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Book Review - Smalmouth Bass Flies: Top to Bottom (Jake Villwock)

I really like this book and wanted to include it in an earlier post about Smallmouth Bass books but timing didn't allow for it. It is one of very few books dedicated to Smallmouth Bass flies. It is not that there are not many great pattern books or books dedicated to streamers but this one is more purposefully about Smallmouth Bass flies.

I had not know Jake Villwock's name until I was podcast surfing one day and ran across an episode of Ask About Fly Fishing with the author. After listening to the episode, I was intrigued enough to buy the book.

Book's table of contents
The book's table of contents - the book is arranged from top to bottom of the water column.

It is a gorgeous book - a large format hard back with ample color photos and fly tying sequences. I understand that not everyone is into buying books these days and prefer video instead - and I'll include some video here - but books (and blogs) have a role to play. Videos are great but they are generally sort of a mindless endeavor. Rarely does video make you think and digest the material the way that reading does.

Page with the Roamer
The Roamer is the fly the author is best known for - basically a neutrally bouyant streamer with a lot of movement.

As the book's title suggests, it is ultimately a book about fly patterns. It is arranged in a manner similar to Dave Karczynski and Tim Landwehr's, Smallmouth: Modern Fly Fishing Methods, Tactics, and Techniques, a book I reviewed as part of a post about Smallmouth Bass Books. As with seemingly any book about Smallmouth Bass fly fishing, the author starts with a description of the fish, their habitats, and then gets into both fly fishing and fly tying equipment. These are all "fine" but for most anglers that care enough about Smallmouth Bass fly fishing to buy a book with a manufacturer's retail price of nearly $40, you will probably learn fairly little here. But it seems it is a bit of a requirement for a species-specific tying and fishing book. After all, some may only own one Smallmouth Bass fly fishing book.

Example pattern page
An example of a fly patterns completion - this is for The Roamer (Cohen verion).

The book starts "up top" and works it's way to the river's bottom. Each section begins with about a dozen or so pages about that type of fly, how and when they are used, and what they imitate. In this introduction is a seasonal guide that is quite informative and useful. Then, each pattern is given an introduction of two or three pages with a bit about the history of the fly and how / why the fly was designed. The are not all of the author's design but certainly the book is slanted that way. Each section - surface, mid-column, and bottom flies - presents six or seven detailed fly patterns and tying sequences. Each section then includes quite a number of other patterns and variations with over 20 pages with 3 or 4 patterns per page dedicated to fly patterns at the end of each section. For Smallmouth Bass flies, it is a pretty exhaustive list. However, the one criticism I have of the book is that the patterns at the end of each chapter appear to be listed in no particular order and I would rather have the patterns ordered by tying sequence rather than essentially from back to front.


Books vs. Video


I don't think it needs to be an "either/or" question. The written word and videos, in general, have different purposes and can compliment one another. Fly tying is a place where video works quite well and one can "tie along" with the video. However, I think there is a lot to be said of books that provide tying sequences (see above). This approach allows the reader to see what the end of each step should look like and provide good information about proportions and other important aspects of flies.


Below are a couple of versions of videos showing the process of tying Jake Villwock's The Roamer. And I link to another video - nearly an hour long - of Jake tying the fly.

For a MUCH longer version, watch this video with Jake Villwock tying the same fly in about an hour but describing just what he is looking for in tying materials and how they affect the fly's movement.

Personally, if I am sitting at the vise, I would rather have the book near me and follow that. However, to get a good overview of the pattern, video works great. I think of video generally more as entertainment and books work better as references but your mileage may vary.

Lastly, I include a video of Jake Villwock at an FFi / Trout Unlimited meeting talking about bass fly fishing mostly just for fun.


In Summary


I like it! It is a very good book for the fly tyer and the author presents some flies that I was not familiar with. For the fly angler looking for a book about how to fish for Smallmouth Bass, Dave Karczynski and Tim Landwehr's, Smallmouth: Modern Fly Fishing Methods, Tactics, and Techniques, is a better book for that purpose. However, the two books pair very well together given their similar organizations and that one (Karczynski and Landwehr) is a Midwestern book and Villwock's is a more Eastern US focused book. Because of that, you will see some differences in fly pattern selection, seasonality, and the author's general approaches to SMB fly fishing - and I see that as a good thing.

If you are really into Smallmouth Bass fly fishing, pick up the book. If you are a less experienced SMB angler, pick up the Karczyski and Landwehr book first.


Links of Interest

Past The Scientific Fly Angler Posts
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The Wisconsin River by Stevens Point in Wisconsin is my favorite river to fish for smallmouth bass.

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