I'm going to take a short break from my series on the Rangeley Region of Maine. I tied this fly a couple of weeks
back, and really liked it. Like so many flies in the Bergman book Trout it appeared to have no
history available in any of my books, and not much to write about. A couple of days ago I stumbled on it again
and decided to see what I could come up with via some other research avenues I've been using of late for the
Rangeley series. I've come up with quite a bit.
Initially all I could find on the name Cassin was an ornithologist John Cassin from the mid 1800s, and it was something
of a stretch to think that a fly would be named for an ornithologist from Philadelphia. That said, I did find
a mention of him in Henshall's Book of the Black Bass, but only in a general scientific way. However, I eventually
stumbled on another link between the words "trout" and "Cassin" that may give clues to the origin of this fly.
I found a Fort Cassin, the ruins of which are located at the mouth of Otter Creek near Vergennes, Vermont where it
empties into Lake Champlain. This fort was built by the Americans to protect Commodore MacDonough's fleet of ships
that were being built for the War of 1812. MacDonough's ship, the Saratoga, was constructed in just 40 days from
local forest. I believe the fort was named for Commodore John Cassin, not the ornithologist, and his son Lt.
Steven Cassin was named by MacDonough in a letter as having "ably assisted" in a battle at the mouth of Otter
Creek. MacDonough went on to thoroughly route the British fleet at the Battle of Plattsburgh, across Lake Champlain
in New York, where a monument to his victory was built after World War One. I am, coincidentally enough, from
Plattsburgh myself, and found this old postcard on-line, courtesy of Debbie Labarre:
So where is the tie-in with fly fishing here? Well, in a book from 2002 called Trout Fishing near American Cities,
author Ann McIntosh lists Otter Creek and its tributaries as having brook trout. Lake Dunmore in the area
had lake trout, according to History of the Town of Middlebury, in the County of Addison, Vermont
by Samuel Swift. There was lots of fishing in the area. In 1819 though, the trout fishing in Otter Creek had dwindled to
nothing due to over-harvesting. In a letter to Samuel Swift from W.P. Russell, Russell details some things he
and some others had done to fix that. They went to Lake Champlain and seined a large number of pickerel off one
of the points. Then they dumped them into Otter Creek. The pickerel seemed to be doing well according to Russell,
and all would now benefit. Remarkably, the pickerel didn't seem to harm the brook trout long term, and in 1877 Charles
Hallock's Sportsman's Gazetteer and General Guide reported good trout fishing in Otter Creek.
So after hours of research, where does all this leave us? On the one hand I have a highly respected, world renown
ornithologist, John Cassin, known to naturalists everywhere, and mentioned by Dr. Henshall in his book on black bass.
On the other, I have a trout stream near a fort named for a famous Commodore, another John Cassin. I'm convinced the
fly was named for one or the other, but which one? In truth, I don't know, but I'll say this. The Cassin is a brook
trout fly if I've ever seen one. The ONLY references I've seen to it in fly tying literature are in Trout by
Bergman (which doesn't contain bass flies) and Flies by Leonard, where it is found only in the wet flies
section, not the bass section. This leads me to believe that it is indeed a trout fly. If the fly is from Vermont
though, why was it not included in Mary Orvis Marbury's book? Perhaps the contributors didn't include those
knowledgeable about the fly, or maybe the fly had not been invented yet. I'm finding that research begets more
research, and in looking for the origin of this fly, I stumbled on the possible origin of another, the Loyal
Sock, which was probably named for Loyalsock Creek in Pa. Regardless of the origin of the Cassin, it's one
very pretty fly, and fairly easy to tie, so give it a go. Here's the recipe:
Credits: Trout Fishing near American Cities by Ann
McIntosh; History of the town of Middlebury, in the County of Addison,
Vermont by Samuel Swift; Flies by J. Edson Leonard;
Trout by Ray Bergman; Bulletin of the Essex Institute
by Essex Institute; Sportsman's Gazetteer and General Guide
by Charles Hallock; Favorite Flies and Their Histories
by Mary Orvis Marbury; Book of the Black Bass by James A.
Henshall, M.D.; The Historical Register of the United States,
the government of the U.S.; http://www.clintoncountygov.com/photogallery.htm
, postcard from Debbie Labarre. ~ EA
Tip: Gold tinsel
Tail: Peacock sword and scarlet
Ribbing: Gold tinsel
Body: Yellow floss
Hackle: Brown hen
Note: J. Edson Leonard has the wing as black-white tip dyed yellow. Could the black-white tipped
feathers have come from a Cassin Finch? I doubt it actually, as the range of that bird is around the
West Coast, and the bird does not appear to have black feathers with white tips. I only mention this
to further cloud the issue.
Eric lives in Delaware, Ohio and fishes for brown trout in
the Mad River, a beautiful spring creek. More of his flies
are on display here:
Traditionalflies.com -- Classic salmon and
trout flies of Europe and the Americas.