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Riffles Column: On the Shoulders of Giants

Editor and Publisher Ross Purnell shares his thoughts on Dave Whitlock's legacy.

Riffles Column: On the Shoulders of Giants

Dave's wife Emily Whitlock has written a wonderful story about “her” Dave, and through her words, there’s even more to learn about how to enjoy the outdoors with your spouse or significant other, how to take time away from fishing to smell the flowers, and Dave’s greatest lesson, how to laugh and have fun at all times. (Photo courtesy of Emily Whitlock)

Editor's Note: Click here to read Emily Whitlock's wonderful article, "The Dave I Knew and Loved" from the August-September 2023 issue. 


Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” His philosophic ideal is important to fly fishers today because so much of what we have now comes from the giants who have come before us.

One of those giants is Dave Whitlock (1934-2022) who published 15 illustrated feature stories in Fly Fisherman between 1978-79, and 30 more of them over the next 30 years. He was a regular columnist for Trout magazine, he was the author of the L.L. Bean Fly-Fishing Handbook, which in its day was a road map for thousands of aspiring fly fishers, and he wrote and illustrated four other books. Although he often wrote about trout fishing, he was best known as an advocate for warmwater gamefish.

In Fly Fisherman he wrote extensively about fishing for panfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, yellow bass, and perch. Dave’s story “Stalking the Golden Ghost” in the July 1998 issue of Fly Fisherman was the first magazine article exclusively about fly fishing for carp. When the story appeared, our editorial offices were swamped by letters from people who were offended about the very idea of intentionally casting a fly at such “trash” fish. Dave had already been doing it for a decade. Today, 25 years later, it is considered one of the pinnacle games in our sport.

His fly tying also helped the sport evolve. Dave was one of the most prolific commercial fly designers of all time, creating dozens of patterns like Dave’s Hopper, NearNuff Sculpin, and Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. Much of what we tie today are basically variations or modifications of patterns Dave created in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Dave was an ambassador for the sport and appeared at thousands of fly-fishing and outdoors consumer shows, and gave presentations at clubs around the country and around the world. He guided us and mentored us across generations, and because of his immense contributions, he’ll always be a part of what we do when we pick up a fly rod and make a cast, whether it’s for bass, trout, or golden dorado.

His wife Emily Whitlock has written a wonderful story about “her” Dave, on page 14 of the Aug-Sep 2023 issue of Fly Fisherman and it’s now on-line at flyfisherman.com, and through her words, there’s even more to learn about how to enjoy the outdoors with your spouse or significant other, how to take time away from fishing to smell the flowers, and Dave’s greatest lesson, how to laugh and have fun at all times. That’s what this is all about right?

The cover of the August-September 2023 issue of Fly Fisherman, showing Dave Whitlock casting.
Dave on the cover of the August-September 2023 issue, which this article appears in. This cover was for subscriptions only and was not featured on the newsstand.

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