Book Review: “Tactical Fly Fishing” by Devin Olsen

To fully understand the genesis of Devin Olsen’s Tactical Fly Fishing, you need to include its subtitle: Lessons Learned from Competition for All Anglers. If you’re like me — someone who views competitions as a joy-of-fishing buzzkill — letting the C-word put you off would be a mistake. If you’re interested in becoming a better, more well-rounded angler, Tactical Fly Fishing is jam-packed with information you can use to catch more trout on your next outing.

Some of the best teachers I know take an “I’m not right, and I don’t know it all — I’m just showing you how I’d do it” approach to learning. Olsen nails this throughout the book. It’s particularly evident in the chapter, “Gear and Rigging.” He gives you an honest, broad overview, and leaves it to you to make equipment decisions.

Olsen divides river sections into water types: Pocketwater, Riffles, Runs, Pools, Glides, and Bankside Lies. He devotes a chapter to each, and this is where the book shines. He includes a few case studies, complete with photos, detailing how he approaches each water and situation. It’s almost like you’re tagging along for the lesson. With Olsen’s competition experience and success, you get the sense that there’s not a lot of water he hasn’t seen. Fish with confidence!

Regular readers of currentseams know that I don’t Euro-nymph, and given its competition roots, Euro-nymphing methodology plays an extensive role in this book. That doesn’t mean the information is irrelevant to us non-Euro nymphers — you just need to work through it as it applies to how you fish. Reading water is reading water, and since that’s such a huge part of catching, we all would do well to study the water type chapters. There’s also a short chapter on proven fly patterns; as a fly junkie I wish there were more (what, no soft hackles?).

Despite the Euro-nymphing emphasis, a consistent theme emerges throughout Tactical Fly Fishing: there is no one best way — and the best anglers take a fluid approach to the situations they are faced with and the methods they choose. In some stretches the book can get a little technical, but I’d rather have more information than not enough. (I first heard of Devin when I saw a picture of him weighing nymphs on a tiny scale. I remember thinking: this is a detail-oriented angler.) Olsen’s style is nonetheless conversational and easy-to-read. Tactical Fly Fishing is one of those references that I will be going back to on a regular basis.

It may seem like an easy gig — people send you books, you read them, then write about them — but it isn’t. You should know that I take this seriously, and if I didn’t like something, I’d tell you. So I’m telling you. This is a good one. All I ask of a how-to angling book is: teach me stuff I don’t know. Remind me of stuff I’ve forgotten. Don’t write like you’re trying to impress me with your knowledge of the thesaurus. Tactical Fly Fishing delivers. Tactical Fly Fishing — Lessons Learned from Competition for All Anglers by Devin Olsen, Stackpole Books, ISBN 978-0-8117-1982-7.

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