In days long since past, the Whiskey and Soda drifted over summer run steelhead in once
famous pools with names like Blue Rock, Stovepipe, Blaney's Cribbing, Crown Creek,
Upper and Lower Darling and Snake Ranch (or Whiskey Ranch as some called it.)
These names are unfamiliar to most present-day steelhead fishermen. All these runs
disappeared when the upper Capilano River Valley, behind the Cleveland Dam, was
flooded in 1954.
Although the history of this province's steelhead fly-fishing is short, few know that
this province's first steelhead dry fly - the Whiskey & Soda - was developed in the
1920's for the Capilano summer-runs by Austin Spencer, the local game warden.
However the naming of the fly remained a mystery until I asked Bob Taylor.
He got the story from one of the Capilano's frist generation of fly fishermn. Bob met
Bill Cunliffe in the early 1950s and during one of their many conversations, Cunliffe
explained that the Whiskey & Soda got its name from Black and White scotch whiskey,
the favoured drink of Capilano fly fishermen. On the label of the dark coloured whiskey
bottle were two Scotty dogs, one black and one white. According to Cunliffe, the
Black Scotty represented the whiskey, the white the soda. The name Whiskey & Soda
stems from the fact that it is dressed with only black and white hackle feathers.
To make the fly ride high on its hackle tips, the Capilano fly fishermen treated it with
mucilin or cerolene. It's important to remember the Whiskey & Soda was invented
for dry fly fishing and that dry-fly fishing - of any kind, never mind the steelhead fishing
variety - is a recent innovation. Capilano-anglers-of-the-day, Austin Spencer, Frank
Darling, Paul Moody Smith and other dedicated fly fishers found it suited the low, clear,
summer water conditions found on the Capilano. One story about the effectiveness
about the Whiskey & Soda and Frank Darling, one of the Capilano fly fishing maters,
was told me by King White in a letter to me, not too long before White died.
King remembers meeting Frank Darling on the Upper Capilino in 1932. Darling was
sitting on a log 'resting' the Crown Creek Pool. He had just lost a fish, but had seen
another surface in the lower part of the pool, and was getting ready to give it a try.
White says this about the fly used and fish caught by Darling that long-ago day:
"I invited him to fish the pool while I rested after my long walk. He did and was soon
working the pool casting a big gray Whiskey and Soda dry fly. Soon I got up and
walked towards the river's edge just above Mr. Darling to watch more closely. I
could see his fly sitting up high on the surface riding the waves down to the lower
end of the reach. Just then a large fish shouldered through a wave just below the fly,
and as it disappeared Mr. Darling's rod lifted to form an arc. The fish fought hard
and remained in the pool for about ten minutes. By now I was sure he would land it
on the beach, but suddenly the fish tore away and on out of the pool downstream.
There was a long steep rapid below, and the river finally rushed against a long cribbing
on our side. If the fish stayed on and reach the cribbing it would be gone. I still had my
wading staff-gaff over my shoulder, and down along the edge of the rapid I raced over
large uneven boulders in my hip waders. Finally I stopped and on looking back up the
river I soon saw sunlight flashing on part of the flyline at least seventy-five yards below
the figure of Mr. Darling. By now he had waded out to the edge of the pool all the while
holding his nine foot Payne rod as high as he could. Suddenly I saw the flash of the fish's
body behind a big low rock close to my shore and a little above me. In a few moments
I made a lucky stroke and gaffed the seventeen pound summer henfish just behind the gill
cover. The fly was still in the corner of her jaw, leader and line intact too, all the way to
Mr. Darling who was standing on the shore way above me. Late that afternoon I was
chauffeured from the river to my front gate in Mr. Darling's big black sedan."
The Whiskey & Soda was a Capilano fly and with the death of that river the fly has
slipped from use. However, British Columbia's steelhead fly fishers herald its use as
a steelheading first for North America."
Credits: From Fly Patterns of British Columbia by Arthur James Lingren,
published by Frank Amato Publications,
Portland Oregon. Ours sincere thanks to for use permission.
- Hook Number 4 to 8.
- Tail: A black and a white hackle tip.
- Body: Black and white hackles tied in at the hook bend
and wound thick and full up the hook shank.
- Head: Black thread, varnished.
- Originator: Austin Spencer.
- Intended Use: Dry fly for summer steelhead.
- Location: Capilano River, B.C.