September 10, 2021
By Fly Fisherman Staff
This story first appeared in the Oct-Nov-Dec 2018 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. It was Fly Fisherman’s 50th anniversary issue.
It’s important to recognize the people who are so intimately tied to the success we’ve had in advancing this sport over the past 50 years, but we freely admit no one will completely agree with this list. We’ve all been influenced by different sets of people. Younger fly fishers might have been inspired by the adventures of Oliver White or through George Daniel’s technical instruction, yet are unfamiliar with Vince Marinaro. These differences are not strictly generational. Fly fishing is also geographic, species-specific, or tied closely to the skill sets surrounding fly tying and casting. Whatever it is you love about fly fishing, you’ve likely had a mentor or role model. Here are some of the best.
Lefty Kreh. When Lefty passed away March 14, 2018, the world of fly fishing lost its greatest friend and teacher. Lefty was a part of Fly Fisherman from Vol. 1 when publisher Don Zahner wrote about his casting techniques and called him the “piscatorial arbiter of everything from the Dry Tortugas through Key West and on to Bimini.” He was a friend, advisor, and mentor to publisher/editors John Randolph and Ross Purnell, and was a Fly Fisherman contributing editor for more than 40 years.
He wrote dozens of books on many topics including knots, fly tying, and casting and helped all of us to be more efficient and more practical. His career spanned the entire breath of the modern era, from the invention of fiberglass rods and nylon monofilament shortly after WWII until his death in March of 2018. He was a critical part of tackle development and manufacturing for many decades, working with many companies, including Scientific Anglers, Sage, and Temple Fork Outfitters, but his influence was felt by all tackle manufacturers. Through his many articles, books, films, and thousands of demonstrations and presentations, Lefty directly taught hundreds of thousands of people. But more important, he loved to share the spotlight, and many of his best pupils went on to become great fly tiers, casters, and influencers themselves. Bob Popovics, Bob Clouser, Ed Jaworowski, Cathy & Barry Beck, Flip Pallot, Blane Chocklett, and Oliver White are just a few of today’s leaders who learned from Lefty and consider him to be fly fishing’s greatest ambassador. We could write more, but Flip Pallot already did it more eloquently in “A Tribute to Lefty” in the April-May 2018 issue.
Joe Brooks. Joe Brooks was admitted to a sanatorium for alcoholism in 1938. Twenty years later, he was not only sober, he was one of the most influential outdoorsmen in the world. He was the outdoors editor for The Baltimore Sun and a freelance writer for many national publications, including Field & Stream, The Saltwater Sportsman, and Outdoor Life. He later became the fishing editor of Outdoor Life.
In 1964, Curt Gowdy and Joe Brooks hosted an episode of ABC’s Wide World of Sports where the two men fly fished for trout in Patagonia. That episode proved so popular that ABC created a hunting and fishing show called The American Sportsman. The show was one of the most popular and enduring in television history. Joe Brooks was a regular and taught many celebrities, such as Bing Crosby, Ted Williams, and Jack Nicklaus how to fly fish. His contributions, and the influence of his celebrity guests on the American population, cannot be overestimated. Fly Fisherman magazine started just five years after the airing of the first episode of The American Sportsman.
Joe Brooks helped Lefty Kreh get his job with the Miami Herald running The Metropolitan Miami South Florida Fishing Tournament, and Kreh followed in Brooks’s footsteps by later becoming the outdoor editor for The Baltimore Sun.
John Voelker. Using the pen name of Robert Traver, he was most known to the American public for his book Anatomy of a Murder. To a generation of fly fishers, John Voelker was loved for his book Trout Magic and his many stories in Fly Fisherman from “Is there a Mermaid in Your Creel?” (1970) to “Loon Calls on the Polecat” (1984). His most famous and oft-quoted prose was “Testament to a Fisherman,” which first appeared in Anatomy of a Fisherman and was reprinted in Fly Fisherman in the Jan. 1972 issue.
Tom Rosenbauer. Tom Rosenbauer will likely hate seeing his name on this list because he’s a humble everyman who never intended to become a fly-fishing “expert.” Instead, he has always acted as a student of the sport—investigating, experimenting, and asking the right questions of the right people, and then sharing that knowledge through magazine articles, dozens of books, and as host of the most downloaded podcast in the world. The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide Podcast has more than 11 million downloads.
His book The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, first published in 1984, is likely the best-selling instructional fly-fishing reference of all time, and he has more than ten books currently in print, including most recently The Orvis Guide to Leaders, Knots, and Tippets (Lyons Press, 2018). He has been a fly fisher for more than 50 years and was a commercial fly tier by age 14. He brought beadhead flies to North America—Orvis was the first U.S. company to sell them—and is the inventor of tungsten beads.
Lee & Joan Wulff. Lee Wulff was a self-taught pilot who explored Newfoundland/Labrador rivers alone in his Piper Supercub; a big-game fisherman who hunted bluefin tuna, tarpon, and billfish; a veteran movie maker working for decades for the Labrador government; a longtime host of the TV show The American Sportsman; the inspiring and lifelong leader of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and a founder of the Federation of Fly Fishers; and a lifelong innovator in fly tying, especially with natural materials. He used his many platforms to teach that “gamefish are too valuable to be caught only once” and as a result became the father of catch-and-release fishing.
Joan Salvato Wulff is the modern patron saint of female fly fishers and with her husband founded the Wulff School of Fly Fishing at their home on the Beaverkill in Livingston Manor, New York. Together they took the ancient cultural sporting values we inherited from England and melded them into the modern American fly-fishing culture.
Dave Whitlock. Dave Whitlock is a prolific author and illustrator who retired from his career as a research chemist and then published 15 illustrated features in Fly Fisherman between 1978-79, and 30 more of them during the next three decades. He quickly became Fly Fisherman’s most recognizable contributor, thanks to his distinctive cartoon-style illustrations that appeared with all his writing. He is the author of the L.L. Bean Fly-Fishing Handbook and is today a regular columnist for Trout magazine. He grew up in Missouri, where bass, bream, and bluegills thrive, and although he often wrote about trout fishing, he was best known as an advocate for warmwater gamefish. He is known for his innovative fly-tying designs, including the popular Dave’s Hopper, NearNuff Sculpin, and Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. Dave and his wife Emily Whitlock live in the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma.
Cathy & Barry Beck. Barry Beck got started early in the fly-fishing business, tying flies and helping his father operate Becky’s Sporting Goods in Berwick, Pennsylvania. He later worked for the famed H.L. Leonard Rod Company, and with his wife opened Fishing Creek Outfitters in Benton, Pennsylvania in 1988. They sold their fly shop in 1992 and have spent the ensuing decades traveling the world as hosts for Frontiers International. They spend 300 days a year in exotic locations from New Zealand to Montana, and from the Bahamas to South America. In the past three decades, no other fly fishers have had their passports stamped as frequently as these two, and they are among the most experienced guide/hosts in the world. Barry can spot fish as well as any New Zealand guide, he taught President Jimmy Carter how to tie flies at Camp David, and his photos have been a mainstay of Fly Fisherman and many other books, magazines, and catalogs for decades. Cathy was the first woman on the cover of Fly Fisherman (1991), and has been on the cover more than any other person. She is a world-class casting instructor, the author of Cathy Beck’s Fly-Fishing Handbook (Lyons Press), Fly Fishing the Flats (Stackpole), and the designer of popular fly patterns like the Super Bugger, Cathy’s Fleeing Crab, and the Super Beetle.
John Randolph. When I was hired by Editor/Publisher Don Zahner in June 1978 to become managing editor of Fly Fisherman, I came with one thought in mind: I would need the help of on-the-ground fly-fishing professionals to bring news-you-can-use information to readers who eagerly sought knowledge on a complicated sport.
Zahner’s magazine in the first nine years was written by some of America’s best fly-fishing experts, including Lefty Kreh, Ernest Schwiebert, Tom McNally, Charlie Fox, Roderick Haig-Brown, Robert Traver, Jim Bashline, Gary LaFontaine, Nick Lyons, Dave Whitlock, Art Lee, Charley Waterman, and others. Its Fly Tier’s Bench column, edited by Ted Niemeyer, Eric Leiser, and Donald Overfield, was particularly strong in instructing new and experienced fly fishers in new tying techniques and materials, and its equipment columns, written by Dick Finlay, provided information on the rapidly changing advances in fly-line, rod, and wader technologies. Fly fishing was experiencing its golden age of expansion, and travel brought eager fly fishers to new rivers for fishing, relaxation, and adventure, particularly in the Rocky Mountain West.
I needed fresh and modern insights into a sport that had until recently been enjoyed by a small group of veteran fly fishers who spoke in Latin and kept their secrets closely held on everything from fishing techniques, to fly tying, and famous and lesser-known trout rivers. I wanted to open the door wider and expand the sport of fly fishing—geographically westward and northward, with a new and enlarged knowledge base to include all trout and salmonid species and smallmouth bass, panfish, and all the nearshore saltwater species within easy reach of all North Americans.
I also wanted writers who had long and broad fishing experience but little or none in writing professional copy. I needed the help of professional guides and fly tiers who could explain all the main elements of fly fishing. Professional, well-illustrated information would be provided to beginner-to-expert readers who knew little about our secretive and fraternal sport.
At the outset I decided that fish shown in Fly Fisherman would be caught and released, and no photos of dead trout would ever be shown in the magazine again, except in environmental stories of fish kills. The long historical culture of catch-and-kill was replaced by Lee Wulff’s cultural and biological mantra of catch-and-release. Fly Fisherman quickly became the leading exponent of that new sporting ethic. The magazine would also continue to be the editorial guardian of our trout and salmon streams, with ongoing reports on threats to our rivers, streams, and saltwater nearshore fisheries, all public (and a few private) waters.
Readers were invited to enter the sport of fly fishing from beginner to intermediate and expert. Our editorials were highlighted with top professional photos, accurate texts describing the great rivers, and professional illustrations providing how-to information everyone could understand. They explained how to cast efficiently in dry-fly and wet-fly fishing for primarily trout, but including panfish, bass, and saltwater fish.
In July 1980 I was invited to Camp David, Maryland, to teach President Jimmy Carter techniques of fly fishing, including casting and fly tying. Our group of experts included Vince Marinaro, Eric Leiser, Ed Shenk, Cathy and Barry Beck, Tom Maxwell, Jim Guilford, and others. The meeting resulted in the article “Spruce Creek Diary” by President Carter in the Jan.-Feb. 1982 issue.
That piece on the joys and fulfillments of fly fishing became syndicated by The New York Times and went into newspapers worldwide, igniting an international interest in our sport. Fly fishing became the “in” thing for an entirely new generation of men and women.
Nick Lyons. Nick Lyons, Ph.D., an English professor at Hunter College, and founding publisher of Lyons Press books, was a leader in American book publishing (along with Stackpole Books), in the special literature of fly fishing with topics on everything from fly tying, casting techniques, and rivers and their hatches. His books, written by America’s best professional fly fishers, were literary highlights of the modern fly-fishing era.
Lyons started his writing for Fly Fisherman with features on a variety of subjects, and publisher Don Zahner, impressed with his writing style, convinced him to write the “Seasonable Angler” column, which first appeared in the March 1976 issue. For the next two decades, Lyons gently, and often with self-deprecating humor, in a relaxed and comfortable style, explained the joys, challenges, triumphs, and tragedies of our sport.
Ernest G. Schwiebert. Ernest G. Schwiebert, Jr., Ph.D., was driven, not just for his post-doctoral work in architectural design at Princeton University, but for his study while there of the Otto von Kienbusch Collection of historic books and letters on fly fishing in the Princeton library. He studied in particular dry-fly fishing and matching the hatch, the title he would use for his definitive 1955 book Matching the Hatch and his many stories in Fly Fisherman. In his story “The Importance of Preston Jennings” (August 1970) he traced the etymology of matching the hatch and the historical books that were foundational in establishing the dry-fly culture we cherish today. Schwiebert placed his book within the long evolution our dry-fly traditions, and it established him as our new American hatch-matching master.
His classic two-volume Trout (1,745 pages hardbound, weighing over 10 pounds) appeared in 1978. It instantly became must reading for all fly fishers as the seminal history of our sport and its evolution as the sport of kings, gentlemen, and, increasingly, the average man and woman.
No other writer has equaled Schwiebert in the field of detailed historical writing concerning all elements of any sport, and no other writer has exhaustively researched, written, and personally illustrated so extensively on any sport. In fact, Schwiebert had an eidetic memory, which became obvious in his writing and lectures.
Schwiebert was the defining intellectual writer of fly-fishing esthetics, a stylistic master, and genius of his genre. During his 11 years of writing for Fly Fisherman, he contributed 30 published pieces, beginning with “Raspberries In the Rain” (April 1970) and ending with “In the Ring of Kerry” (Dec. 1982).
Yvon Chouinard. The owner of Patagonia is rightly credited as a pioneering rock climber and alpinist who reinvented those sports, not only through feats of skill in the mountains but through his talent as a blacksmith, and his simple inventions like removable rock protection, and angled ice tools and crampons for climbing vertical ice. He is also a kayaker, surfer, and a lifelong fly fisher who changed the way we approach and enjoy our sport through his corporate environmental activism. Indeed, that term might not be part of our lexicon if not for Yvon Chouinard.
In the 1970s, his company provided office space for the group Friends of the Ventura River to improve steelhead spawning habitat. Soon after, he began to make regular donations to other groups working directly to save or restore habitat. In 1986, Patagonia committed 10% of its profits each year to conservation, and in 2002 with Craig Mathews he started 1% For the Planet, which encouraged other corporations and individuals to make similar efforts. Yvon Chouinard came up with the idea of a corporate “tithe” going toward environmental causes, and he has inspired hundreds of other companies and private individuals to do the same. In the past 40 years, all of us have all benefited from it.
April Vokey. She started as a B.C. steelhead guide and quickly began writing for Canadian publications and teaching women-only fly-fishing schools and other small groups. Her first feature story in Fly Fisherman was in the April-May 2011 issue. Vokey was an early adopter of social media and organically grew large, authentic audiences on both Facebook and Instagram. She was the host of the TV show Shorelines on World Fishing Network and in 2014 started a podcast called Anchored, which to date has had 5 million downloads.
Oliver White. Oliver White might be best known for his role in starting a native-owned sportfishing lodge in the village of Rewa, Guyana, and then with help from Costa, expanding that one-off project into the nonprofit organization IndiFly. The story was first told in the award-winning film Jungle Fish and also in Oliver White’s own words in “Rumble in the Jungle” in the Oct.-Nov. 2012 issue of Fly Fisherman.
Since then, White has been columnist of “Horizons,” Fly Fisherman’s adventure travel department. He’s on the cover of this golden anniversary issue with a golden mahseer he caught in Bhutan while shooting a feature film for Yeti coolers. In recent months he’s fished in Sudan, Oman, Argentina, South Africa, Kamchatka to name a few. He spends the summers guiding for trout in the Rockies.
He owns Bair’s Lodge and Abaco Lodge in the Bahamas, and works frequently with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust to maintain and protect those fisheries. He is a friend and pupil of saltwater legends including Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, and Chico Ferdandez and he is diligently training new guides to become protectors of their home waters wherever he travels.
Gary LaFontaine. From his introductory story “Imitating the Drifting Insect” (March-April 1972), Gary LaFontaine became one of Fly Fisherman’s guiding voices in the Rocky Mountain West (along with George Anderson, Dave Engerbretson, Mike Lawson, and René Harrop). He published 18 feature stories in 14 years writing for Fly Fisherman. His piece “The Missouri Nobody Knows” (May-June 1982) described the environmental threat to the river by a proposed “peaking power” plan by Montana Power and Light. The piece sparked some outrage among some veteran fly fishers as a “kiss-and-tell” story about their own hush-hush fishery, but due to LaFontaine’s well-written piece, the power company abandoned its peaking-power plan. His article also helped create a booming guide business on the river, and due in part to the efforts of all those guides, superb dry-fly fishing continues today on the Missouri.
His Emergent Sparkle Pupa fly described in the story “A Touch Of Sparkle” (July 1983) is still today a “must have” when dealing with emerging caddis. LaFontaine was a superb writer, and started his own book publishing company, opening the door to other authors, guides, and teachers sharing their messages with the angling pubic. His book Caddisflies (Lyons Press, 1981) is standard reference material when it comes to those aquatic insects.
Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi. These two amateur entomologists and fly tiers wrote Hatches: A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams (1975), which at the time was a revelation with its detailed attention to mayfly habits, appearance, and life cycles. The book became a standard reference among expert trout fishers and fly tiers who began to use more accurate names and descriptions of the mayflies they saw on the water, to better understand stages like emergers and spinners, and to tie flies to help take advantage of that knowledge.
Caucci and Nastasi wrote “The Indestructible Compara-dun” in the June 1975 issue, and a version of that article (without the detailed photos and tying instructions) appeared as a chapter by the same name in Hatches. The Compara-dun was by far their most important contribution to our sport, and had a profound effect on dry-fly design in the nearly 40 years since its introduction in the pages of Fly Fisherman.
Flip Pallot. One of our sport’s best-known saltwater authorities, he started as a linguist with the U.S. Army, was a loan officer at a family-owned bank, and after much urging from Lefty Kreh, became a South Florida fishing guide. His TV series The Walkers Cay Chronicles was the most successful fly-fishing-focused TV series in history, with original programming airing through 16 seasons on ESPN from 1992 to 2008. His article “A Tribute to Lefty” appeared in the April-May 2018 issue.
Chico Fernandez. A longtime friend of Flip Pallot and Lefty Kreh, Chico Fernandez was for several decades part of a core group of South Florida guides, which also included Norman Duncan and John Emery. His book Fly Fishing for Bonefish (Stackpole Books, 2004) was for many years the definitive book on the species, and it made Fernandez a sought-after public speaker and advisor for many tackle companies. His well-known flies include the Seaducer, Bend-back, and Bonefish Special.
Steve Huff & Del Brown. Many of Steve Huff’s peers have called him “the best guide who’s ever lived.” Del Brown caught 513 permit on a fly, and is objectively the best permit fisherman who ever lived. Together they fished Florida’s saltwater flats from 1980 to 2001, when Brown was 83 years old. On the day he realized that Brown no longer had the stamina for flats fishing, Huff cried all the way back to the boat ramp. Together they were a shining example of perseverance and saltwater success at the highest level.
Tom Maxwell & Tom Dorsey. These brothers-in-law started the rod company Thomas & Thomas in 1969 on the banks of a Pennsylvania spring creek. Influential Fly Fisherman authors like Vincent Marinaro and Ernest Schwiebert extolled the virtues of their bamboo rods, and a growing waiting list forced the pair to look for better machinery and a larger facility to increase production.
In 1974 they bought at auction the historic Montague and Sewell-Dunton milling machines, a large stockpile of Tonkin cane, and set up shop in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. In 1976 Maxwell left Thomas & Thomas and went to work for the H.L. Leonard Rod Company. His body of work at these two leading bamboo companies makes him one of the most influential bamboo rodmakers of the last 50 years. Tom Dorsey continued to lead Thomas & Thomas into the era of graphite and today is still involved in T&T rod design, working with new owner Neville Orsmond, who bought the company in 2013.
Ted Leeson. An English teacher at Oregon State University, Ted Leeson is one of the most versatile and prolific authors of his generation. He has published many instructional books on tackle and fly tying. His 444-page The Fly Tier’s Benchside Reference (with Jim Schollmeyer) has more than 3,000 photos and will likely never be surpassed in its ambitious breadth and depth of instruction.
His literary books Jerusalem Creek (2002), The Habit of Rivers (2006), and Inventing Montana (2015) are standard volumes in any fly-fishing library. His contributions to many periodicals including Fly Fisherman are too numerous to count, and he’s one of the most articulate and trusted authors in the space when it comes to gear and tackle reviews and evaluations.
George Harvey. Often referred to as “The Dean of American Fly Fishing,” George Harvey organized and taught the first college fly-fishing course in the U.S., at Penn State University in 1934. He went on to teach at Penn State for more than 40 years. Many other collegiate fly-fishing programs across the country were modeled after Harvey’s course, which was taught both in the classroom and near campus on Spring Creek.
While at Penn State, Harvey created enduring fly patterns such as the Harvey’s Favorite, the Spruce Creek Fly, and Harvey’s Stonefly Nymph. His leader design and a style of slack-leader casting have been emulated by fly fishers around the world.
Harvey was a teacher and fisherman, but he was not a prolific writer. He published just one book and few magazine articles. He was the leading example of face-to-face teaching in an age before the Internet.
Harvey’s successor at Penn State, Joe Humphreys, carried on the program for decades, teaching many thousands of students both in the classroom and onstream and becoming a recognized expert on nymphing, casting in constricted spaces, and on night fishing. Humphreys will always be remembered for his 17-pound Pennsylvania state record brown trout he caught in 1977.
Mel Krieger. Casting guru Mel Krieger decided in 1989 that the sport of fly fishing needed certified instructors, much like the ski industry. He outlined his ideas at the annual Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) conclave in West Yellowstone, Montana, where his ideas found support from Bruce Richards, Joan and Lee Wulff, Steve Rajeff, Lefty Kreh, Gary Borger, and others. The FFF certified casting instructor program began in 1992 and by 2018 had certified more than 1,500 instructors. It was a giant leap forward in fly-casting instruction.
The Golden Gate Casting Club, the birthplace of America’s greatest competition casters, was fundamental in the development Krieger’s casting ideals and teaching techniques. It was there Krieger helped coach a young Steve Rajeff, who would become a 14-time world casting champion. Krieger’s book, The Essence of Fly Casting, was self-published in 1987. It remains one of the classic instructional books on fly casting, and Krieger also made a successful VHS film by the same name.
René Harrop. In world driven by quick results, René Harrop is a man who pays a great deal of attention to how things are done. He started the fly shop TroutHunter in Last Chance, Idaho and today owns and operates the family-operated custom tying shop House of Harrop on the banks of the Henry’s Fork River.
Harrop is an old-school fly tier. His flies are actually tied by him or one of his family members, not made overseas. He has long been an advocate of natural materials in fly tying, teaching Fly Fisherman readers to tie “Biot Spinners” (March 1991), Cul de Canard flies (July 1991), and through his many insect-driven stories from “A Case for Caddis” (May-June 1981) to “Gray Drakes” (April-May 2017).
Harrop has published a number of books, most notably Learning from the Water (Stackpole, 2010), and many of his articles have been translated and published in Japan, where is he is recognized as the leading authority on trout fishing in the American West.
Steve Rajeff. In 1972, under the tutelage of Mel Krieger and others at the Golden Gate Casting and Angling Club, 16-year-old Steve Rajeff won his first national casting championship. He went on to win 45 consecutive U.S. casting championships and 14 world championships.
No other person has impacted competitive casting for accuracy and distance as much as Steve Rajeff. For nearly 50 years, he has been globally recognized the man to beat, or at least to emulate, and he has spent decades traveling the globe and teaching and instructing at casting and fishing clubs, consumer sporting shows, and competitive events. As the chief rod designer for G.Loomis and a global ambassador for fly fishing, he has had an incredible influence on how all fly rods perform, regardless of the brand.
Norman Maclean. An English professor at the University of Chicago, Norman Maclean in 1976 published the novella A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. In 1992 his book was adapted into a film directed by Robert Redford and starring Craig Sheffer as Maclean, Brad Pitt, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Lloyd, and Tom Skerritt.
Art Lee. Art Lee was the most frequent contributor to Fly Fisherman in its 50-year history. He contributed 72 features between 1974 and 1997, ranging in subjects from Atlantic salmon fishing to flow mismanagement on the East Branch of the Delaware, fly tackle, effective flies and their presentations, matching the hatches, and the sporting philosophies and ethics of our sport. He passed away suddenly July 25, 2018 just days after being interviewed about his history with Fly Fisherman.
Lee prided himself in writing with concise and measured clarity for the readers’ understanding on extremely difficult-to-describe, how-to fishing subjects. His philosophical judgments on fly fishing (the foundation for his writing), especially concerning hackneyed sporting shibboleths, were up-front and clear, although subject to controversy due to his often counter-intuitive assertions. He gently rocked our ancient fly-fishing boat; and readers loved it. His books include: Fishing Dry Flies on Rivers and Streams, The Lore of Trout Fishing, and Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch.
Blane Chocklett. One of the most sought-after guides in the Southeast, Blane Chocklett has blazed his own trail through most of his career, mostly because he’s not a trout guide. He runs a full-time guide service that focuses almost exclusively on warmwater species, and he has changed the way American fly fishers view species like carp, freshwater striped bass, and particularly muskies. He has also been a revolutionary fly tier, creating the controversial Gummy Minnow 20 years ago and more recently has been at the forefront of the jointed flies movement with his Game Changer fly (see “Get a Spine” in the April-May 2015 issue).
His 288-page book Game Changer: Tying Flies that Look and Swim Like the Real Thing (Headwater Books, 2019) chronicles the thought process behind and evolution of many of his patterns in his quest for the Holy Grail of fly tying—designing a fly that moves like a fish. The book covers a wide range of flies—from Gummy Minnows to Game Changers—in complete detail, as well as fishing tips. It could be the fly-tying book of the decade.
Vince Marinaro. His first book A Modern Dry-Fly Code was not a success when it was published in 1950, but the book was republished in 1970 just after Fly Fisherman went into print, and the sport was enjoying a renaissance through both TV shows and print. Although the text was 20 years old at the time, it was eye-opening to the thousands who read it and were moved by it. Based on his experiences on the Letort and other Pennsylvania spring creeks, Marinaro introduced us to the importance of terrestrial insects, suggested the use of minuscule flies and hooks, and studied how trout perceive our flies when they are viewed from below. His book In the Ring of the Rise (1976) was the first to give us good, sharp photos detailing the movements of a trout taking insects from the surface.
His Fly Fisherman articles “The Sipping Rise” (April 1970) and “Game of Nods” (June 1976) coincided closely with the publication of both his books and their popularity.
His greatest contribution to fly tying arose from his close observations of rising trout. His thorax-style dry flies were effective but never widely adopted. However, the concept influenced the development of Swisher and Richards’s No-hackle, Caucci & Nastasi’s Compara-duns, and as a result also Craig Mathews’s Sparkle Dun—all of whom are on this list. Historian Paul Schullery put it this way in his book American Fly Fishing: “Rarely has a fly-fishing writer ventured to change so much and lived to see his work recognized and incorporated into the body of fly-fishing practice.”
Perk & Dave Perkins. The entire Perkins family earns a mention here, because together they helped raise our entire sport. Leigh Perkins recognized the opportunity to make the brand synonymous with a fly-fishing lifestyle, and bought The Orvis Company in 1965. He retired in 1992, and since then Orvis has been run by his sons Perk and Dave Perkins. Under their leadership, the company has tripled its revenue and more importantly has committed 5 percent of its pre-tax revenue toward conservation. In recent years grants have gone to The Clark Fork Coalition, The Everglades Foundation, the ongoing fight against the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, and many other projects across the nation. Since 1989, Orvis, through its direct contributions and customer matches, has donated $21 million toward conservation.
While Orvis is too often unfairly characterized as a “corporate” fly-fishing brand in a world of mom & pop businesses, the truth is that Orvis is a family-owned and -operated success story. A third generation of Perkins is now learning the ropes from the ground up. Perk’s son Charley was the narrator of a recent Orvis film 90 and Counting about the life of his grandfather. His brother Simon was a fly-fishing guide on the Missouri for a decade before he got his first desk job at the Vermont headquarters. Simon is now director of brand marketing and played a key role in bringing new fly fishers into the sport, particularly women. Last year the Orvis 101 casting clinics introduced more than 15,000 people to fly fishing nationwide.
Craig Mathews. He came to West Yellowstone, Montana in 1979 to become the town’s police chief, and in 1980 he opened Blue Ribbon Flies. He is the author or coauthor of five different books, and wrote many stories for Fly Fisherman on topics ranging from natural history (“An Earthquake’s Blessing,” Sept. 1984) to fly tying. His story “Woolheads” with John Juracek in Dec. 1985 was the catalyst for all the woolhead streamers we use today. His fly Bonefish Bitters, first detailed in the story “Bonefish Foods” in the Feb. 1992 issue, is still recommended on the grass flats of Belize and elsewhere. Perhaps his most important contribution to fly tying is the Sparkle Dun, a perfected version of the Compara-dun using an Antron trailing shuck to more accurately imitate an emerging mayfly. Not only is it more effective than its predecessors the No-hackle and the Compara-dun, it has proved far more durable and practical.
Doug Swisher & Carl Richards. In 1971, writer and fly-fishing guide Doug Swisher and friend Carl Richards turned the angling world upside down with the publication of their groundbreaking first book, Selective Trout, which married the science of aquatic entomology to the sport of fly fishing. The book became a best-seller, and remains in print (after several revisions) to this day.
Selective Trout also introduced a revolutionary fly pattern: the No-hackle, based on the authors’ determination that a fly’s wing and body profiles are the primary triggers that prompt trout to strike. The No-hackle spawned other patterns based on the same minimalist principles, including the Compara-dun and other variants.
Swisher and Richards wrote other acclaimed books, including Fly Fishing Strategy, Stoneflies, and Emergers, all based on the authors’ encyclopedic knowledge of trout stream insects and their behavior, especially from the perspective of the trout. They wrote extensively for Fly Fisherman over more than two decades, including “The Western Green Drake” in July 1971, “Stillborn Duns” in Feb. 1975, and “Methods of Emergence” in Feb. 1991.
Simon Gawesworth. The list of people who helped bring two-handed rods and Spey casting to America would have 50 names on it alone, but perhaps no person represents this relatively recent transfer of knowledge from Europe to America better than the U.K.-born Simon Gawesworth. Jim Vincent—at that time owner of RIO Products in Idaho Falls—hired Gawesworth and Leif Stävmo as instructional hosts for the film International Spey Casting (1999). That film, along with an instructional booklet sold with every related RIO product, helped introduce Spey techniques and tackle to American fly fishers.
Soon after, Vincent hired Gawesworth to move to Idaho and help develop Spey products for American consumers. Together they taught Spey schools, wrote articles for Fly Fisherman and other publications, gave demonstrations at fly-fishing shows, and in 2005 released a comprehensive follow-up film called RIO’s Modern Spey Casting hosted by Gawesworth and the first generation of North American experts such as George Cook, Dana Sturn, Mike McCune, Ed Ward, and Scott O’Donnell. It has sold more than 10,000 copies worldwide and is the most important source of Spey instruction ever produced.
Bob Popovics. There’s no other way to describe Bob Popovics other than to say he’s the most inspirational and innovative saltwater fly tier of all time. More than 20 years ago he pioneered the use of epoxy and silicone in tying baitfish imitations, and with Ed Jaworowski published the book Pop Fleyes (2001). He later moved on to light-cured acrylics and became a specialist in using bucktail to effectively tie giant, lifelike baitfish imitations that don’t carry water and are easy to cast. He described his most recent revelations on materials and design techniques with author Jay Nichols in Fleye Design (2016).
Dan Blanton. The inventor of flies such as the Sar-Mul-Mac and the Whistler, Dan Blanton was one of the West Coast’s saltwater pioneers, and is considered by many the “Godfather” of the California Delta. Between 1976 and 1998, he wrote 14 articles for Fly Fisherman, often on tackle topics like shooting heads, sinking lines, and West Coast stripers. He played a role in the development of the specialty lines we use today, and through his website and the annual November event Striperfest has helped raise awareness and a total of $200,000 toward gamefish conservation in the California Delta.
Lou Tabory. Back in the 70s and 80s—the bad old days for East Coast striped bass stocks—New England native Lou Tabory was one of the few anglers pursuing these gamefish with a fly rod. He invented new fly patterns, perhaps most famously Tabory’s Snake Fly, and gave talks and slide presentations about fly fishing the Northeast coastline for striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, bonito, false albacore, and other species.
Tabory also began to write, sharing his hard-earned know-how with the readers of magazines including Field & Stream, Sports Afield, and of course Fly Fisherman. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, new conservation measures and improved spawning conditions in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay helped striped bass to rebound sharply. Rising striper numbers coincided with the wide availability of improved fly tackle such as graphite rods, better fly lines, and fluorocarbon leaders.
Tabory’s many books contributed to a boom in saltwater fly fishing in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region, and helped countless anglers learn and enjoy saltwater fly fishing.
Arnold Gingrich. A cofounder of Esquire magazine, Arnold Gingrich was a well-known fly fisher—as well as a celebrated author and bon vivant—for much of his adult life. Gingrich personally persuaded his friend, renowned novelist Ernest Hemingway, to contribute an article to the magazine’s inaugural issue in October 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression. Other prominent authors who wrote for Esquire (prompted by their friend Gingrich) included Dorothy Parker, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Truman Capote.
Despite the economic deprivations of the time—and its then-outrageous newsstand cost of 50 cents per copy (about $9.50 today)—Esquire flourished, and remains a prominent and influential publication. For Gingrich, his beloved sport of fly fishing was but one aspect of his overarching aristocratic lifestyle. He was a renowned collector and connoisseur of art, rare books (especially fly-fishing volumes), violins (he was an accomplished amateur violinist), fine wines and brandies, rare English Bentley automobiles, and antique furniture.
Gingrich wrote many fly-fishing books, the first of which was The Well-Tempered Angler, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1965, to great acclaim. Two more titles followed: The Fishing in Print: A Guided Tour through Five Centuries of Angling Literature (which recapped 500 years of fly-fishing literature, from Dame Juliana Berners to the present) and The Joys of Trout (both 1973). Gingrich presented not the how-to but the “why-to” of fly fishing, and his status as a prominent publisher and editor made the sporting world take notice.
Trey Combs. His 512-page hardcover book Steelhead Fly Fishing (1991) was the most important book on the subject since Roderick Haig-Brown’s A River Never Sleeps (1946). It was an important turning point that paid tribute to the sport’s great pioneers, and elevated the stature of steelhead through a careful review of steelhead fly tying, literature, history, and techniques.
Jako Lucas. He’s been a guide and filmmaker since 2009, winning numerous awards and capturing the imagination of fly fishers internationally with his short, irreverent films like Aquahulk and Gangsters of the Flats that were shot with amateur equipment while guiding. They show the raw, unfiltered excitement of frontier fishing. Lucas is one part of a “South African invasion” that over the past 15 years has helped American fly fishers realize the new opportunities for fly fishers in the many islands of the Seychelles and around the world. His recent Fly Fisherman article (spring 2019) describes the tarpon-fishing opportunities in the West African nation of Gabon.
Ed Jaworowski. A teacher and academic by training, Ed Jaworowski taught at Villanova University for 40 years. When he retired he was the department chair of classical studies. If George Harvey was “The Dean” of American fly fishing, then Jaworowski is certainly “the professor” due to the depth of his studious research and his ability to pass that information along to his students.
He published seven volumes on fly tying and casting. His book The Cast: Theories and Applications for More Effective Techniques (2005) was a breakthrough in the way it analyzed the elements of casting technique, and raised the bar in the quality of casting instruction worldwide. Lefty Kreh called him “the best teacher of fly casting I have ever known.”
His most recent Fly Fisherman article was “Weighty Matters” in the April-May 2018 issue. In it, he explained how a 5-weight rod can actually cast a wide range of line weights, and he called for an industry-wide re-examination of how manufacturers label, rate, and market rods and fly lines.
Roderick Haig-Brown. When the first issue of Fly Fisherman went on sale in early 1969, it contained the original story “On the Trout Water” by Roderick Haig-Brown. The Canadian author was already well known for his classic books that included The Western Angler (1939), A River Never Sleeps (1944), Fisherman’s Spring (1951), Fisherman’s Winter (1954), Fisherman’s Summer (1959), and Fisherman’s Fall (1964).
Haig-Brown was one of our sport’s most thoughtful and descriptive writers. He was a pioneering fly fisher—he was the first to write about catching steelhead on dry flies—but more important he was the leading river conservationist of his generation. Over the course of many decades, he observed firsthand and wrote about the dramatic declines of steelhead and salmon rivers due to the impacts of humans, and he provided an important editorial compass for Fly Fisherman in its early years.
In the early 1950s he was part of an unsuccessful bid to stop a dam on the Campbell River, and he later helped stop the High Moran Dam, which would have blocked the Fraser River. Today the Fraser’s most important sockeye salmon tributary—the Adams River—is ensconced completely within Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park in British Columbia.
Jim Teeny. In May 1962 a kid from Gresham, Oregon invented a fly on East Lake. He called it the Teeny Nymph. In July 1971, Jim Teeny started the Teeny Nymph Company. He was the first person to ever patent a fly pattern, and he fished with his flies to the exclusion of all others.
In August 1983, he invented his first T-Series integrated-shooting-head fly lines, the first of their kind. The lines were the forerunners of many sinking-tip lines we use today and forever changed the water types where we can fish and the species we can tackle.
Gary Borger. A professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and a longtime Fly Fisherman contributing editor, Gary Borger pioneered the idea of video fly-fishing instruction with his release of the VHS-format Nymphing (1982) and 17 other videos.
He has written many books and, with his son Jason, has published seven books of a planned 20-book series called simply Fly Fishing, The Book Series. Along with Mel Krieger and others, he was a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Federation of Fly Fishers fly-casting instructor certification program, and is a recipient of FFF’s Lifetime Achievement in Fly Casting Instruction Award.
Ted Niemeyer. He tied his first flies at age seven to catch coho salmon with his grandfather off the beaches near Seattle. By 1952, when Niemeyer moved to New York, he was already an accomplished tier, however, it was the friendships he cultivated with the Darbees, Dettes, and numerous other famous tiers—as well as the exposure to the works of John Atherton, Preston Jennings, and Ernie St. Clair—that launched a lifelong passion for tying exquisite lifelike fly patterns.
In 1967, Sports Illustrated published an article about his No-hackle dry flies that reflected his innovative talents. His beautiful flies led to a friendship with Charles DeFeo and William Cushner that helped initiate the famous career of Cushner’s framings of flies and art. Niemeyer assumed the role of securing the thousands of flies and artwork that Cushner used.
It was the collection of these flies that contributed to Niemeyer’s vast personal collection and immense knowledge he developed about fly tiers and the techniques that defined their flies. He became an authority whom collectors from around the world sought after to authenticate flies in their collections.
Niemeyer spent many years demonstrating his tying skills and displayed his innovative skills by picking up scrap material from other tiers and turning it into beautiful flies. He also applied his creative talents to the invention of wing burners.
Niemeyer never wrote a book, but he did contribute to books by Art Flick, Judith Dunham, and others, and for seven years (1977-1984) he wrote the Fly Tier’s Bench column for Fly Fisherman. He was a versatile fly-tying artist, just as accomplished in tying Atlantic salmon flies as he was with trout flies.
George Daniel. A seven-year member of Fly Fishing Team USA, two-time national champion, and a coach for the U.S. youth fly-fishing team, George Daniel has spent his entire adult life embedding the techniques and philosophies of competition fly fishing into the mainstream.
When he’s not teaching his own children to fish, he’s guiding and teaching group seminars and schools through his business Livin on the Fly. He has published exceptional books on subsurface fishing, including Dynamic Nymphing (2011), Strip-Set (2015), and most recently Nymph Fishing: New Angles, Tactics, and Techniques (2018).
He is a frequent Fly Fisherman contributor, including recent stories was “Trigger Nymphs” and “How to Tie Faster Knots.”
Charlie Craven. In his career as a commercial fly tier, Charlie Craven has tied on average 2,000 dozen flies per year for the last 40 years. He is approaching a milestone of one million flies, and has likely tied more flies than any other person in North America. He’s picked up a few tricks along the way and shared them as the author of the “Fly Tier’s Bench” column (since 2009), host of six Fly Fisherman-produced DVDs, and as the author of three outstanding books. He is the creator of the Gonga, JujuBaetis, Charlie Boy Hopper, the Two Bit Hooker, and many other flies, and dispenses advice daily at his shop, Charlie’s Fly Box, in Arvada, Colorado.
Jack Gartside. A fixture in the Boston-area (and national) fly-fishing scene his entire adult life, Jack Gartside was “a character with a capital C,” according to his friend Lefty Kreh. One day in the mid-1970s, Gartside wandered into the famous Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop in West Yellowstone, Montana, with a few of his Pheasant Hopper patterns stuck in his hat. He struck up a conversation with Lilly, who was mightily impressed with the Bostonian’s tying skills. For more than 30 years after, his fly patterns were included in Bud Lilly’s annual catalog.
Gartside was known nearly as well for his quirky sense of humor as he was for his innovative fly patterns, including the Shworm; Gartside Gurgler (tied with strips of thin closed-cell foam); Chicken Poop Caddis; Sparrow (a trout fly, a cross between a wet fly and a nymph); Gartside Leech; FishHead; Gartside Soft Hackle; and BeastMaster General, designed for the large striped bass he loved to pursue by wading along Boston Harbor’s 200 miles of shoreline.
Gartside worked for many years as a Boston taxi driver, carrying tools and materials in his cab and clamping his vise to the steering wheel to tie flies while waiting for fares in the taxi queue at Logan Airport.
Gartside was one of the first fly tiers to be profiled in Sports Illustrated (Oct. 1982), and was inducted into the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum Hall of Fame in 2010, the year after his death.
Bud Lilly. A pioneer of catch-and-release fishing, key proponent of wild trout, and an ambassador of the American West, he started the iconic Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop in 1961.
Not only did Lilly help popularize catch-and-release fishing in the Yellowstone region, he convinced Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to stop stocking the Madison River and manage it as a wild trout stream. The Madison became a case study for the rest of the state, and influenced Montana to stop stocking trout in any of its flowing waters. Perhaps author Arnold Gingrich, cofounder of Esquire magazine, described Lilly best when he called him “a trout’s best friend.”
Landon Mayer. Based on the tricky and technical South Platte River, Colorado, the author of the new book The Hunt for Giant Trout is well known for catching huge trout on public water. Above all though, Landon Mayer is a teacher, and he has become the leading trout guide of his generation. He annually delivers dozens of seminars and speaking engagements nationwide, he’s the host of an upcoming instructional film called The Short Game, and he’s been a frequent Fly Fisherman contributor for more than a decade, including “Altitude Sickness” in the April-May 2018 issue.
Mayer also acts as a riverkeeper on the South Platte. He annually organizes the Clean the Dream trash collection event, and is a vocal proponent of voluntary “hoot-owl hours” on the South Platte.
Charlie Fox. As it says on his memorial plaque on the banks of Letort Spring Run where he used to fish, Charles K. Fox was an “author, conservationist, mentor, sportsman, and CVTU founder.”
The Letort is where Fox developed his fly-fishing ethics, techniques, and fly patterns that he shared in his notable books The Wonderful World of Trout and Rising Trout. It was here that Fox shared the water and his ideas with fellow fly fishers Vince Marinaro, Ernest Schwiebert, Lefty Kreh, and many others, and it was here that he taught the idea of catch-and-release fishing well before the idea became mainstream. He later helped popularize the idea through his role on the advisory board of Fly Fisherman magazine and as a contributor in the first issue and many years afterward.
He created “private fishing regulations” through agreements with other landowners on the Letort. (Years later, Pennsylvania implemented its own catch-and-release regulations.) He brought tons of gravel to the Letort to create spawning areas for brown trout, and he wrote about these conservation efforts in Fly Fisherman. Later, he was editor of Pennsylvania Angler magazine and an editor for Stackpole Publishing Company. He was a founding member of the Cumberland Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited (CVTU) and today that organization annually gives The Charles K. Fox, “Rising Trout” Award to recognize those who have made significant contributions toward fly fishing, while not losing sight of the protective and conservative measures necessary for the advancement of the sport.
Jay Nichols. In 2018, the Charles K. Fox Rising Trout Award went to Boiling Springs resident and former Fly Fisherman managing editor Jay Nichols.
Like the namesake of the award, Nichols is a Stackpole Books editor, and he also owns his own publishing company, Headwater Books. It is because of this “man behind the curtain” that many of the finest books of the past decade have come to fruition. Of note, more than 2,000 of his photos illustrated Casting with Lefty and he shared a byline in Fleye Design (with Bob Popovics), Bob Clouser’s Fly Fishing for Smallmouth, Keystone Fly Fishing, and he was the editor and a silent and often unrecognized driving force behind dozens and dozens of other distinguished books. If fly fishing is truly special because this is a literary sport, then people like Nick Lyons, Charlie Fox, and Jay Nichols have played a vital role over the past 50 years.
1. Lefty Kreh
2. Joe Brooks
3. John Voelker
4. Tom Rosenbauer
5. Lee & Joan Wulff
6. Dave Whitlock
7. Cathy & Barry Beck
8. John Randolph
9. Nick Lyons
10. Ernest G. Schwiebert
11. Yvon Chouinard
12. Oliver White
13. April Vokey
14. Gary LaFontaine
15. Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi
16. Flip Pallot
17. Chico Fernandez
18. Steve Huff & Del Brown
19. Tom Maxwell & Tom Dorsey
20. Ted Leeson
21. George Harvey
22. Mel Krieger
23. René Harrop
24. Steve Rajeff
25. Norman Maclean
26. Art Lee
27. Blane Chocklett
28. Vince Marinaro
29. Perk & Dave Perkins
30. Craig Mathews
31. Doug Swisher & Carl Richards
32. Simon Gawesworth
33. Bob Popovics
34. Dan Blanton
35. Lou Tabory
36. Arnold Gingrich
37. Trey Combs
38. Jako Lucas
39. Ed Jaworowski
40. Roderick Haig-Brown
41. Jim Teeny
42. Gary Borger
43. Ted Niemeyer
44. George Daniel
45. Charlie Craven
46. Jack Gartside
47. Bud Lilly
48. Landon Mayer
49. Charlie Fox
50. Jay Nichols