Review: “Fly Fishing for Bonefish” (Brown)

Dick Brown's "Fly Fishing for Bonefish"PRIOR TO THE 1990s, the only significant literature that addressed fly fishing for bonefish was included in Lefty Kreh’s 1974 publication of Fly Fishing in Salt Water, a book that bundled the collective knowledge of several decades of flats fly fishing. This was a seminal book, providing a step to Kenneth Bay ‘s Salt Water Flies (1972) and later, Lefty’s own Salt Water Fly Patterns (1988). But not until 1992 did an author again tackle strategies for catching bonefish on a fly, and when Randall Kaufmann’s Bonefishing with a Fly was published, it had leapt forward over almost two decades of experience. Dick Brown’s larger, more inclusive and scientific Fly Fishing for Bonefish was published the following year, but because Kaufmann’s book codified many of the strategies for hunting bonefish, it is hard to evaluate Brown’s book without looking at what the earlier title brought to the table.

Unfortunately Kaufmann’s book is not as easy to find now, possibly because in the minds of most readers Fly Fishing for Bonefish eclipsed its impact. The contents of the Kaufmann title were very much like those of Brown’s book: poetic observance of the bonefish as a game fish, scientific notes on anatomy, food sources and behavior, strategies for finding and stalking the fish, and suggestions for gear and fly patterns, and finally a review of the types of fishing to be found at various bonefish destinations. It may be impossible to say how — both authors were writing at the same time, when seen from a historical perspective, and most of Kaufmann’s sources were also Brown’s — but most of what Kaufmann offers is repeated in Fly Fishing for Bonefish. What distinguished Kaufmann’s work was his concentration on strategy and applying strategy to bonefish behavior, and his focus on fly fishing destinations. (It is worth noting that Randall Kaufmann is an owner of Kaufmann’s Streamborn, a company that was heavily promoting destination fishing in the late 1980s and 90s.) To the reader’s advantage, the author brought his very considerable experience at a variety of destinations to the pages of his book. Plus, artist Mike Stidham contributed all the appealing vignettes in charcoal that illustrated the pages. When the book arrived on the scene, it excited everyone.

Brown’s Fly Fishing for Bonefish went further and with more detail than Bonefishing with a Fly. It reviews more fly patterns and the reasons for their development and use, its chapter on gear is more extensive, including names of the available rods, reels and lines, its observations on food sources are more detailed, and an entertaining section called “Advice from Some Veterans,” a welcome acceptance from the author that he is perhaps not the ultimate authority.

Brown took great care to codify as much as possible about what was known and remains very objective. There are few, if any, seat-of-the pants exclamations, unless by the “Veterans” quoted in the last chapter (one of them suggests that a 12-weight fly rod might sometimes be useful). Most of the information in the book is presented in tabular format, if it lends itself, and Brown goes out of his way to be inclusive. This is the only area where the book gets ahead of itself, in its zealousness to reduce as much information as possible to data. The food sources tables are great; but the table that tries to differentiate between “light-” and “fair-skinned” anglers for the purposes of choosing a sunscreen SPF just reminds us that there is such a thing as too much information. Similarly, some of the advice — in the original edition, at least — borders on misplaced hearsay: I would not recommend holding your excess fly line in your mouth while wading, and heavier lines are not more difficult to cast in windy conditions.

But for the minor inaccuracies that a large manual on fishing is apt to contain, Brown’s book is an excellent resource and still the most authoritative book on fly fishing for bonefish. The author’s voice is sometimes clinical, but I’m guessing this is what we want in a work that tries to be encyclopedic. At 325 pages, there is a lot of information, and it reflects a great deal of research, almost all of it thorough and accurate. There are a large number of black and white photos and line drawings that illustrate the author’s points and some color photos that will help readers learn to see bonefish in the water. The photos of the fly patterns are good as well. In summary, if fish for bonefish, this book should be in your library, both for its historical value and its usefulness as the most instructive manual yet published.

Editor’s note: Be sure to read our review of Chico Fernandez’s book “Fly-Fishing for Bonefish,” which came out after Brown’s book of similar name.