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Dry Flies part 2

Judy Van Put
Posted 9/6/22

Continuing from last week - the discussion of dry fly fishing as we know it today originated in England in the mid-1880s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that American fishermen really …

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Dry Flies part 2


Continuing from last week - the discussion of dry fly fishing as we know it today originated in England in the mid-1880s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that American fishermen really began to use dry or floating flies.

Theodore Gordon, (1854-1915) referred to as the Father of American Dry Fly Fishing, began corresponding with England’s Frederic M. Halford, who was promoting fishing with dry flies through his research, study and popular books, and sent Gordon a number of dry-fly patterns to try out on American waters. Through his writing as a fishing journalist, Gordon influenced others to include dry flies as part of their fishing, even providing how-to instructions on the pages of Forest and Stream magazine.

Other early advocates of the sport were George La Branche and Emlyn Gill who, like Thaddeus Norris, author of “The American Angler’s Book” (1864), tried their luck experimenting and honing their skills with dry flies on the Willowemoc Creek.

Americans who began to fish with dry flies first used English flies and English patterns; but as the dry fly became popular in this country, Theodore Gordon was credited with tying some of the earliest American dry-fly patterns.

In 1900, Gordon spent the fishing season along the banks of the Beaverkill, studying the fly hatches in and around Roscoe. He tied flies that were similar to certain species of mayflies but were not direct imitations. In 1903 he created the Quill Gordon, one of the first American dry flies, in three different shades of blue, from silvery light blue to dark blue dun, to represent a variety of flies that hatch during the early season. He believed that color and size were the most important requirements of a successful fly. Gordon was an innovative fly tier whose sparsely tied flies were vastly different from the traditional overdressed, soft-hackled English flies. Using wood duck wings in an upright position, he created the “Catskill Style” of dry flies that were tied to float in the rapid high-gradient streams of the Catskills.

Among the earliest professional Catskill fly tiers was George W. Cooper, a blacksmith from DeBruce. By the late 1880s, Cooper had enlarged his blacksmith shop to include a post office and general store, from which he sold his flies and other fishing equipment. Known for his excellent skill in tying flies, he created the Female Beaverkill, which became a popular early American fly. Cooper was also known for raising prized Rhode Island Reds for their hackle. (He later sold his store to Mahlon Davidson, an avid fly-fisher and fly-tier who also raised his own chickens for quality hackle.)

Not long after Theodore Gordon’s death in 1915, Louis Rhead, the noted artist and angling author, wrote about what was to become known as “The Catskill School” of fly-tiers, when he stated:

“In the Neversink region of the Catskills there has lately grown up a small school of expert fly dressers, formed under the leadership of the late Theodore Gordon….”

And bringing us closer to date, among the first of the Catskill School of fly-tiers include those still familiar to many area residents – Herman Christian, Reuben R. Cross, and Roy Steenrod, the NYS Conservation Department Game Protector who learned to tie flies from Theodore Gordon and passed along his knowledge of fly-tying to youngsters attending the DeBruce Conservation Camp and Boy Scouts across the county.

To be continued next week…


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