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Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals: An Introduction to Saltwater Fly Fishing

It's a self-perpetuating cycle: More saltwater fly fishers mean more books about fly fishing in salt water, which means more saltwater fly fishers, which in turn means . . . well, you get the idea.

October 3, 2001
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Review by Steve Raymond

FlyLife Publishing,
distributed by Australia-America Fishing Connection,
206-443-0116
Hardcover; $29.95 U.S.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: More saltwater fly fishers mean more books about fly fishing in salt water, which means more saltwater fly fishers, which in turn means . . . well, you get the idea.

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But why would a budding North American fly fisher seek out an Australian text on the subject? The answer is that Peter Morse’s Saltwater Fly Fishing Fundamentals is just as applicable to North American waters as to those Down Under. It’s also one of the best introductory texts on saltwater fly fishing yet to come along.

“Fly fishing is mostly for those who seem to care more about the journey than the final destination,” Morse says in an opening overview. He then explores the basics of tackle, flies, accessories and knots, which are pretty much the same in Australia as they are anywhere else. (One difference: The chapter on knots tells how to tie a Bimini twist with your feet instead of your knees, but you’d expect something like that in the Southern Hemisphere; they probably wind their knots in the opposite direction, too).

When it comes to fly casting, “there is absolutely no substitute for hands-on instruction,” Morse says. He’s right, but that doesn’t stop him from describing the principles of casting, common casting faults and how to correct them and the mechanics and functions of sidearm casts, roll-cast pick-ups, water hauls and distance casts. What about false casts? “False casting is … very useful for letting fish get out of range,” he says.

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Morse’s chapter on “Basic Techniques” begins with this statement: “Presentation is a word used by fly fishers to describe how the fly is shown to the fish. However, presentation has many other aspects, and some begin long before the fly actually hits the water. Selection of the fly line is a part of presentation, as is the leader, the fly and how it’s tied to the leader. Presentation aims to get the right fly to the fish and have it eat the fly.” That sums it up about as well as anybody ever has, but Morse has one thing to add: “In all fly fishing the presentation that counts most is the first one.” Amen.

Morse on retrieves: “There are three fundamental retrieves, the first being none at all.” On playing fish: “Holding the rod in a death grip against your stomach is a great method for boring fish to death.”

Up to this point, virtually everything in the book could be applied to saltwater fly fishing anywhere in the world, and you could look long and hard to find another text that explains it as well. But then Morse shifts gears and devotes the remainder of the book to Australian fish and fishing methods.

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Some of these will seem exotic to North American anglers. For example, there’s the blackfish, or luderick, a mostly vegetarian critter that’s caught on flies tied to imitate weeds. Morse also has lots to say about barramundi, which are very important to Australian anglers. Ever hear of a “boof?” That’s the sound a barramundi makes when it sucks in food, creating an implosion by flaring its gill covers, Morse says.

He offers this advice when you’re fishing Australian flats: “Keep moving and always suspect that there might be a crocodile nearby sizing you up for a meal.”

The only thing missing from this otherwise excellent introductory text is an admonishment for anglers to join fisheries conservation efforts. Perhaps this omission reflects the relatively healthy state of Australia’s fisheries, but the need for constant vigilance is no less important in Australia than it is elsewhere, and the author of any book aimed at newcomers is obligated to say so.

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With that single exception, this book will tell you nearly everything you need to know about the basics of saltwater fly fishing. Morse writes with grace, wit and style, and his words carry the weight of experience. No matter where you live, this book won’t steer you wrong.

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