Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fly Fishing History Makers: Edward Ringwood Hewitt

by Peter Nardini

Geoffrey Hellman of The New Yorker once described Edward Ringwood Hewitt (1866-1957) as “America’s outstanding example of the inability of man, however much inclined, to turn himself into a brook trout.” This sort of high praise does not just get thrown around in the fly-fishing world, and Hewitt earned every bit of the title. He was an inventor by trade, creating the one-cylinder Hewitt Adams automobile and eventually becoming a consultant in engine design for Mack Trucks until his death. Even more impressive is the fact that, by age 26, he had already fished throughout Europe, Canada, and the American West. In 1918, Edward Ringwood Hewitt established a fishing camp, called the “Big Bend Club,” on 2,700 acres in the Catskill Mountains. The Neversink River served as the testing grounds for some of his most famous fly patterns. The Neversink Streamer (which sounds like an odd name for a streamer until you realize that it is named after the river) is a classic Northeastern hairwing pattern that, like others tied by Battenkill legend Lew Oatman, have proved effective across the United States.

Hewitt’s streamers, unlike his dry flies, are imitative.
While Hewitt’s streamers were designed to look like underwater baitfish, his dry flies were different than any insect that one would normally see on the water’s surface. Hewitt was a proponent of large “attractor” flies that created a commotion on top of the water and relied on the fisherman’s skill in placing the fly on the water and moving it correctly. He reasoned that the large silhouette and attractive motion forced the fish to rise aggressively towards the object that otherwise would resemble river debris, rather than a caddisfly. The Spider and other attractors provided fishermen with valuable information: chances were, if there were no rises to the fly, then fish probably weren’t in the area, and if the fish rose and refused, the fisherman could switch to a smaller pattern or different color. In Hewitt’s Handbook of Fly Fishing (1933), he listed five-winged and five-hackle flies as being all a fisherman needed in the way of dry flies for everyday use. At the end of the passage he continued:
Personally I would not want any more patterns of dry flies than the above, and if finances interfere take only the first one or two on the list and you will probably catch just as many trout. Don’t get a raft of patterns. They are not necessary at all and only confuse the fisherman into thinking he must have a certain pattern instead of studying what general shade and size should be used to get his fish.

The Spider doesn’t look like any trout foods, but it elicits curiosity from the fish.
Tying instructions for the Bi-Visible are provided in this great video, which was previously featured on Orvis News, and instructions on how to tie and fish the Spider are best described in this article by Ed Shenk, a legendary fly tier in his own right. Unfortunately, the Neversink River has seen a lot of change throughout the years; the spot where the “Big Bend Club” stood and Hewitt and other Catskills legends fished now sits at the bottom of a reservoir that sources the New York City drinking supply.

These beaten-up patterns reflect how well the flies worked.
Edwart Ringwood Hewitt also used his vast engineering knowledge to make a limited amount of reels like the one below, which are some of the most sought-after by collectors today.
Along with reels, Hewitt was also credited with pioneering the use of a small, one-handed rod for salmon fishing, which was an improvement on the oversize two-handed rods used in Britain. Much like Thaddeus Norris, who was previously featured on Museum Pieces, he realized that the chalk-stream tactics that worked in Britain were not as useful on the tight Northeastern rivers and streams. He is also the original patent holder of the felt-sole wading shoe and other innovations.

Hewitt’s engineering skills led to his making custom reels.

In addition to his commercial interests, Edward Ringwood Hewitt was also a pioneer in stream reconstruction and habitat improvement for trout. In a brilliant article about Hewitt published in a 1981 issue of our journal, The American Fly Fisher, Maxine Atherton writes:
When Mr. Hewitt was not fishing he could be found in his hatchery, working on experiments or improving his formula for a trout diet rich in protein, vitamins, amino acids, and everything nature had invented to make fish, and subsequently man, strong and healthy, as part of her program for the survival of the species. The hatchery was located near the old farmhouse at the bottom of a slope, and Mr. Hewitt had piped water from a lively spring brook, running down the hillside behind the camp, into the hatchery building, through two long table troughs, and then outside to small rearing ponds. Inside, the troughs were filled with trout fry and fingerlings which had been hatched from eggs fertilized by the largest and healthiest of the trout in the rearing ponds.

When he was not tinkering with metal, fish food, or feathers, Mr. Hewitt wrote about it, passing his fly-fishing views and knowledge down to future generations. He authored many books on fishing and, in a very ahead-of-his-time move, incorporated underwater photography of fish nibbling at various types of bait. His works include: Secrets of the Salmon (1922),Telling on the Trout (1926), Better Trout Streams (1931), Hewitt’sHandbook of Fly Fishing (1933), Hewitt’s Handbook of Stream Improvement (1934), Hewitt’s Nymph Fly Fishing (1934), Hewitt’s Handbook of Trout Raising and Stocking (1935), and A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for 75 Years (1948).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We couldn't help putting an historical spin on the holiday classic The Twelve Days of Christmas, please enjoy this feature and be sure to come see our exhibition of Field and Stream covers at the AMFF in 2016. Happy Holidays!

On the first day of Christmas my angler gave to me... a can of instant coffee! 

Far before the days of JetBoils, the outdoorsman of the 1920's got by on cans of instant coffee like the one seen in this ad. The maker claimed that its' product was "the greatest improvement in the coffee industry in a hundred years. Real quality coffee made by experts and ready for serving. It has been properly vacuum dried. All you get is real coffee- that's why a small can of G. Washington's coffee will make as many cups as a can of ordinary coffee ten times its size"

On the second day of Christmas my angler gave to me...two Thomas rods and a can of instant coffee!

Fred Thomas began making fly rods in Bangor, Maine in the late 1890's after learning the trade as an employee at the H.L. Leonard Co. After a few dissolved partnerships and changes of address, the F.E. Thomas Company grew to include a world wide following and the shop employed as many as a dozen skilled craftsman, including the heir to the Thomas Rod Company, Leon Thomas. This ad that was featured in the February 1938 issue of Field & Stream is a testament to the company's growth as they offered both a 3-piece dry fly rod and a streamer rod as well. While Fred Thomas passed away in 1938 others kept his tradition alive and the company is still in business today.

On the third day of Christmas my angler gave to me three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee!

Field & Stream was not all about hunting and fishing. This picture from the June 1928 issue was part of a readers' guide to summer camping.

On the fourth day of Christmas my angler gave to me four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

Some vacationing good samaritans stop to let a family of grouse cross a dirt road on the cover of this June 1927 issue of Field & Stream. Hopefully the birds returned the favor by giving the driver a few quality tying feathers.

On the fifth day of Christmas my angler gave to me five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

We had to go big for the most important verse of the song and what better way than this February 1953 cover featuring a hammerhead shark going airborne after a hooked tarpon.

On the sixth day of Christmas my angler gave to me six gents-a-wading... Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

The Mishawaka Rubber & Woolen MFG. CO. originated in Mishawaka, Indiana in 1833. After some early trouble the company was purchased in 1867 by Jacob Beiger and his son, Martin Beiger. Martin and another business partner invented the all-knit boot in 1886 and the signature trademark red ball was added to the black band of the boot soon thereafter. The red-ball waders were not breathable by any means, but they were the toughest and most durable of their time.

On the seventh day of Christmas my angler gave to me seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

Author Norman D. Weiss put himself in dangerous situations to demonstrate safety in the appropriately titled “Don’t Wade into Trouble” in the May 1962 issue of Field & Stream Magazine
. The caption to this photograph read “Weiss gets out of the trouble with no more than a soaking. Belt holds air in the waders keeping him floating”. Don’t try this at home, kids.

On the eighth day of Christmas my angler gave to me eight maids-a-filming, seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

Kodak aimed to be the GoPro of the 1950's and 60's. Kodak's Brownie 8 cameras were compact as a camera could be in those days ("so compact you could fit it into a jacket pocket") and did not break the bank- the Kodaks cost only $27 compared to the prices of today's cameras. Not to mention that their clever tagline "Beats talking about it" played right into an angler's worst fears.

On the ninth day of Christmas my angler gave to me nine ladies landing, eight maids-a-filming, seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

The July 1952 issue of Field & Stream featured a lady angler reeling in a fish and a male companion looking on to much surprise.

On the tenth day of Christmas my angler gave to me ten trout-a-leaping, nine ladies landing, eight maids-a-filming, seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

The June 1934 issue of Field & Stream featured a stunning depiction of a trout chasing after a dry fly.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my angler gave to me eleven poppers popping, ten trout-a-leaping, nine ladies landing, eight maids-a-filming, seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee

The June 1931 issue of Field & Stream features a man locked in a duel with a monster largemouth bass while casually smoking a pipe.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my angler gave to me twelve salmon running, eleven poppers popping, ten trout-a-leaping, nine ladies landing, eight maids-a-filming, seven fools-a-swimming, six gents-a-wading...Five silver kings! 
Four hackle birds, three camping tents, two Thomas rods, and a can of instant coffee!

The July 1971 issue of Field & Stream Magazine was all about the Atlantic Salmon. The article "Witch Salmon"recounted author Hal Hyman's trip to Iceland during which he regularly caught 20 pound salmon and marveled at the strides that the locals were making in fisheries management. He closed the article saying "I felt a moment of thankfulness for those whose management programs will keep the fish running strong, making sure that man doesn't put a curse more threatening than witchcraft on Iceland's rivers".

Long time Field & Stream fishing editor and master caster A.J. McLane also contributed an article detailing techniques for salmon fishing. He cautioned those switching from trout fishing to not expect any pattern of consistency in what the salmon are eating. "If a Hendrickson Dun or a Green Drake is on the water, then the artificial should look like the natural. Even if insects are not flitting about at the moment, we have a fair idea of what the trout might consider a tempting tidbit. But this does not hold true for the Atlantic Salmon in rivers"


Thursday, November 5, 2015

AMFF Featured in This is Fly Magazine

Check out Communication Coordinator Pete Nardini's article On the Fly With: Rick Porcello: Red Sox in Fly Fishing Past and Present. The article takes the reader through Rick Porcello's fly fishing journey and compares it to some of the Red Sox's all-time greats along the way.

Catch the AMFF's video interview with Rick Porcello on Youtube and Vimeo.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Flies so good...They're Scary

The Ghost, one of the beautifully dressed flies in Mary Orvis Marbury’s display panels from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In honor of Hallow’s Eve we have come up with a few historic fly patterns from our collection with some spooky monikers.

Lady of the Lake: “The Lady of the Lake is a comparatively new fly, originating in America. It is usually dressed large for deep waters. The name originally belonged to the Alexandra fly, but when it was abandoned for that fly in favor of the much-admired princess, it was appropriated for this new and dainty creation of the American fly-makers”  - Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and their Histories

The Alexandra, or “The Fly Formerly Known As Lady of the Lake” (yes, this entire section has been building up to a Prince reference)

Quoth the Raven...nevermore
The Raven: “The Raven is a black bass fly much liked by the fishermen of La Crosse, Wis. From its success in that vicinity, it is becoming known and used by fishermen in other localities.” – Mary Orvis Marbury’s Favorite Flies and their Histories

The Spider (Streamer): Also from Favorite Flies and their Histories: “To our mind this is the poorest possible representation of a spider, and we can see no sufficient reason why that name should have been given to it; but the fact remains that it is called “the Spider”, and when made on the larger hooks is much liked for large trout, and sometimes for black bass.” Mary Orvis Marbury clearly disapproved of the fact that it did not look like an actual spider and continued with this disclaimer: “It must be remembered that in these plates we are endeavoring to give the favorite flies, the general favorites; not those we admire as most beautiful, taking, or durable, but those that are most widely known and approved. The only criticism we can make in this regard is that it was named “the Spider”, but then Charles Dudley Warner has said: ‘The trout fly is a ‘conventionalized’ creation, as we say of ornamentation. The theory is that, fly fishing being a high art, the fly must not be a tame imitation of nature, but an artistic suggestion of it’.

The Black Death: This tarpon fly in the AMFF’s collection was tied by the late George Hommell, Jr., former owner of the World Wide Sportsman and legendary Florida fishing guide. It has an elongated tapered head design that provides little wind resistance on long casts while at the same time the contrasting colored tailing materials seem to make this fly come alive in the water. The Black Death can be tied in two separate styles, the first combines multiple saddle hackles and marabou while the second uses rabbit strips. Both patterns can be used on the shallow water flats and the action is comparable between the different materials. Check out this tying video for The Black Death with ambient sounds of landing tarpon in the background.

The Horror: The Director of the Bermuda Fishing Information Bureau, Pete Perinchief, designed The Horror pattern in the 1950s after a frustrating trip to the Florida Keys with Joe and Mary Brooks. Fishing for deep-cruising bones, Brooks had told Perinchief to let his fly sink to the bottom and wait for the fish to find it, but Perinchief’s fly continually snagged in the turtle grass. Frustration produced an “aha! moment” that night. Perinchief woke the next morning, tied a fly with the wing on the reverse side of the hook shank, and dropped it into the bathtub to test. The Horror was born. While the pattern won’t win awards for its presentation, it is deceptively effective. The wing of brown bucktail works like a rudder to keep the hook point up, acting as a weed guard. A wrap of large yellow or orange chenille tied closely behind the wing base forces the fibers upward, which also shields the hook point. The chenille is then wrapped forward to the rear of the normal head space. Soon, most bonefish patterns were tied with the hook point up.
But what’s in a name? The Horror did not get its title from the look of the fly or the havoc it wreaked on unsuspecting fish. It was affectionately named for Pete’s daughter, who was so nicknamed because of her behavior as a child and teenager.

Some other names and effective patterns out there with a Halloween twist include the Black Demon, Blue Devil, Copper Killer, Golden Demon, Psycho Debutant (style points for that one), Phantom, Sorceror, Spirit Catcher, Werewolf, and The Prowler. Which one is your favorite? 

The Witcher from Mary Orvis Marbury's 1893 display panels

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fly Fishing History Makers: Bill Oyster

Bill tames a healthy rainbow with his Oyster Bamboo rod

The first time that Bill Oyster witnessed fly fishing was while growing up in the northwestern town of Powell, Wyoming. Ironically, it wasn’t until Bill moved to the warmer climate of north Georgia that the obsession really stuck. Bill would often hike for many miles and camp alone along the crystal clear trout streams of the Appalachian wilderness. With trout in the back yard, Bill soon discovered that it was a half day drive to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic to pursue, sea trout, redfish, and tarpon. In other words… this area had virtually no limit to keep entertained even the most enthusiastic fly fisher on a year round basis. While attending the University of Georgia in Athens, Bill met his wife Shannen who would be a large part of his success at turning his passion into a career. Soon after leaving college to compete as a professional road racing cyclist, Bill and Shannen were married and moved to Gainesville, GA. Just after the ’96 Olympic Trials Bill suffered a career ending fall while training. Suddenly he had time and energy to spare and poured it all into his fly fishing interests. He spent time doing anything he could in the fly fishing world from tying flies at the trade shows to teaching casting and guiding for area fly shops. 

Still in his twenties, he soon took an interest in bamboo fly rods.  He loved the beauty and history and hoped to obtain one for himself. The more he learned about these rods, the more he became intrigued by the craft itself. At that time there was no one around to mentor his interest in rodmaking and no internet with its endless stream of information. So it was through a small stack of dusty books and countless hours of trial and error that Bill slowly put together his own style of employing these traditional techniques. Each rod produced was a bit better than the one before, and his experience in all manner of fly fishing (as well as his casting knowledge and abilities), quickly put him on the road to creating classic rods that could satisfy a more modern expectation of performance. His art training led to an aesthetic that set a new standard for the kind of beauty that could be achieved in the most high-end niche of the market. 

Many hours are spent at the engraving vise creating his hyper customized rods for clients from around the world. When he’s not crafting rods for customers, he shares his craft through the Oyster rodmaking school. Drawing on his own experience and struggles with all techniques and methods of rod construction, he has created what is by far the largest school of rodmaking in the world today. Each year over a hundred students travel from around the world to spend a week with Bill completing their own rod using the very same techniques employed on every Oyster rod. When not working, Bill often leads groups of his clients on fishing expeditions where they put their creations to the test in some of the most exotic and beautiful destinations in the world.  These days Bill and his wife run their production shop and rodmaking school in the quaint north Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge, where they live with their two small children Cutter and Veronica.  

Bill and family at home on the river

Q & A With Bill Oyster:

What were your beginnings in fly fishing? Who got you into it?
Its really just something I stumbled into on my own.  Nobody in my family had any interest in fishing, but I was captivated by it from my earliest memory.  I first saw fly fishing as a kid growing up in northwest Wyoming.  At the time I wasn't too impressed as my Zebco and can of worms seemed to do the trick just fine.  It wasn't until college when I picked up a fly rod to chase the trout in north Georgia that I was really struck by, not just how effective it was (and not very at first), but how beautiful it was as well.

Why bamboo?
I have always had what you might call an artistic sensibility.  The romance of a bamboo rod, a wooden sailboat, or classic motorcycle - it's not something you can explain, and certainly not something you can justify.   It's just either something that stirs your senses, or it isn't.  For me it was, and still is.

Are there any rod makers that have influenced your technique?
For me it was every rod maker who ever wrote a book.  I've read them all many times over.  I think that Everett Garrison's book might have to top the list.  It made the whole process seem like such a serious and impossible undertaking that I just had to give it a try!

What do you do differently than everyone else?
Strangely, I think the biggest difference between me and other rod makers is that I don't take it too seriously.  Fly fishing and fly rods should be fun.  Yes, I am serious about always trying to make the finest fly rods I can, because to me that IS fun.  I don't mind if others like different styles or use different methods.  I'm not interested in debating tapers or plane sharpening angles.  I know what works for me and enjoy every minute of it.

How did you learn to engrave and what goes into that process?
Early on I experienced a demand from my customers for personalization.  I took a chance on myself and travelled to an engraving school in Kansas to see if it was something I might be able to do.  Fortunately, it stuck.  I talk directly to the customer and combine their interests and history with my experience to design and create the custom engravings.  I sometimes spend upwards of a hundred hours designing, drawing, and cutting the most elaborate pieces.

A few fine examples of Bill's engraving prowess

What is the creative process that you go through when making fly rods?
It all starts with the customer.  I need to know how and where they will use the rod.  Also, if they have any strong preferences in rod action or feel.  All of the practical considerations come first.  Only then do we discuss aesthetics.  First and foremost the rod must perform properly, consistently, and reliably.  Otherwise I might as well just paint them a picture instead!  Some are only looking for a simple and understated style, and we are happy to comply. Many of our more complicated rods are ordered as heirloom pieces and my engravings are based on highly personal ideas that will stay in that family for generations.

What was your favorite fly rod that you have made?
There is no question that it is the first rod I ever made #001.  It took me six months of trial and error, reading and re-reading, head scratching and cussing, but I finally achieved something I had dreamed about for years.  I'll never sell this rod.  It's MY family heirloom.

What was it like fishing with and making a rod for President Carter?
I guided Pres. Carter again last week, and it's always the same - highly rewarding, thoroughly enjoyable, and more than a little stressful.  He is after all a serious dry-fly man, and those big boys aren't always looking up on demand.  He's a hell of an angler though, and we always get a few to the net.  The rods were originally purchased as a fundraiser by the Carter Center.  The idea they had was that he would autograph it before I varnished it, he would fish it for awhile, then it would go to auction as a fundraiser.  However, after fishing the first rod for about thirty minutes, he decided that a new rod should be commissioned because that one wasn't going anywhere!  It was a real honor for a young guy from a one red light town working all alone (at that time) in his basement!

Were there any challenges or adversity you had to overcome?
Well, starting out as a twenty something year old kid in the Deep South didn't really help me fit the stereotype for a bamboo rod maker.  None of the "big" guys in the industry really gave me the time of day back then.  That's when I decided that I wouldn't spend too much time worrying what others thought of me.  Instead I set out to make rods that were so fine, worked so well, and looked so good that it didn't matter who made them, or where.  That still pretty much sums up our business philosophy, although with the grey beard things are getting easier!  In fact, all of the closed doors I experienced when starting out is what lead me to teaching rod making classes.  I found that rejecting the enthusiasm of would-be rod makers just plain felt bad.  That wasn't the feeling I wanted mixed up in my life's work.  Instead, I decided to find a practical way to make people feel good.  To this day I've helped more people complete their first bamboo rod than anyone in history, and that makes ME feel good.  See how that works?
Busy at work at the Oyster rod shop

What is your favorite fish to go after - do you prefer chasing hard to find fish and experiencing the different places you catch them in or staying local and going after the football rainbows in Georgia?
I will fish wherever I have the opportunity, and have certainly spent my share of time harassing the local trout.  However, like any drug, a real junkie always needs more.  This year alone I've fished for trout and stripers in Ga, bull reds in Louisiana, big Browns in Patagonia and tarpon in the Keys.  Next month I'll be heading to northern Argentina for golden dorado, and in November it's Andros Island for bonefish.  I am an addict through and through.  

Any special memories from the rod shop or people you encountered?
The shop is my home, where I sleep is less important.  Employees, friends, and fishing buddies are one in the same.  My wife handles the business end of things from her office, my kids do their homework sitting in bamboo shavings, our dogs sniff everyone who walks in.  This is where we hang out on our days off, and meet up when we go out.  This place and the people that frequent it are what allows us all to live the life we want.

Have you taught your kids to fly fish or have they shown interest in picking up the rod building torch?
My kids enjoy fishing like most kids naturally do when given the chance.  I am careful not to push them too much, since I don't want to chase them away.  I would love it if they choose to carry the torch someday, but only time will tell.

What are your thoughts on fisheries conservation?
I've seen first hand the effects of development, deforestation, pollution and overcrowded waters.  It's a problem we've all created and must find a way to manage.  Mother Nature simply can't keep up if we continue in a thoughtless and careless manner.  Still there are those (fisherman even!) who act like there's no tomorrow and take without giving.  It's a problem for sure, but one that could be managed if enough people would stop thinking about their tomorrow and instead think about their children's.  Rant over...

Bill puts the Oyster 9 wt. taper to the test in Big Pine Key
Ok. One rod, one reel, one fly and you’re on a deserted island. What do you take?

Hmmm, an island, must be saltwater, gonna need to eat... 8'9wt Oyster bamboo (solid built for durability) with my trusty Tibor Signature Series reel, and a good old Clouser Minnow.  Let's go fishing!