This a book about Montana flies and fly tiers from Jack Boehme, Frans Pott, George Grant, Al Troth and others to present. But it's also a book about how we fish out West and a lot of our flies come from all over. Western fly fishermen tend to know what they like when they see it. We're quick to adopt new ideas and new patterns no matter where they come from. East or West. Or from New Zealand or the Bahamas. I
There will be some fishing chatter too. Most of the contemporary flies will be tied by me or by fishing guide buddies of mine, both retired and still active. But there are no self inflicted rules. At least a few of the flies here will be tied by talented tiers I know who are not now and never have been guides or fly shop owners. The book starts off as a history and ends up as an exposition of contemporary work.
My work will be disproportionately represented among the contemporary flies--not because of any presumed big picture importance but because I'm the author and I get to do it that way. And because my work and my friends' work is what I know best. Bear with me. I'll do my best to keep it interesting.
Montana and Colorado and the greater Pacific Northwest on the one hand and the Catskill/Pocono mountains of New York and Pennsylvania on the other can be seen as the seminal heartlands of two complimentary but culturally different fly fishing traditions. Eastern USA fly fishing is steeped in history and appreciation for tradition I . Western fly fishing is more about irreverent improvisational creativity and the latest greatest next best thing. I grew up in New Jersey but I learned how to fly fish in Montana. I'm a product of both worlds.
Eastern tiers I know regard a well-tied Quill Gordon dry fly as the epitome of an art form. I too think of the Quill Gordon as the most beautiful of all flies.
Ironically you will be hard pressed to find a Quill Gordon in most Montana fly shops. I asked one of the cash register engineers at a local Bozeman Montana fly shop why they didn't stock any classic Catskill dry flies. "Nobody buys them anymore," he said.
Now that is interesting. Eastern and Western fly fishing traditions exist in parallel worlds. Western fly fishing and especially Western fly tying has been all about ingenuity and off the tip of the fingers creativity from the getgo, with even our own traditions all too often left behind in a fast moving non-stop evolution of patterns and techniques.
"I'm convinced these fish get onto this year's new patterns by the end of the season, and the best way to start off the next year is with the latest stuff from Rene Harrop." Nelson Ishiyama told me that a few short years ago, about fishing the Henry's Fork. "And a few others tiers," he added.
So although you will indeed be hard pressed to find a Quill Gordon in a Montana fly shop Girdle Bugs, Spruce Flies, Bitch Creeks and Sofa Pillows can be hard to find too. You might hear stories about Pott flies and Picket Pins but you won't find any on sale, even though they still work now as well as they ever did. What sells best in Montana fly shops continually morphs changes and evolves. I want to help celebrate that inventive tradition. But I also want to remind everybody about Bitch Creeks and Picket Pins too.
A bit of Montana fly tying history combined with creative irreverent latest and greatest tinkering here we come. Notes:
I Ornald "Shine" Greene from Mangrove Cay once asked me "Sandy. Isn't Montana is up near the Canadian border? And almost nobody lives there? So how come half the people we meet down here in the Bahamas say they're from Montana?" Shine, for what it's worth, is the Alpha Dog male of Mangrove Cay. He is extra smart. He owns and runs a guide business and a conch bar in Moxeytown. He invests in real estate and his wife runs a clothing store in their living room. He is a big powerful man with big heart. Shine is the man.
I This book isn't a history in any definitive or scholarly sense. There are debates about who first invented the Spruce Fly, the Renegade and the Simulator for instance. Another writer might try to settle those disputes. I want to tell an easy-off-the-tongue story about Western flies. Easy-off-the-tongue means, among other things, keep it simple. To the extent disputes arise I'll mention them but I won't in any way try to settle them.