This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

October 22th, 2001

Did We Lose the Glider?

Those folks who have come into fly fishing in the past ten or fifteen years really have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

We all take a lot for granted, you just need to walk into a fly shop anywhere - or check the Internet or a fly-fishing catalog to prove my point. The selection of flies - all kinds of flies, for panfish, saltwater, salmon, blue water and trout is beyond belief. In fact there are some who are complaining there are just too many choices, and suggest perhaps the magazine editors are inventing them to keep their pages full of new things to tie.

One doesn't have to go back very far in fly fishing history to discover it wasn't always this way!

You've read a little of my personal fishing history here from time to time, but here is one I haven't told. Where we fished when I was growing up, (northern Michigan,) flies were sold in the hardware stores. There weren't 'fly shops' as we know them. My grandfather, who taught me, fished with dry flies. He would use what he thought represented the local insects, and if it didn't work, he would carefully cut parts off to make it work. Trial and error. And make no mistake, he caught fish. Perhaps the fish were dumber then. I never saw what I understood to be a 'nymph' until I was a freshman in college, about 1954.

I had seen and fished something called a stonefly. It was a woven body wet fly, and frankly I thought it WAS a stonefly, not a stonefly nymph. We also fished something locally on the Au Sable which we called a pheasant tail nymph; herl body with pheasant tail barbels over like a wet fly. Caddis in that water build their little houses out of tiny stones, pine needles and whatever they find in the stream. It didn't look anything like a PT Nymph. There was another 'nymph' fished there, but I did not know it was a nymph. This is the 'devil scratcher,' 'dragon' or 'hellgrammite.' I honestly thought it was a stream dwelling critter, not the nymph of the stonefly. There was one more, the nymph of the Hex Mayfly (Hexagenia limbata). In fact, people caught the darn things and sold them for bait, (wigglers they are still called).

There were all sorts of wet flies and streamers. My understanding was the streamers were bait representations, and wets or anything else wet were attractors. Nymphs (and emergers) were not part of the fly fishing choices.

Obviously my education on insects was sorely lacking. Had I read Alfred Ronald's book The Fly Fisher's Entomology (1836) I may have had an inkling - but in reality any real work on recognizing the nymph as something important in the trout's diet didn't come along until British angler G.E.M. Skues wrote about it in his books. And that was before the 1900s!

The dry fly however was still the fly and method of choice. And in fact if you happened to catch a fish on your fly when it dragged in the current it was considered 'unsporting!'

Jack's Catalog

The little catalog shown here from Jack's Rod and Fly Shop in Roscommon, Michigan was published around 1965, and while there are a few stonefly nymphs listed, 95 % of the flies are dry, wet, or streamers. (By the way do you know what a 'glider' fly is? We've lost that term over time.)

So how did we get from there to here?

Matching the Hatch His name is Ernest G. Schweibert, Jr. The shocking book, Matching the Hatch, was first published in 1955. In my opinion it is still the best book on the insects for any fly fisher to own. He later published a lavishly illustrated volume entitled Nymphs. But it was Matching the Hatch that finally solved the problem of what trout really eat, at least 90 % of the time anyway.

The evolution of nymph patterns emerged and became widely understood by serious fly anglers!

Selective Trout

Add to that Selective Trout by Swisher and Richards and the dry fly gets another boost. Again recommended reading, it has been republished and updated by the Lyons Press, (shown here).

Finally, Gary LaFontaine writes Trout Flies, Proven Patterns and emergers are shown to be a major player! The stages of insects important to the fish are complete.

Trout Flies, Proven Patterns As knowledge increased the options available to us as anglers increased. Not just in the flies available - rods too. I'm not talking the history of cane to fiberglass to graphite (skipping boron completely) but the length and action of the rods changed.

The most popular cane rods today are short, under eight feet usually, and 3 to 5 weight, considered 'dry-fly rods'. But there was a whole different intent for cane rods which occurred beginning back with the very early writings on wet flies. Longer, slower cane rods meant to be used for wets and streamers. Rods one could easily mend line with, and they were produced intentionally for that purpose. And they could be produced cheaply in mass.

What we see now in graphite and fiberglass rods are those being designed especially for steelhead, tarpon and blue water (ocean) fishing. Big, strong and mean.

A far cry from the delicate presentation of a dry fly anywhere. (I'm not convinced it is fly fishing at all - more like fishing with a fly.)

With all the knowledge available in print or on the internet, it all comes down to choices. You can be as 'learned' as you choose, fish any of several methods or disciplines with a variety of rods, reels, lines and flies our fathers, much less grandfathers, never envisioned. You can make it as simple or involved as you personally wish. The choices of which fish to pursue are also unlimited, and budgets allowing, so are the places!

At this point in my life I am amazed when I see something truly 'new' - I'm not as bad as the head of the U.S. Patent Office who wanted to close the office because "everything has been invented."

The year was 1900. Surely there will be wonderful 'new' things for us to play with - or old ones to rediscover.

There are new battles to fight, preserving the fisheries we have for one - and we must preserve the history of our sport as well. Even the trivial - glider was the original name for the parachute fly. Do you know what butterfly fishing is? Is a spider a dry fly or a wet fly or both?

Do a little reading, history isn't just all about the American Revolution and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The histories of fly fishing are absolutely fascinating, and it may be a long cold winter. ~ LadyFisher

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