Thursday, July 14, 2022

Trout Spey & The Art Of The Swing


Presenting the first book ever on the subject of Trout Spey, including a comprehensive discussion of the downstream wetfly presentation, rigging, water, conditions, methodology, & a catalogue of over 100 color plates of swung wetfly patterns & dressings for the game. Now available in hard cover from Swing The Fly Press.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Fly Fishing Media ~ Print Soft~Hackle Journal


The medium is the message. Or, more certainly, a major part of it. Anybody who owns a book shelf lined with books on fly fishing subjects knows this to be true.

There is a satisfying, timeless quality expressed through the tactile, printed book or angling periodical. An authenticity that cannot be duplicated online, & a simplicity of operation that can’t be duplicated digitally. You can take hard copy with you anywhere, no power source required. You open the cover & turn the pages. Nothing simpler. Maybe I’m just a Luddite, but everything I’ve ever done online I had to learn, always with an expenditure of time seemingly disproportionate to some small entertainment. Also, unless one is reading by candlelight, a book page will not ruin your eyes as a PC screen surely will.

And you get to keep hard copy & refer back to it, any time you want. You can lend it out, give it as a gift, or pass it around, as you please. If your PC crashes the hard copy will be unaffected.   

So what is the advantage of reading online? Cheaper than hard copy? Well, I think not. Considering the cost of digital equipment, monthly carrier fees & subscriptions, & if time be money, considering the extra time at the screen ruining your eyes while trying to figure out what buttons to push. Not to mention that seemingly ‘free’ online media like YouTube or Facebook are making their money examining our likes & dislikes & selling us to advertisers, some of them darker syndicates garnering as much about our lives as they can. Do you receive a constant barrage of spam & scammers on your cell-phone & PC? Sure you do. We all do. And much of that is a result of our online media consumption. We’re not getting anything for free. That free media we’re consuming is often the attractive front for what is actually a mining operation.   

Also, more subtly, speaking for myself here, I find a hectic, frenetic quality to online media – as opposed to the relaxation & satisfaction one gets from reading hard copy – a diaphanous, fuzzy quality to digital info, very little of it abiding firm in the brain cabinet. Admittedly, that might just be me. I realize there is a whole generation that lives a major portion of their lives viewing online media, so immersed in the frenetic Cloud that they don’t notice it, or simply don’t experience it the same as I.

Often, in our rush to get onboard with the latest & greatest thing, discarding the “old”, we throw out the baby with the bath water. Something important gets lost. Fortunately, after the novelty of something new wears off, humans eventually find its utilitarian balance. So, now I’m perceiving a trend: Many of us are searching for the proverbial lost baby. Including those who’ve grown up online, & my digital generation flat-brimmed sons inform me that is true. Certainly not an overriding trend (yet), but a discernable trend away from time & info stealing “screen time”.

This is not to say there isn’t good fly fishing media online. For example, casting videos are a lot more helpful than casting instruction given in print. And, to be fair, there are online publications offering good content. Sparse Grey Matter & Swing The Fly are a couple that come to mind. There are also good & useful forums, Flymph Forum & Spey Pages come to mind. And many have written to tell me they enjoy Soft~Hackle Journal. Yet be that as it may be, I don’t think print media will be going away any time soon.

The timeline of the world is continuous & connected as one. The notion of “old” or “outdated” is mostly bullshit foisted on us by those having something to gain by perpetrating such a lie, salient only to perishable foodstuffs.  The increasing popularity of bamboo fly rods waggles in the face of that silly notion. Not to mention the millions of us pining for a simpler time, or actually creating simpler, more self-reliant lives.

In my capacity as a guide & writer, I’ve been canvassing my clients & readers for some years now, in an effort to discern their reading habits. Results are nearly unanimous: All say they prefer quality print over digital. Favorite magazine content is well-written literary stories; useful fly tying & how-to articles; & art. I was initially surprised to learn readers prefer art over photography.  But then, photos are so prevalent in media that it takes a truly exceptional photo to approach the soul & emotion expressed in fine artwork.  

There’s usually a reason for most things: Regular SHJ readers have probably noticed I’ve not posted here for quite awhile. Forgive me. All of my writing time this past year has gone toward completion of a book, Trout Spey & The Art Of The Swing, due to be released in June. That doesn’t mean I’ve dropped Soft~Hackle Journal. To the contrary. But truth is, the blog site has degraded & the host, also under attack from info miners, seems to have some difficulty in keeping the site secure. A vector[s] took over the comment section of this blog, stole my password & somehow took over as administrator & made it so I could not sign in to comments, & the comment section filled with foreign (dark web bots?), & then an entity came up in the comments claiming to be a security business that would effectively remove the  other vectors for a price! The comment section of the SHJ blog actually held hostage! I had to remove the comment section altogether as a result. I won the war but lost a piece of the blog.

Lets get real. Lest we devolve further toward a dystopia resembling a Blade Runner landscape.  

For my part, I’ve decided to take the Soft~Hackle Journal to a (scam proof) print quarterly, embodying those favorite reader elements mentioned above: Fine art; useful fly tying & how-to articles; literary stories that push the boundaries of the genre.  Zen simple. The same neoclassic values as the SHJ blog, yet no longer a one-man show. We’re in the process of assembling a stellar crew of staff writers, some old, well-loved & respected voices, as well as some fresh voices whose time has come. All hard-core fishing kids at the top of the game. If any ads they will be confined to the back page, & only those we feel offering goods or services benefitting our readers would be considered. Print SHJ will be deeply rooted in the authentic tradition (The Archive Of What Worked) of our game. If you like classic & neoclassic flies & gear, you’ll like print SHJ.     

Print Soft~Hackle Journal will not be the floppy, stapled, ad rag too many are, it will be square-backed & worthy of archiving on a book shelf. Dimensions will be the more compact, reader-friendly 9” x 7” dimensions popular in the early last century (still popular in Scandinavia), yet satisfyingly fat with content. 

Putting ducks in a row, planning to release the first issue, Spring, in late winter 2023. We are open to submissions now. Payment based on word length & quality of the piece. We are particularly interested in fine art & creative memoir or fiction that stretches the genre. Also poetry if it is very good. If you are a new writer looking to break into print, we would love to see something from you. Submissions should be sent as Word doc, 12pt, Times New Roman font, 1-inch page margins. Photos should be at least 1 MB for reproduction.

If you would like to submit or comment on any of this, email submissions & correspondence to: Steven Bird,     


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Black & White Of It



"Have you also learned that secret from the river, that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, or the shadow of the future."   ~Herman Hesse







 Haven't posted anything here since June, & I came back to find that clandestine international drug & weapons (& who knows what else) dealers & dark money laundering syndicates from foreign countries have been leaving secret messages to each other in the comment columns under the blog posts. Brilliant way to hide shit, really. And though these 'comments' are written in languages I can't understand, I suspect they are totally off-subject. I need to clean house. If anybody comes across any of these suspicious comments below older posts, please let me know.



Haven't been posting because all of my writing time has been taken up putting together Trout Spey & The Art Of The Swing, which we hope will be in print by March, barring more covid supply chain slow-downs. First release will be 100 hardcover, signed, limited editions. If you are a collector of fine angling books you may want to get on the list for one of these, the first book ever on the subject of trout spey; including a fly catalogue of over 200 color photos of swung-flies with dressings. If you'd like to get on the list for the book, let me know:





                                                               brown streaked river

                                                            leafless supplicant alders

                                                              rain darkens the stones

"I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a giant river."   ~Roderick Haig Brown

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Thought


When something is true it is true across all systems.


If you understand that when a forest is thought to have no value until it is cut down, or that a prairie has no value until it is turned under, or that a river has no value until it is girdled with dams, then you’ve begun to understand the root of our ecological crisis.


The idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.


Go to the stream or sea. Fish. While you are there, be thinking. Consider the immeasurable value of all things. Be. Thinking a system for which there is yet no name.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

American Grannom (Brachycentrus, Mother’s Day Caddis, Black Sedge)


Grannom sedges are prolific in running water nearly everywhere in trout country. On many waters the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is the first big hatch of the season that gets trout keyed to selective.

Grannom are a cased caddis, the case square in cross-section. Trout eat the cased larvae when they can get them, & these are important as imitation on some streams, but the emerging pupae are, by far, the most important stage of this insect. During emergence, trout consume the pupae almost exclusively.

On my home water, true to their colloquial name, grannom season usually begins during the week of Mother’s Day, continuing until about the second week of June when they diminish, overtaken by the slightly larger spotted sedge that dominate the summer hatches. 

Grannom adults are generally #16, with dark-brown to black bodies & light brownish-gray wings with faint mottling. Pupae are a size larger than adults, the abdomen color ranging from pale olive, through various shades of olive to bright green, & pinkish-brown to dark brown through the thorax area & wing holsters.

 Grannom are uniform in size & when trout are keyed on them it is important that the imitation be exactly the right size. A soft-hackle spider provides a good profile of the emerging pupae. As color varies within the same population, a perfect color match isn’t important, though, so that my imitation stands out (without being too intrusive) among the bazillion naturals it’s competing against for the trout’s attention, I like to add some brightness through the abdomen portion of the fly – a bright green or reflective material.

As the season progresses & emergence slows down, trout will turn to eating more adult sedges, including drowned egg-layers. So it’s a good idea to carry more than one fly pattern for grannom.

A swung presentation works well with grannom. Activate the pupa with short 3-inch pulls or by pumping the rod as the fly swings under tension. If presenting a drowned adult pattern, swing it dead-drift. If there are visibly feeding trout, I position 45 degrees upstream of the target & concentrate on that portion of the swing between 90 degrees (straight out) & 45 degrees, that portion of the swing wherein the fly is pretty much dead-drifting. If nothing is showing on top I’ll fish two pupa with a sink-tip or on a long fluorocarbon leader.

Grannom sedges emerge midday through early evening, with egg-laying flights simultaneous. Here are a few of my current favorites for meeting them:  

Hook: #14 ~ Thread: brown ~ Hackle: partridge ~ Rib: 2 strands of olive midge flash, twisted & wound as a rib ~ Body: olive rabbit with thorax of red-brown antron

Hook: #14 ~ Thread: brown ~ Hackle: brahma hen or brown partridge ~ Rib: fine silver wire ~ Body: 4 strands of olive or pearl midge flash, twisted, & thorax of hares mask ~ Shroud: small pinch of Hareline Shrimp Pink UV Dub ~ Top with 2 gadwall flank fibers before winding the hackle

Drowned Egg-Layer ~ Hook: #16 ~ Thread: black ~ Hackle: partridge ~ Egg Sack: highlander green UNI yarn ~ Body: 3 strands of black midge flash, twisted, & thorax of dark brown dubbing

Partridge & Peacock ~ #16 (if tying on short-shank, caddis-style hooks, use a #14 hook) ~ egg sacks on this one are optional, the traditional Partridge & Peacock is reliable when trout are taking adult grannoms




Friday, March 26, 2021

Early Spring


Watercolor by Doris Loiseau

Muddler Redband

Where I live, early spring is Muddler season. Attractor patterns can be effective on pre-spawn rainbows as well, but you can't go wrong with some variation of something that simulates sculpin. Water temperatures have not yet warmed enough to trigger insect hatches, & larger patterns fished deep & slow will get the grab. Here are a couple patterns, a Muddler & a Fore & Aft, I like to swing in early spring.

 Squirrel Tail Muddler

Hook: #2-#6

Thread: black or brown

Tailing: squirrel tail

Rib: copper wire

Body: dubbed natural amber seal

Winging: squirrel tail & a couple strands of copper flash, 2 coq de leon saddles, placed both sides of the wing as lateral lines

Hackle Collar: olive guinea fronted with deer hair arranged as a collar

Head: clipped deer hair

   Partridge/Blue Fore & Aft

Hook: #6-#8

Thread: black

Tailing: pinch of blue guinea & 2 jungle cock eyes (GPT) may substitute

Rear Hackle: brown partridge

Rib: gold wire

Body: peacock herl

Hackle Collars: brown partridge fronted with blue guinea


                                                  Trout Spey & The Art of the Swing 

 Coming this summer: Trout Spey & The Art of the Swing. The book. Written by 'Swing The Fly' magazine trout spey editor, Steven Bird, in collaboration with spey chieftains, Zack Williams, guide & founding editor of 'Swing The Fly', & Bruce Kruk (Kaptain Kanudia), Upper Columbia guide, casting instructor & trout spey master. A comprehensive work on trout spey & the methodology of swinging wetflies. Everything you need to know (& then some) to get you well up the road to expertise in this growing aspect of our sport. Includes 125 color photos of fly dressings for the game. First release will be a limited collector's edition of one hundred hard-cover, signed, book copies @ $100 (includes shipping in the U.S.). If you would like to be on the list to purchase one of these copies, contact Steve:       


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Fly Culture Magazine ~ New Voices


                            I’ve been a reader for most of my life. I was fortunate to have a loving Scottish grandmother with the patience to teach me to read before the age of five. Needless to say this gave me a vast head start on kindergarten. By first grade, when most of the kids were struggling through the Dick and Jane books used to teach kids to read in those days, I’d already read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, which my grandmother had chosen as a primer.

My grandmother taught me to read & my grandfather taught me to angle. A love of angling literature soon followed. By the age of eight I was devouring the great Frank Woolner’s weekly outdoor column in the Worcester Telegram Gazette, as well as gaining a reputation at the local pond. I learned a lot from reading Frank Woolner. (Frank Woolner: 1916-1994; famed WWII battlefield journalist & tank commander; author of Spearhead, a classic text for WWII historians; Cape Cod surf striper & beach buggy fishing pioneer; outdoor writer & the author of many books on environmental, angling & hunting subjects; IGFA Sportfishing Hall of Fame inductee).

Frank Woolner was not only a great angler & article writer, but also a creative writer of prose laced with wry Yankee humor, his writing often verging on poetry; his work embodying the finest literary tradition of our game. Woolner could tell a story, & it was through him that I was introduced to the angling story.

I can’t think of any other sport outside of angling in which the written article assumes such importance. Much of what we learn about flyfishing comes through reading articles, & how-to articles are the main course of angling publications, with few exceptions. Though most angling magazines are stuffed with articles, which I enjoy immensely, there is always at least one story, often tagged to the back page as a tailout feature. And much as I love the articles, upon receiving a magazine I always go straight to the story before reading the how-to stuff – & I know others who do the same.

So, I’ve wondered: If story is such a strong draw for many of us, why not an angling periodical totally devoted to story? I can think of a couple published in the U.S. Though hunting shares equal billing, Gray’s Sporting Journal is all story, & with a very high literary standard. Also The Drake, which is all story, though much of it devoted to destination pieces that are couched as creative memoir -- a form my writer friends have forbidden me to practice. There is a singular style and overall vibe to The Drake that I've heard described as “Gen X Onanistic” though, to be fair, much of that vibe is created by advertising aimed at Gen X readers, the writing is generally good, & there’s no denying the success of The Drake during an age when print magazines are folding at an alarming rate, which says something about the power of ‘story’.

I am fortunate in my position as contributing editor for Swing The Fly magazine, as Zack Williams, the founding editor, encourages the staff writers to write what they please, so there’s a good balance of both articles & stories in the magazine. A story I’d written for Swing The Fly happened to catch the attention of Pete Tyjas, editor-in-chief of Fly Culture magazine, a print quarterly out of the U.K. totally devoted to story. Pete, a pleasant, as well as wide-ranging chap, contacted me wanting to know if I would submit a story to Fly Culture.

That request from a British magazine gave me some trepidation, considering Britain, the land of Shakespeare, Byron, Austin, Dickens &, indeed, Bernars & Walton, the mother & father of fish-writing, is the very homeland of English literature. Surely the editor had studied at Eaton or Cambridge & was holding a high bar – a standard this Mongrel-American descendant of Cotton Mather’s witch-hanging zealots & wayward son of rebellious New England could not dare to aspire to. 

Nevertheless I sent a story. And it was accepted.

Pete sent me a copy of Fly Culture containing my article. Flipping through it I was immediately impressed that there are no advertisements. None. Considering how magazines depend on ads to stay afloat, I honestly don’t know how they pull that off. The price is comparable to the better magazines. Put together with thick, quality paper, Fly Culture looks good enough to be a coffee table book.

The issue Pete sent me contains thirteen stories – all of them well written (& also tactfully edited, without a single typo). Good writing is never boring; I slipped through the Fly Culture stories like water through a net. There is reading here to last awhile but I couldn’t put it down. And the images accompanying the stories, art & photos, are excellent. The stories encompass the U.K., Europe, the U.S. & beyond. I didn’t know about the good trout fishing to be had in the mountains of Italy, so one more trip for the bucket list. One more dream.

I asked Pete Tygas his mission statement for Fly Culture, & he put it thus:

“To bring you a fly fishing magazine with great writing and photography that you’ll enjoy reading. To concentrate on quality be it in the content you’ll read or the way the magazine is presented and never to cut corners on this quest. To remain proudly independent. To offer you a true and contemporary look at the culture of fly fishing.”  

If you enjoy stories & would like to meet some fresh voices in angling literature, writing from interesting places, I think you’d like Fly Culture. As the name indicates, there’s a lot more to flyfishing than just fishing. And a subscription supports the emerging voices of the ongoing literary tradition of our game.