Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns - By Phillip Rowley

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One – By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan

Reviewed by Trevor Shpeley

The first time I met Phil Rowley outside of watching one of his presentations was at a course he was teaching at the ski resort in Fernie. I was immediately struck with how friendly and unassuming he was in real life as opposed to some other media personalities I have been acquainted with who were one person for the camera and another for the stream. I was also struck by how easy it was to pry him away from his teaching duties and get him into the nearby St Mary river for a little “on the water training” When push comes to shove Phil fishes because he loves to fish and he talks about fishing because he loves to talk to people who love to fish. He is very genuine and it shows.

Phil is no stranger to the members of FlyBC. In the 25 years since he started fly fishing he has written for most every fly fishing magazine in North America, put out a number of benchmark DVD's, marketed a line of stillwater specific tying materials and is currently splashing around in the waters of television while working on the New Flyfisher series.

He is also, should you happen to have not been paying attention, one of the prestigious members of our very own pro-forum where he takes time from his busy schedule to answer your questions both big and small with the kind of enthusiasm you just can't fake. I was therefore thrilled when I was asked if I wanted a copy of his new book “Still Water Selections” and his new DVD, “learning with the pros” to review for the FlyBC website.

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns:

By Phillip Rowley, published by BC Outdoors Magazine

book coverThe first thing you will notice about Stillwater selections is that although they are not fraternal twins, there is a definite family resemblance between this book and his previous offering, Stillwater Solutions Recipes. Gone is the cool little self propping feature of the recipe book but the chocolate brown, spiral bound heavy gloss paper and landscape orientation feels both familiar and welcome on the tying desk.

The second thing you notice is that this book isn't just “all about Phil.” As Phil himself says in the books forward, “this book was written to inform and educate fly fishers” “it is intended to be an educational reference to BC designed and inspired patterns.” Phil's goal in Stillwater Selections was to introduce the readers to new patterns, new techniques and new tiers that they might not be familiar with. FlyBC veterans will recognize many of the names attached to the various patterns, names such as Ken Woodward (Woody), Todd Oishi(Tyson), John Kent(JohnK) and Ron Thompson(Phisherman). There are also more well known names you would expect to see in any collection of this type, Brian Chan, Gord Honey and Steve Jennings. Together they add up to an exciting blend of proven ability and burgeoning new talent.

Phil confesses in his introduction that while he has in the past been guilty of tying flies that look great but are complicated to tie and not as lifelike in the water as they could be. In this book Phil leans towards simple patterns that display a lifelike silhouette and exhibit convincing behaviour in the water. Stillwater Selections assumes the reader to posses a basic understanding of fly tying but honestly, I feel that any reader who has mastered putting a hook in the vice and can tie a knot of some variety is going to be able to tie flies that will work well on almost any BC lake if they follow the instructions as written.

The first pages of the book are given to knot tying. You can have the best fly in the world but it's just a decoration if it comes off your line the second a fish takes an enthusiastic interest in it. Stillwater Selections shows the reader in intricate detail how to tie enough knots to handle almost any fly fishing requirement as well as a short tutorial on how to use a nail knot tool, a skill valuable to all fumble-fingered fly fishers and one never properly explained in the instruction manual that comes with the deceptively simple little devices.

From knot tying the book is divided into eight sections laid out roughly in order of importance to the fish's diet:

Chironomids (20 patterns)

Scuds (3 patterns)

Damsleflies (3 patterns)

Leeches (8 patterns)

Dragonflies (5 patterns)

Caddis (7 patterns)

Mayflies (4 patterns)

Waterboatmen and Backswimmers (5 patterns)

All sections start with a chart showing the availability of a given insect to the fish throughout the seasons as well as when you can expect the most activity from any stage of the insects development. There is also, (and in my personal opinion this is the books real strength,) a number of bullet points for each insect that pretty much cover everything you really need to know about the food source without having to fight your way through a lot of text just to find the nuggets you want. A good and very typical example would be this excerpt from the section on Chironomid Pupae:


* 3/8 to one inch, hook sizes #8 to #18

* Chironomids tend to be larger in mud bottomed algae type lakes, try pupa patterns from #12 to#8
* In clear water marl/Chara type lakes, chironomids are smaller, #10-#18 work best
* #12 standard hook is an average pupa size and a good starting point
* If trout do not appear to be selective on size, try using a pupa pattern one size larger so your fly stands out from the naturals.


* Black, maroon,brown,olive, shades of green, tan
* Dark day, dark pattern, bright day, bright pattern.
* Pupae use trapped air and gasses to aid pupal ascent and adult transformation which gives pupae a distinct silver glow.
* Pupae can change colour as they absorb or replenish trapped air and gasses.
* Chironomid pupae have prominent white gills. Chaoborus pupae do not have white gills.
* Use super white beads in algae stained waters, they do not foul with algae as natural or synthetic materials do.

With this simple yet effective technique Phil manages cram a lot of valuable information in a relatively small space without forcing the reader to decide what is trim and what is tasty steak, it's all steak, no fat here and no trouble digesting what you take in.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is laid out in a “landscape” orientation. The pages are wider than they are tall and are stiff enough that propping them up against your vice or back wall while you tie is not only possible, it's the obvious way to use the book.

boatmenOn the left page of the opened book is a large clear picture of the fly being presented. A short biography on the flies tier or originator is followed by a history of the fly itself and some tips on how, where and when to fish it. A separate window displays the materials needed to tie the fly and for many experienced tiers this is all you will need. For those that would like a little more instruction, especially since many of the techniques discussed are relatively new to most people, a detailed step by step photo-intensive tutorial occupies the facing page for each pattern.

All in all Stillwater Selections is a very useful book, especially to someone like myself who places high value on flies that work well and are simple to tie rather than flies that may dazzle your fishing buddies but have all the life and appeal of a coat hanger tied to an extension cord when in the water.

I daresay most will find something they hadn't thought of within it's pages and for those just starting out, you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by starting here.

I enjoyed Stillwater Selections very much. I will (and do) recommend it to anybody wishing to both simplify and improve their stillwater fishing.boatmen2

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One

By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan,

produced and directed by Mike Mitchell

dvd coverIn addition to Stillwater Selections, Phil and his longtime friend and fly fishing legend, Brian Chan have released a DVD titled “Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One” produced and directed by BC Outdoors senior editor, Mike Mitchell

Learning with the Pros showcases a dozen or so very effective BC Stillwater flies and focuses on several tying techniques that may not be familiar to all BC tiers. Each fly demonstration is preceded by a verbal description of the materials needed as well as a recipe screen you can pause on to ensure you have everything you need. The macro video is very clean and well focused and the background is neutral enough that detail is not difficult to follow.

Phil and Brian take turns demonstrating various ties and both have a soothing, easy to follow narrative style. It is worth noting that while they are both master tiers, their techniques differ enough that it is to the viewers benefit to observe them both do the same techniques in very different ways as it demonstrates very well that there is more than one way to scale a fish.

I learned many things I either didn't know or didn't fully understand just by watching them tie on the crisp high definition video. I learned for example how to properly hold scissors while I tie, how to double up materials very neatly and how to glue a Peacock thorax without making it a matted crusty mess. I've been tying quite awhile, you would think I would know those things but I didn't. I do now though.

Every fly demonstration is followed by a trip out to a very rainy Morgan lake to discuss and demonstrate how to properly fish the fly that was just tied. If you ever wanted to know how to fish chironomids naked, what leader to use and how to tie it, etc, you won't want to miss these sections. I love that it's obvious they couldn't care less about the rain, they're there to catch a few fish, have some fun and spread a little of their knowledge while they do what they would probably be doing on that day anyway. It's clear that Brian and Phil love their jobs.

So there you have it. Stillwater Selections and the Learning with the Pros DVD. To be honest I was a little nervous about accepting the assignment to review this book and DVD. I don't know Brian and Phil real well but I know them both at least casually and I respect them both tremendously so I had to ask myself, “what if I don't like the book?” “What if the DVD is as sleep inducing as some of the other tying videos out there?” “What if Brian and Phil know where I live?” I'm happy to say all those worries turned out to be a non-issue. I thought the book and the DVD were great. I'd buy them myself and actually use them which is a little unusual for me, I tend to do my own thing but this book and DVD merge seamlessly with my own style of tying and fishing so I expect to see these on my desk for some time. Check them out for yourself, I think you will too.

Stillwater Selection and Lerning with the pros are both available on the BC Outdoors website:


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