Al Troth

Al Troth's career was a pleasure to behold. Most sources cite his Elk Hair Caddis as developed by Al in 1957, in Pennsylvania before he moved West and settled in Dillon Montana. Al's career may be more closely associated with the 70s 80s and 90s when he and his son Eric fished and hunted and guided on the Beaverhead. My wife Adele was one of Eric's English teachers at Montana State. In those years Al came to Bozeman almost every year to buy two one quart cans of McCloskey's Marine Spar Varnish at the Paint Pot on East main Street. Al preferred that varnish to the head cements available in his day. He used it little by little from a small square-cornered glass jar with a black plastic lid with an embedded brush. He kept the bottom half of that jar filled with hardened plastic of some kind so there was never more than a 3/4" inch of liquid varnish in the bottle at any given time. He did thin it regularly with paint thinner too.

While in Bozeman Al almost always gave an all day fly tying seminar at Dave Kumlein's Troutfitters Orvis Shop. I attended a few of those all day sessions. I wish I'd gone to them all. One of those years Dave used an 8-track video camera and microphone to record Al in action. I got my DVD copy from Tom Morgan. A year or two after Al died Martha Troth called Tom and said she was sending some video she had. Tom asked me to make a few copies. Several dozen copies actually. The following video is, as of December 2021, still not edited. It's just raw non-stop video. I hope to find time to edit eventually.

 

I didn't know Al Eric and Martha well but I did stay at their place once. Martha was, among other things, a stunningly good cook. I ran into Al every now and then at fly tying conventions too where I sometimes went to show boats. Al was friendly generous man and he always called me by my first name. I wish I could wind the clock back now in order to spend more time with him.

Al's most successful fly was the Elk Hair Caddis. I have no doubt it will still be an important fly a century from now. He was a prolific designer who stressed durability and functionality at every step. Al was a bit of a mass production guy too. When tying Elk Hair Caddis he used a plastic four dozen carton of empty 22 caliber rifle shells to hold individually sized clumps of deer hair. One smack of that plastic rack neatly stacked all 48 clumps at once. Then he snipped the tops off all the same distance from the top edge of the 22 shells and they were ready to go. Did he use 22 longs or long rifle? I didn't think to ask.

Al was a stubbornly determined perfectionist too. At one of his seminars he told us the story of a Japanese collector who ordered a box of flies accompanied by an additional $100 USA dollars which the collector said he included because he wanted Al to take extra time to make unusually high quality flies. Al said he refunded the $100 dollars because for every fly he ever tied he did his level best to make a perfect fly. So he filled that order by picking flies out of his wholesale bins. Which were all the same he said.

Al did believe in the idea of a perfect fly. He told us the best way to learn how to tie any given new pattern was to tie it for three or four days straight. In Al's case that meant tying 7 or 8 hours a day. Once Al had a pattern he liked he didn't often change it much. There were exceptions of course. One of Tom Morgan's favorite flies was the the Troth Deer Hair Hopper. According to Tom Al didn't originally tie that pattern with red goose biot kicker legs. Tom asked him to one year when ordering several dozen hoppers--with red goose biot kicker legs. Tom said the Al's Hair Hopper had red kicker legs from that time on. For everybody.