Streamers Of Bill Edson

Swapping classical streamers

Chris del Plato

Undoubtedly, most fly fishermen will relate the name Bill Edson with the Dark and Light Edson Tiger streamers that bear his name. They are prominent in streamer lore, fly catalogs, fly wallets, and with just cause - they have been exceptional fish takers from their inception. Some may recall the motto “Less Alibies With Edson-Made Flies” printed across the cover of his fly catalogs. Others might picture the Bill Edson flybook they had owned many years ago. However, if there is one thing that sets Bill Edson apart in the minds of the well-studied streamer advocate, it is perhaps his use of gold 'reflector cheeks' on his flies - one of the most unique characteristics of any original freshwater streamer.

Bill Edson's roots in the business of fly fishing and tying began in Massachusetts, where he worked as a representative for Montague Rods. Lured by the challenge of the Atlantic Salmon, he later moved to Portland Maine and began working at Edwards & Walker, a combination hardware / sporting goods store near his home. He eventually established his own commercial fly catalog business, featuring streamer flies of his own design. At some point, Bill began experimenting with changes to his existing patterns. The cheeks (or eyes, as they're often referred to) were most likely an innovation borne of Bill's background as a lure and jig specialist at Edwards & Walker. Purportedly, Bill either lived in close proximity to, or had a friend who was involved in a stamping/machining business. It is believed the cheeks themselves were thin gold stampings or 'findings' - scrap pieces left from the manufacture of clock faces and backs (perhaps keyholes for winding?). Bill described the evolution and growing popularity of the cheeks in one of his fly catalogs -

“At first, my customers were slow to accept this gold reflector cheek, thus I made it optional. Each year, more orders came in for gold reflectors on their flies; last season over 85 percent of the orders specified gold reflector cheeks. From now on Edson-made streamer flies will have gold reflector cheeks as standard. These gold reflector cheeks are made of gold-filled stock; they will retain their brightness indefinitely and are tied in at the head of the fly same as jungle cock. They will not split or catch on the leader.”

These reflector cheeks were believed to enhance Edson's patterns in two ways. Firstly, to better attract fish by the addition of flash and secondly, by giving the streamer some added weight, thus enabling it to swim deeper. The thought may be that the motivation for the cheeks was to replace costly jungle cock cheeks that are a common element of many traditional streamer flies. However, one need only to look at Edson's Kennebago Special to possibly argue against this, as the pattern uses both jungle cock and gold reflector cheeks. Whatever the main reason for his using them, no one can deny the effectiveness of Bill's patterns tied with or without the cheeks.

In his catalogs, he referred to his streamers by the name 'Fishermen's Favorite Streamer Flies.' Among them, the Dot Edson, Bill Edson Special (or Bill Special) and the Gold and Silver Spratts. He described the Dot Edson as “the most popular fly I make.” It is also interesting to note that the flies we often refer to as the Edson Light Tiger and Edson Dark Tiger, he labels the Tiger Light and Tiger Dark. The Tigers' were the first streamers Bill originated and he believed that as a result of their great popularity, and the fact that almost anyone who tied flies made them, in many cases other tyers 'sadly cheapened' his original patterns. It is thought that the origination of Edson's Light Tiger (or Tiger Light) was influenced by a fly named 'Dick's Killer', given him by Dick Eastman of New Hampshire in 1928 (ref. “Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing” by Joseph D. Bates, Jr.).

As a man, Bill Edson was a fisherman above all else. Often recalled as being the first one to the water when going fishing with others, and the last one to pull in his line when it was time to leave. Edson was also known to be one of the champion fly casters of the era, and a fixture at many a northeastern sportsmen's show. His tall, thin figure was a common sight there, demonstrating his casting prowess alongside the likes of Herb Welch and other notables.

In addition, Bill was a major proponent of Atlantic Salmon fishing in the Dennys River. Portions of his fly catalogs often read like a tourist brochure for the Dennysville region, giving a virtual sporting tour in printed word. He was intimate with every inch of the Dennys flow, from the outlet of Meddybemps Lake to Tidewater, the upper narrows, as well as the many salmon pools such as 'Hell's Vestibule' and on down through Little Falls. In addition to his mail order fly business, Bill began making the popular 'Bill Edson Fly Book.' Also to be found in Edson's catalogs were the Bill Edson series of fly rods, which included split bamboo Atlantic Salmon models, as well as Atlantic Salmon flies tied by Bill, such as the Yellow Peril, Fiery Brown, Black Eagle and the Blue Charm. Bill Edson passed away in the 1960's.

Notes: The Edson Reflector Cheeks used in the flies for this feature were fabricated using a Fiskars 5/16” Tear Drop craft punch and 0.003” brass shim stock. A special thanks to John Swan, Mike Martinek and Donald Wilson for their input and to Clyde Watson for the suggestion of the punch for the reflector cheeks.

Gold Sprat #1

Gold Sprat #2

Kennebago Special

Light Tiger

Old Family Recipe

Teal Wing


Yellow Tiger

Dick's Killer (*)

Bill Special (Clyde Watson)

Dot Edson (Deryn LaCombe)

Bill Special (Wes Autio)

Dot Edson (Wes Autio)

Chris Del Plato
February 2002

(*) Note the Dick's Killer was not originated by Bill Edson, but was an influence in his designs and patterns.

User comments
From: Bob Perry · bobnrobin40·at·  Link
Submitted March 2nd 2013

I have a bunch of original Bill Edson flies. My father-in-law was a close friend of his and when Bill died his wife gave him a lot of the flies that were in Bill Edson's shop. I have 3 leather cases, 2 from his shop full of flies. Also have 2 cigarette tins, one full of Bill Edson size 0 and one full of Dot Edson size 0. I can get some pictures together of the different flies. Have a lot of tying equipment and need to start tying some. Don't want to use any of the originals.

From: Larry Jurgens · loj.bugstuff·at·  Link
Submitted January 22nd 2012

Great article and patterns.
They are tied well.
Luv the old timey stuff.
I am going to tie some up now.

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