February 25, 2023
By Ross Purnell
The artwork of Allan Hassall first appeared in Fly Fisherman in the March 1980 issue. Those were in the days when only some magazine signatures were color, and most were black and white. There was a need for black-and-white artwork, and Hassall’s ink drawings of aquatic insects, fly patterns, and fish weren’t just beautiful, they were educational. This was before the days of the Internet, digital cameras, LED light tents, and autofocus macro lenses. A good photo of a mayfly or a Parachute Adams was hard to come by, and harder to reproduce, but Hassall’s careful pen-and-ink renderings brought all the tiny parts of our fly-fishing world into close focus. With his spot art we could study insects that we glimpsed only fleetingly onstream, or we could see exactly how a Catskills dry fly should be proportioned.
To put it in perspective, I’ve worked for Fly Fisherman for 25 years, but in 1980, I was 13 years old and still fishing with bright red salmon eggs. Hassall was illustrating for the leading magazine in the fly-fishing world.
In the March 1999 issue, Hassall officially took over the task of illustrating Nick Lyons’s venerable Seasonable Angler column, which graced the back pages of every issue. Seasonable Angler has always been the literary portion of Fly Fisherman, and Hassall’s watercolor paintings brought the words of Nick Lyons to life with grace and subtle artistry. After Nick Lyons retired, Hassall continued to paint the panels of Seasonable Angler for dozens and dozens of different essayists, including Dave Whitlock, Jim McLennan, Simon Gawesworth, John Gierach, Mark Hume, John Randolph, Paul Schullery, Steve Raymond, and many others.
He painted the Seasonable Angler column continuously until the last issue of 2022, when he decided bi-monthly deadlines didn’t fit well with the lifestyle of a retired, 71-year-old snowbird, and he decided to pass the torch along to a new artist.
All told, Hassall illustrated consistently for Fly Fisherman for 42 years. He made more contributions than any other freelance writer, photographer, or artist in that period. His paintings became synonymous with not just the Seasonable Angler column, but with the ethos of Fly Fisherman itself.
The Seasonable Angler column continues with the regular writings of our own warrior/poet Steve Ramirez, accompanied by the artwork of newcomer Rob Benigno.
Hassall’s plan is to continue his passion as an artist, but do it a little more slowly, and without the pressures of deadlines.
From me, and from the untold thousands of readers who have enjoyed your artwork for a huge portion of our lives, thank you Al, for being such a valuable part of our shared fly-fishing experience.
Here’s a small glimpse at a few highlights, though I must admit there is a recency bias here due to the wonders of the digital age. From 2007 forward, we have complete digital files of all Hassall’s artwork.
Few feelings I’ve ever had could match the ones I experienced that day. The sleek canoe moved across the water quietly, smoothly, and quickly on the lake’s surface, beginning my 50-year love affair with canoes that has never dulled.
We covered every inch of Greenleaf’s shoreline that day with our bass bugs, bream flies, and lures. We caught largemouth and spotted bass, bluegill, green sunfish, warmouth bass, and crappie. I cannot recall a minute that one of us didn’t have a fish on. It was paradise.
I stepped forward and was immediately hit with the musky aroma of bear. We whistled our way past the spot on the river that was covered in fresh salmon carcasses, scat, and the odor of potential danger and death. It’s interesting to see how primal moments like that can focus your attention—even at the end of a long day of trekking and fishing in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
“So Long Sucker” by Paul Schullery, Aug-Sep 2013
The sucker is the real “boy named Sue” of the animal world. What a word to name an animal. If all the intriguing new concepts you learned about this word in junior high school aren’t proof enough of how problematic it is, take a look at the nineteen suction-related columns of fine print in the Oxford English Dictionary. There you will find a thousand years of collected condescension and insult, such breathtakingly imaginative uses of the root word “suck” as would stun into silence the most foulmouthed eighth-grader.
The water spread in a thin shimmering sheet across the beds and purled quietly in clear, pebble-bottomed depressions, the ideal holding spots for feeding browns. Sheep baaaed as they clattered across a wooden bridge downstream; rain clouds lowered darkly over ragged, shining mountains to the east; and the sun sank slowly at the ridgeline to the west. All was quiet except for stream murmurs, sheep talk, distant cowbells, and the occasional “plup” of trout.
There’s sometimes a fundamental disconnect between guides in their twenties and thirties and clients at the deep end of middle age. This can be as complicated as fathers and sons or as simple as the fact that, as Gina Ochsner put it, “Young men drink because they don’t know who they are, and old men drink because they do.”
“First Carp” by Nick Lyons, May 2005
First love, first trout, first trout on a fly, first snook or striper or tarpon—they are just tattooed on your brain. You cannot erase them. In their separate ways they’re emblems that you can draw a circle—as Emerson says—a little wider around your experience, that your capacities are proven larger than you imagined, that you can do a little more than you thought you were able to do, and can thereafter do still more. It’s a happy, satisfying kind of feeling, empowering.
At the time I really didn’t know why I felt compelled to pick up and keep those fragments, but over the years since I’ve begun to understand the reason.
Those little chips of volcanic glass are probably the only tangible evidence my prehistoric friend ever lived or walked this earth, so I now keep them as sort of a private little memorial to someone who lived, hunted, and fished in a different time. Small as they are, they still tell me something about him—that he was a skilled and patient craftsman, adept at making spear or arrow points; that he knew a great campsite when he saw one, with good water, trout, and plenty of shade from the hot summer sun; that he surely was as familiar with the scent of a pinewood campfire as I am.
Ross Purnell is editor and publisher of Fly Fisherman magazine.