May 19, 2022
By Bill Bowers
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Even if you’re not fishing Down East anytime soon, you’ll enjoy Bob Mallard’s new volume. Though Maine anglers did create most of the patterns here—to lure the landlocked salmon, striped bass, brook trout, smallmouth bass, and other gamefish for which the Pine Tree State is renowned—the ties in Favorite Flies for Maine can be super-effective anywhere.
One afternoon in the Oregon desert, your correspondent—casting Maine-designed featherwing streamers and ignoring the ribbing of his friends, who were fishing favored local patterns—caught and released several acrobatic “redsides” rainbow trout on the Deschutes River, 3,000 miles from where these flies were invented. Naturally the “exotic” streamers were suddenly in great demand. One does not argue with success.
Maine boasts one of America’s richest fly-fishing traditions, second (perhaps) to New York, whose Catskills rivers are considered the birthplace of American fly fishing. Some 14 percent of Maine’s vast area is covered by water (not counting 3,500 miles of coastline). Beyond its moving waters—from the mighty Penobscot, Androscoggin, and Kennebec rivers to nameless flowages teeming with wild brookies—Maine is home to more than 6,000 stillwaters, ranging from less than an acre to the immense 75,000-acre Moosehead Lake. Not surprisingly, stillwater fly fishing is very popular in Maine.
Maine’s fly-fishing history includes a host of colorful characters. Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854–1946) was—among many other accomplishments—the first Registered Maine Guide. Six feet tall and skilled in woodcraft and fishing, she became an unconventional role model for women and a fixture at sporting shows and in outdoor magazines.
Her popular articles promoted Maine’s natural wonders and encouraged people to visit her beloved home state. She organized Maine’s exhibits at the annual sportsmen’s shows at Madison Square Garden in New York. At the 1897 show she created a sensation, wearing a green leather hunting outfit with a skirt that stopped short at mid-calf, matching boots, a tailored jacket, a red sweater, and a peaked red-and-green hat. (One journalist called her costume “scandalous.”) Crosby was also an early proponent of catch-and-release fishing.
Starting as a milliner making ladies’ hats, Carrie G. Stevens (1882–1970) became a famous fly tier. Her husband Wallace was a well-known fishing guide in the Rangeley Lakes region. His clients introduced Carrie to what she called the “English style” of fly tying. In the early 1920s, she invented the Grey Ghost, a featherwing streamer pattern designed to imitate the rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax. On July 1, 1924, Stevens landed a 6-pound, 13-ounce brook trout on one of her Grey Ghost streamers. This outstanding catch landed Stevens in the pages of Field & Stream magazine, and orders for her flies came pouring in. Stevens proved to be an astute businesswoman as well as a skilled tier, with a knack for knowing which patterns the “sports” would buy. Prominent clients for whom she made flies included U.S. President Herbert Hoover and best-selling author Zane Grey, as well as fishing tackle stores nationwide. Many of the 100-plus patterns Stevens invented are still popular today. In fact, L.L. Bean of Freeport—another Maine institution—reports that the Grey Ghost remains the firm’s best-selling fly pattern, a century after its invention.
The “favorite flies” of the book’s title include—of course—the Grey Ghost (page 60) and 49 other celebrated patterns, among them well-known guide Herb Welch’s Black Ghost (page 34); the Blacknose Dace (page 36); the Chief Needahbeh Streamer (page 44) named for a member of the Penobscot Nation; Colonel Bates (page 46), another Carrie Stevens creation, named for career U.S. Army officer and angling author Joseph D. Bates, Jr.; Fox Hole Special (page 56); Light Edson Tiger (page 74); Parmachenee Belle (page 102); Ripogenus Smelt (page 108); Shufelt Special (page 112); and Warden’s Worry (page 118). Many (though not all) are traditional streamers and bucktails, which Mallard states remain more popular in Maine than in many other states.
Favorite Flies is printed on heavy, glossy paper and illustrated with high-quality color photos. The 50 featured flies are organized simply in alphabetical order by pattern name. Each entry includes a close-up photo of the pattern, a tying recipe, and two pages of text describing the pattern’s origins, intended fish species, fishing tips, and more.
Favorite Flies for Maine is an attractive, well-researched book that will make a fine addition to any angling library.