stoll’s fine new book to anyone who wanders the salt for salmon with a fly rod.