We do not know how many fly fishermen had fished for or taken a trout with a dry fly in America by 1890, though it is certainly possible that some had. Not a dry fly tied specifically to be fished on the surface perhaps, but there were earlier recorded mentions of anglers whipping or false casting their wet flies so that they settled upon the surface to be taken by fish before sinking. A slight, consumptive recluse of a man, a man of breeding and education consigned to live alone, turned his attentions to the wild and beautiful rivers of the Catskill Mountains and to fishing of the fly for their trout. We shall be forever grateful.
Theodore Gordon inquired; he wrote, corresponded, he studied the works of others obsessed with this angling as something more than a simple matter of subsistence. His correspondence with one Frederick Halford, England’s Grand Master of the dry fly, brought him not only the celebrated Britisher’s thoughts and theories, but samples of his many dry flies. Gordon experimented with the English flies and, noting they were not well suited to the bright, tumbling waters of his adopted mountains, he modified them. Gordon used his knowledge of fly tying to create the first true American dry flies, imitating the insects he found along his beloved Neversink, Beaver Kill and other rivers; and thus, Gordon gets the blame for starting all of this madness!
In my own quest for imitation, I went back to Gordon, back to the fly pictured in the beginning of this post, viewed countless times over three decades of visits to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, and with that fly I have fueled my own obsession.
My own experiences long ago convinced me that fly design is the avenue to expand our enjoyment of angling and deal with the evolution of our wild trout. Fly fishers like to argue about many things, and among these are the far extremes touting pattern versus presentation. I often wonder why so many of us fall into one or the other of those camps.
I am a dry fly fisherman, and I began to design my own dry flies from the very beginning of my experiences with fly tying. I am a bold proponent of fly color, another heavily debated subject among anglers, and I will be the first to stand with the fellows in the presentation camp, though I doubt they will welcome me as a member. Presentation is everything, though in my mind fly design, color, movement and the overall image of life is a vital part of presentation.
Presentation encompasses both what we offer to a feeding trout and how it is offered. There, I have said it, clearly and bluntly. So why are we anglers so often arguing about two ends of the same stick?
Rather than choosing to believe that a few nondescript fly patterns are the ultimate dry flies, to be fished to the exclusion of all others, I maintain that many of these flies work well under certain conditions. There are elements of their design that provide the essential image of life that is the key to enticing a trout to take an artificial fly.
I tie some of my own patterns to take advantage of the characteristics I recognize in some of the patterns the one fly anglers tout. We tend to talk about the quality of bugginess in many of these flies: the Adams, the Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear, etcetera. These flies have elements of design which imitate movement, and movement is life!’
There is nothing wrong with carrying a single box of flies stocked only with these patterns, and there is nothing wrong with carrying a half a dozen fly boxes with specific imitations of available insects tied in different styles and sizes, though some of us walking the latter path may suffer a bit with the weight of our fly vests.
I believe strongly that we learn to be better anglers by thinking and experimenting. Appreciate the tradition and learn the lessons it teaches. Spend as much time as possible on the water with your eyes and your mind open to Nature and inspiration.