The Feather Mechanic

Peter Watson reviews a refreshingly different take on the fly tying experience

Gordon Van Der Spuy’s The Feather Mechanic — A fly-tying philosophy is certainly a stand-out amongst recently released fly tying books. Far from being the regular step by step, do this, do that recipe style, Gordon takes us on a personal tour through his world of fly tying. It’s a refreshingly different and somewhat irreverent take on the whole fly tying experience.

Like many, Gordon’s fly tying began when he was a teenager, raiding things around the house to cobble together something similar to the recipes published in fishing magazines. Early success with these patterns spurred him on, the tying bug bit and nothing in the house was safe from his experimentation. His parents ultimately supplied a proper tying kit with the proviso that household items were off limits. It seems using his mother’s string of pearls for Booby eyes, while successful, was a step too far.

It was during these early years that Gordon developed his tying philosophy — that form follows function. He puts a great deal of importance on the design process of a pattern, dedicating the first chapter to it, urging us to push aside the established ideals on aesthetics. Decide what you need your pattern to do and tie to that: “You can’t tie an effective fly without thinking about the how, when and why you are going to fish it.”

Early chapters cover the tying basics. Tools, materials and techniques are explained in an in-depth yet easily understood manner. It is one of the better introductions to tying for beginners I’ve come across, and still with enough information to keep the more experienced from skipping forward. Gordon then takes the readers through the tying of a damsel nymph pattern to better demonstrate some of the techniques and how they can be incorporated into your tying. Magnificent hand drawn images complement the descriptions showing tying details better than any photograph — very reminiscent of Peter Leuver’s images for long time FlyLife readers. 

Gordon goes on to present a wide selection of patterns, everything from mayfly nymphs to large wets, midges to terrestrials. Many he uses himself, one he dislikes and somewhat surprisingly most are not his own patterns. Yet each fit his criteria of being developed for a purpose rather than looks, and all are very successful. Each pattern has a dedicated chapter where he runs us through the development history and explains how aspects of the design have led to its success. Interspersed throughout are well told stories of fishing events that involve the patterns or were an integral moment in the development of the pattern.

What makes this book is Gordon’s desire to pass on his knowledge and to encourage you to think about your own set of fishing circumstances. Plan what you need your fly to do rather than blindly following a recipe because it is written in a book: “We’re pattern-orientated as opposed to being purpose-orientated.” Books and social media filled with stunning patterns where every fibre and hackle barb is flawless have us trying for perfection. Beginners wrongly lament that their flies are not neat enough. Perhaps more pointedly, we might strive for perfection, yet how often do we pick the well chewed fly from our fly box rather than a brand new one? 

The Feather Mechanic is an enjoyable and thoroughly enlightening read that will have you throwing aside convention and hitting the vice to produce some well designed, ‘ugly’ flies fit for purpose.

Available in the Flylife Shop – $35.00