As much as I hate to admit it, I'm a collector. I have more rods, reels, books, and other fly fishing paraphernalia than any non-collector should have. Most of it just sort of appeared over time. I never meant to start collecting these things. It's like they bred in my tying room after dark. But there is one fly fishing item that I do actively collect: flies. Flies are small, easy to store, often inexpensive, and there are endless numbers of them. I have a lot of flies in my collection, and I keep adding new ones every year. Any fly that I find unusual, or especially unique, usually gets a spot in my stash. But I have a particular soft spot for flies tied by their inventors. The flies in my collection have come from many different sources. Some I purchased from other collectors, but most I acquired at the winter fly fishing shows.
I've been attending the fly fishing shows for 15 years. Anyone who has been to one of these shows knows that the outside walls are usually lined with fly tiers. I've bought some of the flies from these tiers, and I've traded some of my own flies for others. Trading is always nice. It seems like many of the show tiers also collect flies. But you should never ask one of them for a free fly. Most of these people are already losing money by coming to the show, so any little bit of income helps. Always offer money. Sometimes they'll give you one for free anyway, just because you weren't one of the 50 people who asked them for free flies that day.
Most of my experiences collecting flies at the shows have been great, but not always. My second year attending the shows, I noticed a famous fly tier and author in his booth across from mine. I was a big fan of this man's work, and I really wanted to have one of his flies. After a day and a half, I finally mustered the courage to approach him. I walked across the aisle, outstretched my hand for a greeting, and said, "Hi Mr. (name withheld to protect the guilty). My name is Paul Weamer. I love your books, and I was wondering if I could buy one of your flies for my collection. Do you have any here that you tied?" The man looked at me with complete disgust, slowly shook his head, didn't shake my hand, and turned away. As he was leaving, he muttered, "I don't have time for your B.S. kid."
Well that wasn't what I expected. I still see that man from time to time at the shows. He sat beside me at the Denver retailer show, watching me tie my Truform flies, telling me how unique they are, and generally acting nice as pie. I thought about mentioning his former nastiness then, and every time I've seen him since, but there's no changing egomaniacal rudeness in the elderly, so I just let it go.
The fly I'm featuring today is different. It didn't come from one of the shows, and it's the only fly that I paid a substantial amount of money to acquire (I sold a bamboo rod to purchase it). But it's the rarest and most valuable fly in my collection, so I decided to start with it. It's a Dark Cahill tied by Theodore Gordon. I have a letter that describes how this fly was given by Theodore Gordon to Roy Steenrod. Steenrod gave it to Harry Darbee, and it passed to Harry's daughter, Judy, after his death. Judy sold it to collectible fly fishing book purveyor Bob Rumpf who sold it to me.
I'm a huge fan of fly fishing history and listening to Bob's sales pitch about old man Gordon tying this fly in his fingers, beside his wood stove, on a cold Catskill winter's night along the Neversink was more than I could handle. I also have a copy of Harry Darbee's book, "Catskill Flytier" in which he mentions his Gordon fly collection. And knowing that this fly was part of the legendary Darbee collection made me want it even more.
The letter that accompanies my Gordon fly is important. It shows the fly's lineage and really gives it value. Without the letter, it would just be another old fly. If you start collecting flies, make sure you get something in writing which states what the fly is and who tied it. A signed business card with the fly's name on it usually works great.
The eastern fly shows begin in January, and they'll give you a great opportunity to start your own fly collection. I'll be posting more of mine from time to time. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. But if you see a famous, elderly author at the shows who looks like his latest Social Security check was a little light, you may want to avoid him.
A couple of thoughts about the Gordon fly: Notice how the wing is not divided. It's one solid clump of wood duck fibers, tied with the tips extending towards the eye, and then pulled back towards the bend and secured again to stand it upright. The tail is also wood duck, not hackle fibers like we would use today. This fly is an early representation of the evolving Catskill style...very cool!
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