The 24 Greatest Flies

Book Review by Mark Hume

The 24 Greatest Flies You Don’t Leave Home Without (an indispensable guide)

By Robert J. Sousa. Husking Bee Books. $24.95.

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Any fly fisherman with more than a few years experience could easily put together a list of their 24 favorite flies. But few could do it with the skill of Dr. Robert Sousa. He didn’t just jot down the names of the two dozen flies he likes to fish most. Instead he did a careful and very thoughtful analysis of the four main groups of fish we like to angle for in North America – Panfish, Black Bass, Trout/Salmon, Coastal Predators – and then he worked out formulae for fishermen to use, to help them decide what fly to knot on their line.

Most fly boxes come stuffed with hundreds of patterns, and if you are like me, you have stacks of different boxes. I have a couple for salmon, a couple for steelhead, a bunch for trout (stillwaters) and a bunch more for trout (rivers). There is also a box of just dragon fly imitiations (see stillwaters) and one with nothing but chironomids (more stillwaters). There is a bass box and a bonefish box. And I am thinking I should have a dedicated panfish box.

As you can guess, if you tried to pack even half these boxes into a fly vest, you would pop apart at the seams.

Before every trip I have to sort through this pile of tackle, and come up with the right boxes. On more than a few trips I have arrived, opened my bag, and found the box I really wanted was at home.

What I need is a little better organization. And a lot less weight.

Enter Dr. Sousa and his brilliantly simple plan that will allow you to be ready for just about any species, under any conditions, just about anywhere – all in one carefully selected box.

The book features “flow diagrams” which allow you to answer a few easy, but key questions, which will help you plot yourself to the right fly on any given water.

What do you want to catch?

How fast is the water moving?

Are the fish feeding at the surface?

About how deep is the water?

Depending on how you answer each of those questions, Dr. Sousa leads you through, step by step, to the two most important decisions you will make at the start of any fishing day. Do you fish wet or dry? And which fly do you start with?

Most of us, I suspect, make those decisions intuitively and without much thought. But for a beginner it can be challenging. This book will make the right choice easy for even the rawest rookie fisherman. And even for an expert, the logical approach Dr. Sousa proposes serves as a very helpful reminder that fishing isn’t all about luck – it’s also about being smart.

If you are just starting out fly fishing, or if you are an intermediate angler who is having trouble getting up to the next level, this is a great little handbook. It will allow you to put together a fly box that will have you ready to catch just about any fish out there. And it will tell you how to fish the pattern, and why. If you are an expert, it will help you shed some of the needless pounds of tackle you are carting around, and not catching many fish with.

[Editor’s note: Dr. Robert Sousa is a fisheries scientist who has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 30 years. He initiated the Fly Fishing Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America.]