Jan Normandale, GFF columnist - Global FlyFisher

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Jan Normandale, GFF columnist


Column March 2000

The Guys that Came in Second

By Jan Normandale

Throughout the history of the sport of fly fishing there have been many original thinkers who have been recognized for their contributions yet equally there have been many who have not. What makes one fly fishing guy memorable and another lost in the shuffle? It makes you wonder doesn't it. Well maybe not a whole lot but just a little.

So... for those of you with a pathological curiosity here are a few of the duets where one flyfisher gets the recognition and another gets the footnote.

Why don't we start with everybody's favourite topic the "dry fly"? Once upon a time there was a man called George Selwyn Marryatt, if you haven't heard of him it's okay, not everybody has. How about Frederick Halford? Yup I bet most of you out there have heard of him. Why not after all he "invented" dry fly fishing and was the Guru of the dry fly in Britain (GPR Pulman . Well we won't go there will we, that's another whole kettle of dry fly fishing debates). Enough said. Well let's get back to this Marryatt guy shall we. It seems that Freddie was a fan of Marryatt. Why you ask? It seems George Selwyn was a master fly fisher and fly fishers hung off him like women hang off Brad Pitt. It just happened that our pal Fred hung on more tenaciously and perhaps he was the first fishing groupie who knows. But we digress. Start reading Halford and Marryatt's name pops up with incredible regularity. Read Halford's biography and you realize that everything he did was at the direction or encouragement of Marryatt. So how come Marryatt isn't the "man" when we discuss the dry fly and it's development? It's called the power of the printed word and also being there. Marryatt never wrote a thing. By the way I would love to be wrong on this point; it is one of my little dreams that someone has a Marryatt article or manuscript. Back to Marryatt, everything he ever did was recorded enthusiastically by Halford and delivered to the sporting world in his books. Interestingly Marryatt seemed indifferent or charmed at the most. But it was Marryatt who was the undisputed dry fly innovator and proponent on Britain's chalk streams, and everyone else played catch-up, including Halford.

Meanwhile in the "Good Ole US of A, George Labranche was the man of legends, an angler; wealthy, successful and a flyfisher, he even created a fly, the Pink Lady named as a result of a few cocktails of the same name .... hey, just kidding about the origin, not his fly! Labranche is considered to be the American father of the dry fly, he did a lot for the sport and was a founding member of the Angler's Club of NY the American counterpart of the Fly Fisher's Club in London.

The first acknowledged American book and not just an article about fishing the dry fly was written by Emlyn Gill, two full years prior to Labranche. What gives? I dunno, but my guess is that money and social standing worked in favour of Labranche while Mr. Gill was not a mover and shaker of Labranche's stature even in fishing circles. Even more ironic is the fact that Gill wrote a favourable review of Labranche's title for the New York Times when it came out.

How about greased line fishing for salmon? Everybody has heard the name of AHE Wood linked to this tactic and then it seems to be "end of discussion". Now lots more was written but probably the best series on the topic is from another British "chap", Mr. Balfour - Kinnear. Don'tcha just love those hyphenated surnames they sound so appropriately "salmon-ey"

Art Wood's most extensive work comprises a total of 19 pages of which 7 pages are drawings or 12 pages of text! The only source of this I know is in Taverner's "Salmon Fishing" . His letters are quoted in other authors works, but this isn't the same as writing your own title. Others have written books interpreting him and some have made significant errors of substance; one notably. Enough said on that topic, but a fly is named after this guy's pen name. Read Mr. Rudd and then read Wood , are we on the same planet here? Generations have treated this man's interpretation as gospel, false prophet or just plain confused? However, back to the situation at hand, pity poor old B - K he wrote several intense books on the technique and still "Greased Line" equates to Wood, go figure. Not to diminish AHE, the man was a salmon fishing giant and a fascinating man. I would have loved to be his ghillie for a day; it would have been unbelievable. But BK was no slouch, caught a ton of fish and put out three titles. Oh well, maybe next time.

Well it's American wet fly time and who better than Big Jim Leisenring on the topic, right? Jim was a legend on the Brodheads in PA, flyfisher extrordinaire. Just the wet fly technique of the "Leisenring lift" lets you know the guy was justifiably legend material. So what's the beef, well Big Jim's book published in 1941 would probably have never been written if not for a young kid Pete Hidy who also knew the renowned Rube Cross and who wrote the intro for Rube's book "Fur, Feathers and Steel" published in 1940. Interestingly Mr. Cross wrote the intro for "Leisenring's Book" The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and credited the book's authorship to "Pete and Jim". So the question I have is this, "did we miss the real father of American wet fly fishing because we were looking the wrong way"? Just in case you are now wondering, Hidy subsequently wrote an updated version of the book as well as a text for Sports Illustrated and another on the pleasures of fly fishing. Jim never published another book.

Want to talk about Marinaro and Fox now? Nah not this time around but you might want to think about this. Whose water did Marinaro fish, who provided him accommodation and who helped him with all his studies of the fish. Interesting questions or not? They are aren't they. Maybe the subject for another column here, whatta ya think?

There are lots more of these guys who lived in the shadows for various reasons ranging from poor luck to modesty and maybe they will be given their dues one day.

Well, yer ol pal 'Fly' thinks its "Miller Time" or some other time, but time's up for me now. I'm going to go and have a refreshment of the liquid persuasion if you get my drift and I'm not talkin fly fishin' or entomo - bug - ology drift. So go and catch one, that 's what it's really all about anyway isn't it?

Yer pal, The Old Flyfisher

Reading & reference:
The Dry Fly and Fast WaterGM Labranche - 1914 Scribners, NY
Practical Dry Fly FishingEmlyn Gill -1912 Scribners, NY
Salmon FishingEric Taverner - 1931 Lonsdale Library, London
Flying SalmonBalfour Kinnear - 1937 Longman, London
Catching Salmon & SeatroutBalfour Kinnear - 1958 Nelsons, London
More About Trout & SalmonBalfour Kinnear - 1963 Nelsons, London
The Art of Tying the Wet FlyLeisenring - 1941 Dodd Mead, NY
The Sports Illustrated Book of Wet Fly FishingVS Hidy - 1961 Lippincott, NY
The Pleasures of Fly fishingVS Hidy - 1971 Winchester, NY
Fur Feathers and SteelReuben Cross - 1940 Dodd Mead, NY
The Vade Mecum of Fly fishing for TroutPulman - 3rd ed'n Longman, London


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