If I was sitting with ten fellow trout fisherman and mentioned the
name "Herbie Welch", I would probably get ten quizzical looks. On
the other hand, if I mentioned "Black Ghost", I'd be quite
surprised if I didn't noticed a number of nodding heads, as the
Black Ghost remains as popular and killing a fly pattern today as
it was during the depression era of the 30's.
Herbert "Herbie" Welch tied his first streamers around the turn of
the century, a fact he used as the basis for his claim of being the
first person to tie streamer flies. True or not, the statement
certainly adds weight to his mythical status. I can also be said
that he served an important role in the development of modern day
long shanked streamer hooks. His initial streamer flies were tied
on hooks reshaped from bluefish bait hooks which he forged into a
sleek shape that better served the needs of his smelt imitations.
He recognized the need for streamer hooks long before there were
any commercially available. In many ways, Herb Welch can be
considered the "Father" of the New England streamer.
Herb's shop was at Haines Landing on Lake Mooselookmeguntic.
Although best remembered for his fly patterns, he was also a well
known taxidermist, guide, and an accomplished artist and sculptor.
Some of his bronze pieces remain on display today in the
Smithsonian's American Museum of Art. An excellent fly caster,
he was often invited to be a featured demonstrator at many sporting
shows. He was far from a one dimensional personality.
Although versions of the Black Ghost were tied as early as 1919,
the version we know today was first introduced in 1927. There is
some legend behind the origination of this famous fly pattern, but
there is no doubt that the rise in popularity of the fly was the
result of Nellie Newton producing them for Percy Tackle Company
in Portland, Maine. The fly continues to be popular today,
although you see far more bucktail or marabou winged versions than
the saddle hackle featherwing.
In addition to the Black Ghost, he also tied a fly known as the
Green Spot, or what is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Green's
Pot. Herb made another rather controversial claim that this fly
went on to become the "Nine Three", another very famous Maine
streamer. Some of his other original streamers include the Welsh
Rarebit (sometimes spelled Welch), the Jane Craig, the Kennebago
Streamer, and the Welch Montreal.
While not as well known as Carrie Stevens, the undisputed "Mother"
of the New England streamer, Herbie Welch's impact and
contributions are no less significant. It is with that in mind that
we present a sampling of his fly patterns, tied to represent as
closely as possible a set of original Herb Welch streamers
photographed for the latest edition of Joseph Bates classic work
"Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing".