When John Bryan visited Rob Carter's studio in 2016, he was surprised to see hundreds of small containers containing fishing flies that Carter had tied. Each container was carefully marked with the name of the fly, hook size and the type of insect or baitfish.
Born in Utah, Carter had grown up using his fly rod to explore the rivers and streams flowing from the canyons of the Wasatch Range, while Bryan insists he was born with the DNA to fish and couldn't recall a time he hadn't.
An idea was born on the spot. Bryan proposed putting together an article about the collection and Carter countered, suggesting a small book. As the idea evolved, they developed the name "America's Favorite Flies" for a massive illustrated book about the favorite flies of anglers throughout North America.
"The book is as much about the anglers as about the flies themselves," Carter explains. "It's peppered with humorous anecdotes, heartfelt musings and memories, fly fishing lore, historical and entomological facts, and instructional tips."
Contributors include a cross section of people from all walks of life, including former President Jimmy Carter, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, fly-fishing matriarch Joan Wulff, rock musician Huey Lewis and author Tom McGuane.
The first step was preparing a questionnaire for participants to provide facts about their favorite flies and to write stories in their own handwriting about them. As friend and acquaintance to many well-known anglers, Bryan provided a short list of potential contacts. Next they scoured the internet to find names of well-known fishing guides and fly fishing professionals, finding Facebook an invaluable source. As contacts expressed interest, questionnaires were sent to them, and they in turn suggested more names.
"We knew someone who knows Jimmy Buffet and supposedly they asked someone close to him to ask him," Bryan says. "And we received word that he wouldn't be able to participate, although we don't have any first-person evidence that he was formally asked."
Questionnaires were sent to approximately 300 people, resulting in 224 flies and stories from all over North America. In addition, two dozen outdoor artists provided about 100 artworks for the gallery of the book. Essays were submitted by 14 key people on conservation-oriented topics
The process of identifying and collecting content, photographing flies, designing and editing took the duo three years. They knew from the start that "America's Favorite Flies" would be a philanthropic endeavor with all proceeds going to protecting and sustaining healthy waters and fisheries, and thus a healthy environment.
"The James River, as America's founding river, was a no-brainer," Carter says. "John and I both love the James River and its headwaters. The James River Association and the Native Fish Society represent a coast-to-coast movement symbolizing conservation efforts across the country." The Native Fish Society in Portland, Oregon, is a science-based organization that protects habitats for native fisheries — primarily native species that travel upriver to spawn — by being stewards who watch over and collect data from more than 70 rivers in the Northwest.
The duo will do a book talk and signing at the Library of Virginia, a fitting place given that the original materials and questionnaires from the book were donated to the library. "The materials are priceless and can never be replaced, so we hoped to find a place that would care for them in perpetuity," Bryan says. "We're Virginia authors and well aware of the library, their collections and conservation practices. We're thrilled they were willing to take the materials."
While the book is bound to appeal to fly fishers, its appeal is broader. But at its most basic level, "America's Favorite Flies" is 656 pages of stunningly delicious visuals with full page photos of each fly, pages of gorgeous work by two dozen preeminent artists and scores of photographs.
"This is the best part. Fly fishing, if approached sensitively, is a meditation," Carter says. "In the moment one steps into a stream, focus centers on the rhythm of the water, the riffles, the dancing and skittering insects. Senses are alive and open and the catching of fish becomes only part of a more sublime ritual. Immersion into this world apart suppresses every urge to slip into the grind of everyday living. The nagging impulse to constantly check digital devices evaporates." S
There will be a book talk with Rob Carter and John Bryan on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at noon at the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad St., lva.virginia.gov