How Fly Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part Three

How Fly Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part Three

Alright, I’ve decided to take this discussion one more post down the road. Here goes.

Part Three: Our fascination with “matching-the-hatch” had a profound effect on our sport, but overall the saltwater revolution had an even larger impact. Why? It freed us from our narrow dependence on trout in streams, a dependence that had gone on for hundreds of years and had essentially defined our sport.  Amazingly that chain has been broken. Nowadays any fish that would take a fly is fair game. Milkfish in the Seychelles any one? And that desire for diversity bled over into freshwater as well. Today’s freshwater fly anglers hunts more species then ever before, including carp, a species that was scorned not so long ago.

Saltwater fly-fishing had a significant influence on tackle too. For one thing it fostered our present love affair with high modulus, stiff, fast action rods. (Fenwick’s 1974 HMG was the first graphite rod). And because saltwater fish were a plane ride away for most anglers, it assisted in the birth of the travel rod as well. Look around you. The marketplace is flooded with 4-piece rods when 25 years ago they were a specialty object.

Perhaps salt water’s single biggest influence was in fly reel design. When I started in fly-fishing there were only a handful reel manufacturers. And they pretty much all made simple die-cast, spool-in-frame reels. Many had click/pawl type drags (Hardy, Orvis, Young) and a few offered rim control. That was pretty much it. Right now that’s all ancient history. Open any fly tackle catalogue today you will discover that the number of reel manufacturers has exploded. Die-cast construction has been replaced with reels carved from a single block of aerospace grade aluminum. Click/pawl drags have been swapped out for powerful sealed disc drags. Rim control is wide-spread. And large arbor fly reels are the rage. So complete is this tackle transformation that even freshwater anglers feel compelled to use these high-tech fly reels on trout – where they serve no real purpose.

Okay, I’m ready to wind down this discussion of change, but before I do allow me to point out something presently afoot. The changes of the 70’s & 80’s were brought about internally. They arrived from inside our sport. Today, however, fly-fishing faces a major change that has been caused externally. I’m referring to the internet. Yes, the internet has a very positive side in our lives, especially in the sharing of information. (This is post is an example.) Yet it is also causing upheaval.  Most notably, the neighborhood brick-and-mortar fly shop is on the road to extinction. Sad that. Frankly I hate to see them go. Don’t you? And the internet is also at least partly to blame for the waning of fly-fishing print magazines. No question there are fading too. (online fly magazines aren’t the same.) By 2012 both saltwater fly-fishing magazines had disappeared. And last spring Fly Rod & Reel bit the dust. Where this will all take us is impossible to fully know, but the internet is a juggernaut to be reckoned with, as is the smart phone.



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How Fly-Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part two

How Fly-Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part Two

Part Tw0: In the previous post I examined how the 70’s & 80’s” brought two significant changes to our sport. The first was a new and very deep fascination with aquatic macro invertebrates. Everything revolved around “matching the hatch”. Yes, we were bug happy to the nth degree. In this post we’ll look at the second major shift – a migration to the sea.

Fly-fishing had long been identified with trout fishing, and more specifically with trout in streams. Yes, salmon were always a small part of the equation, but the quest for trout pretty much defined fly-fishing to its core. That was our bread and butter, our raison d’etre if you like. But by late 1970’s that relationship was thrown into question as anglers eyed the possibilities to be found at sea.

Saltwater fly fishing has fairly long roots, going back at least 100 years. Yet it had remained for all practical purposes invisible, except in the Florida Keys. By the late 1940’s, however,  fly-fishing for bonefish and tarpon crept onto the radar screen – in large measure because of  writer Joe Brooks.  Then in 1950 Joe published his groundbreaking book on the brine Salt Water Fly Fishing. It bombed. Folks just weren’t ready for what Joe had called “willow wanding the salt”. In fact it would take another quarter century until the 1974 appearance of Lefty Kreh’s book Fly Fishing in Saltwater, before the fuse was lit.

When you think of it, its easy to see why fly angler didn’t rush off to investigate the tide. The idea of leaving the sanctuary of a small stream for the world’s oceans was a daunting one. The sea is a far more elemental world, more wind, more waves, and enormous expanses of water to cover. And you couldn’t use your dry flies, your wet flies, your nymphs, or your favorite 4wt. And there were no hatches either. Why the hell do it?

The anglers that made the journey, however, soon brought back tales of adventure, fighting huge powerful fish. They weren’t raving about a 15″ brown trout; they were battling a 15lb blue.  Once the word got out the rush was on. By mid 1990’s two magazines totally devoted to salt water fly fishing were on the newsstand – Saltwater Fly Fishing and Fly Fishing in Salt Waters. Both have since closed up shop, but there is no reversing fly-fishing’s love of the sea. Now the world is the fly fisherman’s oyster, and there is no limit to the variety of fish to be caught in the blue.

Okay, anything next? Well I’m debating on whether to cover the changes our tackle has undergone in my lifetime. Perhaps that will be the next post.

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How Fly-Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part One

How Fly-Fishing Changed in my Lifetime: Part One

Part one: A couple of night ago I was thinking back over my time in fly-fishing. Frankly there was plenty to mull over. After all I’ve been a student of the game for over 50 years. And as you can imagine I’ve witnessed changes along the way. Many of these changes have been very beneficial. While the benefit of others remain in serious question, at least in my opinion. But before we wade off into these waters allow me to preface my remarks with a few thoughts.

Fly-fishing is a sport deeply steeped in tradition. And as result fly anglers by nature tend to hold strong opinions about what constitutes the “right” and the “wrong” way to fly-fish. This strong philosophic leaning goes all the way back to Halford and Skues, and is still very much with us today. We love our sport’s rich past, and we take pride in our own long involvement. I don’t bring this up to shine a negative light. Rather I’m simply pointing out something about our general temperament. On the whole we are reluctant to change. Yet change we have, and that in itself is remarkable.

The Revolution Arrives. The 1960’s was a rather a sleepy time in fly-fishing. In retrospect that may seem a bit odd given the cultural upheavals our society was undergoing. But best I know the “tune in, turn on and drop out” mantra of the day had zero ramifications inside our sport, other than the fact you were squeezing bell bottoms into your waders. Nevertheless a fly-fishing revolution was building. One that would burst on the fly scene in the 1970’s & 1980’s on two major fronts, both of them holding significant consequence and both still with us today.

The first of these shifts was a burning desire to take our sport more seriously. Prior to this any respectable fly angler could visually separate a mayfly from a caddis, but no one expected you to take matters much farther. Suddenly that was no longer acceptable. We  wanted to understand the life cycle of every mayfly and every caddis and to be able to identify them all by their Latin name. In short, during the 70’s & 80’s we became scientific minded. And some might even say obsessed with aquatic macro invertebrates. Yes, “matching-the-hatch” was suddenly the rage. In the process, the sport lost a certain innocence, a certain carefree freedom. But we were better anglers for it, although there is some complaint even now that fly-fishing has gotten too technical.

Yours Truly a Long Time Ago

The hottest fly-fishing books of this era not only reflected this new scientific approach they helped drive it. Each in its own way was a rallying call, a catalyst for change. A list of these seminal works would go something like this – Ernie Schweibert’s, Nymphs: A complete guide to naturals and their imitation, 1973; Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi’s, Comparahatch, 1973; Caucci & Nastasi, Hatches, 1975 ; Solomon & Leiser’s, The Caddis and the Angler, 1977; Gary LaFontaine’s, Caddisflies, 1981; Vincent Marinaro’s, In the ring of the Rise, 1987.

Where on earth did this all come from? I believe the seeds for this explosion of innovative thought were quietly planted years prior in three older books.  Art Flick’s, Streamside Guide, 1947. Vince Marinaro’s A Modern Dry-Fly Code, 1950. And Ernie Schweibert’s, Matching the Hatch – a Practical Guide to Imitation of insects and found on Eastern and Western Trout Waters, 1955. Yet it would take years for their full impact to slowly hit the sport.

Anyway you cut it, by 1980 fly-fishing was a dramatically different sport. If a nonangler stumbled into a fly-fishing club meeting he’d think it was an entomology seminar. One guy in the room might be talking about the type of current home to parapheltophilia adoptiva. While another person was asking how many tails are on a Stenonema  nymph – two or three. Wow. It also altered how we fished. We carried thermometers to test the water temperature, we used small seines to survey the insect life. We put insects in vials to study and photograph. Some anglers even took them home to watch in aquariums. And last but not least, this scientific push greatly altered how we tied flies. Generic looking wet flies were passe. Now we created flies that matched a particular insect at a particular stage of its life. Size and color had to be on the button. We were determined to “Match the Hatch”.

Part Two: coming soon. The march to the sea.

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The Steel Will Gekko EDC 1500 Folder

The Steel Will Gekko EDC 1500 Folder

EDC knives (everyday carry) are extremely handy – at home and in the field. Back in your adobe, they crack an egg, slice a bagel, butter your toast, open your mail, open Amazon boxes, cut rope, help with a projects in the house, in the garage, out in the yard, chop vegetables, and even carve a roasted chicken. On the trail, they have just as much value and likely more – a great companion in a boat, in a cabin or around a campfire. And yes they can open a bottle of beer as well.

For over a decade my EDC was a Benchmade Griptilian – a popular folding pocket knife. But it clearly looked tired; the years had taken a toll. No doubt it was time for a new EDC. I searched the web checking out many brands before remembering Steel Will. Just prior on a whim, I had purchased a fixed blade knife from them (Steel Will Druid 200). Steel Will was new in the market, and receiving lotsa kudos. And I was impressed with the Druid. Hence Steel Will had my attention.

On their site I saw the Gekko 1500 series. Wow. Great steel, very attractive design, ambidextrous, made in Italy, and get this – canvas Micarta grips. Micarta grips are the best,  in my opinion, and typically reserved only for custom fixed blade knives. They are very rare on an EDC. (The Griptilian’s one major flaw was cheap plastic grips.) My only concern was the price. At that time on Steel Will’s site the cost was $165 MSRP. (Now much higher) Well checking around I discovered the street price was over $30 cheaper. And given that replacing Griptilian could have cost the same, I took a chance on the Gekko.

Okay lets get the usual stuff out of the way: The open length is 7.87″, closed the knife is 4.37″, blade length is 3.5″ and made of a special grade of stainless containing cobalt (N690C0), and the weight is 4.76 ounces. (With the exception of weight & steel, all of it similar to the Griptilian) The base of the blade has a small amount of “jimping”, is scary sharp and polished to a mirror. The grips (and the pocket clip) are ambidextrous. Beyond that the knife is precision made, tight and beautifully fitted.

I’ve owned it for just under year now. And I’m very pleased, and hoping to get many years of use.

PS Back when I purchased the knife the 1500 came with Micarta grips in a range of colors. (I picked maroon- model 1552). Unfortunately color choice is no longer available from Steel Will. A search of the internet, however, will find new-in-the- box 1500 series knives in several colors at dealers (Knife Center, Amazon) for around $165 including shipping.

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Will the Redfish Return?

Will the Redfish Return?    Well that has been the big question around here. Will them red dogs return and if so when?

Yesterday I got some good new. Dave, the fish whisper, found a couple of reds on our locale flat! Wow that is great news. Its been a famine out there the entire winter. Now a fish biologist told me if our flats were experiencing a problem with dissolved oxygen, it might turn around in a few weeks. Is that what happened? Can’t be sure.

Pale Redfish

Here is a picture of the first red Dave caught. It is far and away the palest redfish I have ever seen. Truthfully, it looks like a floating corpse. And that flank. It’s as bright as a damn tarpon. Given that reds take on the color of their surroundings, this red hasn’t been in the dark back country waters hiding under the mangroves or living on the flat over turtle grass beds. Hell it looks like Casper the friendly ghost.  I’ll wager it has been living over a pure sand bottom for quite a long time, and I’ll even go a bit farther and guess it has been residing well off the beach too, perhaps out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Got my fingers crossed this a positive sign and better days are coming!




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