March 2018

BY: Larry Ray

A Hearty Thank You. Before proceeding, I want to offer a hearty “thank you!” to Mike Melmoth for his recent donation of over twenty volumes to the SFF Club Library! They will provide grist for some upcoming reviews and, more importantly, some wonderful reading for our membership. Thanks again, Mike!

A modern English Master with a Familiar Name. The first time you saw the Goddard Caddis pattern, did you marvel at the obvious caddis silhouette? Puzzle over how it could be cut out of spun deer hair? Wonder at the identity of the fly’s namesake? Well, the fact is this pattern was developed by a British fly angler and innovator of great renown “across the pond”, as well as here in America.

One of the volumes that came with the donation mentioned above is A Fly Fisher’s Reflections, a collection of many articles published mostly in Europe by John Goddard from the 1960’s through the century’s turn. Each chapter deals with some sort of discovery and innovation by this absolute
master of fly fishing detail.

I didn’t become aware of chironomid fishing until the late 80s or early 90s. Goddard’s first chapter on chironomid fishing recalls his efforts devising and fishing flies for this purpose in 1968!

Especially fascinating are the methods he devised for fishing chironomid pupae imitations in the surface film. He first did this by tying them on straight-eyed hooks (i.e., eyes neither bent upward or downward), then simply suspending three of them along a well-greased leader, tipped by a large floating sedge. They were not suspended with droppers; rather, they were simply strung along the at intervals with blood knots tied to either side to minimize their drift up or down the leader. (By the way, the British refer to chironomid fishing as “buzzer” fishing, and chironomids as “buzzers”. If you have ever listened to the midge hatch on Lake Lenice or Nunnally, back when they had truly great chironomid hatches, you will understand.)

Similar descriptions of Goddard’s development of sedges (caddis), mayflies, winged midges, and some terrestrials, are found in this collection. Particularly interesting is the chapter on snail rises (when fresh water snails actually rise to the surface, in apparent search for oxygen, and provide a “hatch” of sorts for trout). A pattern is even provided. I’ve never seen reference to this in any
American work…

Both the patterns themselves and the methods evolved for fishing them are well described, usually in fascinating detail. Recipes are provided as well but, surprisingly, can be rather clipped. Stories of angling experimentation and resulting successes are provided throughout. Believing that to cast without actually targeting an individual fish is angling of a lower order, he identifies the fish to which he wants to cast and proceeds accordingly. Aside from fishing damsel nymphs just under and along the surface film, you will find no discussion of general casting and retrieving here. Nor, descriptions of general attractor patterns and their use. Goddard’s style reflects a gentle
perfectionist who is not oppressively so. His prose is correct, if simple, very articulate English, which makes for very enjoyable reading.

Goddard expanded his fishing to virtually all parts of the globe (including the USA), saltwater and fresh, and related stories are contained in this volume. They are as enjoyable as those already described. This review is limited to the trout fly evolution and fishing method portion for purposes of brevity.
Lefty Kreh, who wrote the forward to this volume, expressed his own great admiration for Goddard’s attention to detail. Once, Goddard lightly upbraided Kreh during a fishing outing for wearing a fishing shirt that was too bright a shade of green for the background foliage along the stream to be fished! When Kreh, who at first thought Goddard was kidding, later exchanged shirts for a softer tone, his fishing success that day improved markedly!

And what of the Goddard Caddis (or G & H Caddis, as it is known in Britain) pedigree itself? How did it evolve? Well, as a teaser, I am going to let you, the reader, find this out for yourself. I will simply tell you it is described somewhere in the volume – if you really wish to know, you will have to search for it by checking out A Fly Fisher’s Reflections!

More of “What’s in a Name”. Last month I opened this column with the topic “What’s in a Name?”. Continuing that, I want to discuss the only book ever written by Sparse Grey Hackle, Fishless Days, Angling Nights. “Sparse Grey Hackle” is the pseudonym adopted by Alfred W. Miller, perhaps America’s premier fly fisher during the first half of the last century. Miller wrote many articles and published in such periodicals as Life and The Wall Street Journal, as well as such sporting publications as Sportsman, Sports Illustrated, and American
Angler. He was much more than an angling author; he was one of the first to lend his writing talents to conservation. He became alarmed at the efforts to dam his favorite Catskill streams, most notably
the Neversink. In fact, several of the photo illustrations in Fishless Days… are underscored by captions sadly noting that they are of pre-reservoir water (prior to the construction of the LaGuardia
(now Neversink) Reservoir). Particularly upsetting was the fact that this impoundment would (and did) cover the last residence of Theodore Gordon, to which Miller and his close associates made a
documented pilgrimage before it was drowned.

Many noted fly fishers and authors of that day considered Miller to be the Dean of American Fly Fishing. His credits for such recognition include the fact that he, more than any other individual, bridged the gaps between the early eras of North American fly fishing, into the second part of the 20th century and a time some of us can recall. He published his one book in 1971, yet he numbered among his associates Herman Christian and Roy Steenrod, two of Theodore Gordon’s closest fishing companions, as well as Edward Hewitt, another Neversink angling regular and author.

The volume, itself, is an angling reader’s joy. Miller employs a unique blend of light humor and satire interspersed throughout a storyteller’s easy narration, soft yet authoritative in style. Those who are
fascinated with what we often identify as the recent move of women into fly angling ranks should note his observations on “Woman in Waders”, which turns out to be a dedication of the book to his
wife, Louise Brewster Miller, whom he dubbed “Lady Beaverkill”. His stated stereotypes regarding the proclivities of women, set in the framework of angling, are typical of the more common assumptions of the time regarding feminine emotional make up, yet seem humorous today as he relates them in the angling context. (I would certainly NOT want to recite them, though, at a meeting of Women on the Fly…!)

Like many fine authors, Miller has the knack for writing to the reader’s own experiences. Anyone who recalls a childhood fondness for wandering through the various mail order, outdoor catalogues
of that time, and being transported to the North woods by the combination of those pictures and imagination, will appreciate the chapter named “The Magic Carpet”. Chapters with such titles as
“The First Camping Trip”, “Certain Boys”, “Night Fishing”, and “Nocturne”, all display the author’s ability to delightfully transport the reader.

The chapter entitled “The Quest for Theodore Gordon” deviates from the more light-hearted style and reads much like the chronicle of an investigative journalist. His search for Gordon’s burial place,
and it’s ultimate discovery, are as spell-binding as any noble quest. Fascinating photographs help document the effort and give a feel for the final, surprising discovery. His interviews with Christian and Steenrod reveal a great deal about Gordon’s peculiarities, among which are that he was a diminutive 5 feet, 2 inches in height, weighed scarcely 90 pounds, rolled cigarettes between the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and was very secretive about his fly tying, to the point of removing a partially finished fly from his vice should company arrive. Also, he suffered in his final years from tuberculosis and ultimately succumbed.

Borrow Fishless Days, Angling Nights from your SFF Library for a fascinating visit with some of the fathers of North American fly fishing, as well as for an easy, sometimes amusing read that will cause you to revisit your own experiences growing in our sport.


Febuary 2018

BY: Larry Ray

What’s in a Name? During the 19th and early 20th centuries it was common for notable outdoor and fishing authors to adopt a pen name with a topical theme. Most of this occurred in England, but there were a few in the USA as well. For example, Robert Blakely, a prolific British fishing writer from the
period, wrote under the name Palmer Hackle. The man many consider the “father of American fly fishing”, Theodore Gordon, sometimes utilized the name Badger Hackle. Sparse Grey Hackle was the pseudonym adopted by Alfred W. Miller when he wrote the beloved Fishless Days and Angling Nights (which is, by the way, available in our SFF library!).

Of particular interest to those who pursue steelhead in area rivers with the fly is a work by another such author. Greased Line Fishing for Salmon was written by Donald G. Ferris Rudd in 1935 under the pen name Jock Scott (taken from the traditional salmon fly of that name) from a compilation of salmon fishing notes and materials by A.H.E. Wood. A noted British salmon fisherman, Wood was credited with originating the greased line method to swing traditional salmon flies. “Greased line” was so named for the line treatment necessary to get the silk lines of the period to float consistently and came to be known as the method of swinging flies drag-free, both surface and sub-surface, through runs that had slow, uniform currents from bank to bank (usually in low water conditions).

The volume we hold in our library, Greased Line Fishing for Salmon (and Steelhead), was published in 1982 to connect Wood’s technique to northwest steelheading methods using the swung fly. Apart from the differences between modern gear and the rods and lines of Wood’s day, the methods appear to be much alike. (It should be noted here that Wood’s greased lining does not involve “riffling” or “waking”, which employ drag applied to a fly swinging through the surface current to create a wake that can attract a strike.)

The forward by Bill McMillan, noted northwest steelhead angler and author, is key as he does a masterful job of relating Wood’s methods to modern techniques. There are interesting comparisons between equipment, especially rods, of Wood’s time and our own. McMillan also provides a concise
history of steelheading in northwest waters, comparing both wet and dry methods and noting the early success of the few anglers, including Roderick Haig-Brown, who broke from the dictum that steelhead won’t rise to take surface flies. His reference to Haig-Brown’s pioneering role in taking
steelhead with swung dry flies is especially informative. But, one will want to read the entire text by Scott as well, to fully appreciate the greased line method as well as the differences and similarities between then and now in both gear and technique. Not to mention his enjoyable, yet very instructional, writing style.

One interesting observation: Wood evidently did not like the long rods of that day that were the forerunners of the current Spey rods now in vogue, and instead preferred one-handed rods for swinging his flies (though these “one-handed” cane rods were twelve feet long and weighed 11 – 13 ounces!).

Detailed sketches are provided throughout to illustrate the principles involved in the greased line method. Photos of Wood fishing his beloved Cairnton runs, displaying proper demeanor while dressed in the appropriate tweeds and tie, provide a feel for that period when this method was developed. There are grainy, instructional photographs. One shows Wood employing the proper “power stroke” in his forward cast. Another shows him landing a salmon while employing the correct “side strain”. A close-up of a Cairnton salmon shows how it was properly hooked in the maxillary, the result of a well-presented fly.

Meanwhile, there are nice color plates showing modern steelhead patterns, including bomber and other riffling types, for use in all water conditions.

This volume, available in our SFF Library, should be read by anyone who wishes to swing flies through steelhead runs in area rivers such as the Clearwater and Grande Ronde.


January 2018

BY: Larry Ray

Fly Fishing Alaska: Books by Anthony J. Route. I have been asked occasionally to recommend books on Alaskan fly fishing. As our collection is a bit dated, I have been reluctant to give recommendations. Lately, however, I have had to plan some Alaskan adventures of my own. Thus, taking a closer look at our library, I was pleasantly surprised to find Flyfishing ALASKA, by Anthony J. Route. Having been born there, and having experienced fishing in Alaska as a wee lad (yes, I was once wee!), Alaska fishing is near and dear to me. I return periodically to sample the fishing and visit old friends. I have fished the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers in the South-Central Region, the Anchor and the Russian on the Kenai Peninsula, the Situk and other rivers near Yakutat, and lovely little streams in places as diverse as the creeks within the Anchorage city limits to the central Aleutians, where we caught big sea-run Dolly Varden and pink salmon on sand shrimp imitations — which is why I so thoroughly enjoyed reading Flyfishing ALASKA. With the exception of the small streams, Route covers nearly all the rivers of my Alaska memories.

Much has changed, of course. When I was growing up in Alaska, one didn’t fish for sockeye (“reds”) with any terminal gear meant to entice a strike. Reds, which feed on small organisms, were thought to quit feeding entirely when entering fresh water and also not to strike out of anger. So, our gear consisted of large treble hooks cuttyhunked to large willow staffs!

Today, informed fly fishers know that reds will strike small, metallic flies, such as brassies and comets — at times with abandon. Also changed is the numbers of anglers fishing such sockeye strongholds as the Russian, where combat fishing is similar to that in places in the lower 48. Route describes these changes in some detail.

Fascinating, too, is Route’s description of Alaskan cutthroat trout fishing. As a cutthroat lover I am glad to know I can go up there to find coastal cutthroat in abundant numbers, even while others pursue the larger salmon and steelhead. Route nicely describes this fishery from a fly fisher’s perspective, as well.

The author covers most of the better fly fishing streams in the state, including those mentioned above. This is done in the context of waters (mostly rivers) where the various species are found. Virtually all the species that can be targeted with a fly somewhere in the state, including char, grayling, pike, salmon, sheefish, and trout, are covered. Curiously, he provides little in the way of fly pattern recipes. Such are limited to eight pages in an appendix. However, the list of patterns for each species includes many the reader will recognize. If one wishes to explore Alaskan fly patterns in detail, check out Flies for Alaska, also available in or SFF Library, by the same author.

A third volume by Route is also held – River Journal: The Kenai River. If curious regarding this famous river and its mega-king and rainbow fishery, take a look at it. However, for me, today’s combat fishing on that river is repugnant. I recall, fondly yet sadly, the days when my father, his bush pilot friend, and I used to camp at the site of the old Russian River Rendezvous Lodge. The lodge, located at the river’s outlet from Lower Russian Lake, had burned, leaving just one cabin, and Mort and my father were among the very few who knew about it. So, we would go camp there and often have the Russian River, clear down to it’s confluence with the Kenai, to ourselves! We would even cook and eat the spruce grouse I shot on the way in! And that’s how I’ll remember the old Russian and Kenai Rivers.

I realize that I have perhaps violated journalistic rule in this review by bringing too much of myself into it and, maybe, detracting from the topic as a result. I hope the reader will indulge me this fault as I slid, at times, down memory lane while writing this review. Meanwhile, the overriding premise holds: For a very informative take on Alaskan fly fishing, have a long look at Flyfishing ALASKA. You will be entertained at the least and, if planning a visit, well assisted.


December 2017

BY: Larry Ray

Early Trout Like Worms. Really? Well, yes! And not only does the author dwell at length on this take-off on the old cliché regarding “the early bird…”, but he also describes fishing with “The Real Trout Bugs” and the advantages of using “Live Bait for Largemouths”. These and other chapters in Fishing with Ray Bergman reveal Bergman was a fishing generalist willing to use any successful, sporting angling method.

Ray Bergman is one of those fishing writers who developed an instructive, yet anecdotal style prominent in the middle of the last century. His JUST FISHING (1932), TROUT (1938, 1952), and FRESH WATER BASS (1942), were each considered landmark works in their day. Edited by Edward Janes, another of Outdoor Life’s Editors, Fishing with Ray Bergman (1970) is a compilation of many of the best columns and articles submitted by Bergman during his 26 years as Outdoor Life’s Fishing Editor. His tenure, from 1933 until 1959, spanned an era that saw great changes and advancements in tackle development. Rod construction during the period went from cane, to fiberglass. Fiberglass allowed the development of spinning, with it’s open-faced reels, as did the replacement of silk with nylon line. Improvements in fly line construction and nylon replacement of gut leaders greatly improved fly casting and presentation. Discussing these developments with the fishing public caused his columns, like those of the other authors of the day, to mix adventure with instruction. Such was necessary to guide the sporting
public through the noted tackle advances. For example, in Tips for Early Trout he describes his own experience on an eastern stream roiled by spring runoff. Using the ultra-light spinning gear that was in vogue, he had to experiment with slowing the normally quick retrieve provided by the new geared
spinning reels. Slowing the crank retrieve sufficiently to allow the lures and bait to bounce the bottom, he was able to end the day with a respectable catch. Other chapters will cause the reader to reflect on his or her own early learning experiences. Ever hook a hellgrammite, caddis, or stonefly
case (“periwinkles!”) to a bait hook? In the chapter entitled The Real Trout Bugs Bergman talks delightfully of his own experiences with such “bugs”, even after he had moved on to fishing with similar wet fly imitations when these same imitations didn’t work in high-water. He further recommends attaching the case itself to the hook (instead of uncasing the worm), because the case will better remain on the hook! Chapters such as Tricks You Ought to Know, Fish Like Small Lures, and Winter Tackle Care are all filled with similar, personal, instructive anecdotes.

Not that Bergman eschewed the fly. The chapter entitled The Right Fly Leader discusses the practical differences between the traditional silk gut and the new nylon, machine-tapered leaders that were beginning to replace them. In How to Fish with Streamers he reveals a real partiality toward those imitations. And, again, with all the wonderful, easy personal touches for which his style was so appreciated.

So, Really, how many of us, in our early angling lives, went straight to the fly rod? If, like most of us, you began by fishing with “garden hackle” and progressed through various other methods such as “hardware” (spinning with spoons), or maybe trolling with “pop gear” before your eventual arrival at
the fly shop, this volume will stimulate delightful reflection. It will also give insight into a time when, for much of the fishing public, so much was so new. All of which will help you appreciate today’s fly fishing so much more…

Fishing with Ray Bergman, as well as the above-mentioned TROUT, are available in your SFF Library.