Fly-Fishing History, Part IV

[Editor’s note: For the next few months, we will be featuring entries from Gordon M. Wickstrom’s The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America: A Chronology of Five Hundred Years, 1496 to 2000. In this chronology, Gordon marks significant events—the publication of seminal books, tackle developments, important social changes, the dissemination of trout species beyond their native ranges, etc.—on both sides of the Atlantic.] 

The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America: 
A Chronology of Five Hundred Years, 
1496 to 2000.

1879, in America
The beloved brook trout, a char native to the eastern United States, was rapidly disappearing as a result of over-fishing, pollution, drought, flood, and industrial interference.

1883, in America

The European brown trout came to the United States from the Black Forest of Germany. Fertile eggs were hatched by pioneer fish culturists Fred Mather and Seth Green in New York (the legendary Green was the first to cast a fly 100 feet) and hatcheries in Michigan where the brown was first planted in public water. Spurned at first by anglers as hard to catch and inferior on the table, the brown trout gradually gained approval by increasing faster, growing bigger, tolerating moderate pollution and warmer water, and more readily feeding on the surface. The brown rescued Eastern waters from the disastrous demise of the brook trout.

1886, in Britain
Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, by Frederick M. Halford, who consolidated, defined, and argued for the supremacy of the dry fly as the only acceptable, even the only ethical, way of angling for trout on the chalk streams of southern England. More than anyone else, he is associated with the advent of the dry fly, and he developed a full range of floating flies, as well a method for tying them. The influence of his four books (including his 1899 volume, Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice), as well as his powerful personality made him one of the greatest and most important figures in the history of fly fishing. 


  • In this period, George Marryat was Halfor’d brilliant, non-literary collaborator in the development and propagation of the dry fly and its dressings. Their work was based on careful entomological studies of the English chalk streams.

Theodore Gordon

1890, in America
Theodore Gordon, a finely talented angler—in mid life, in delicate health, and of straitened means—retired early to the Neversink River in New York’s Catskills. There he became the dean and grand master of American fly fishing and fly tiers. On February 22, 1890, Gordon received from Englan’d Frederick Halford a full set of Halford’s revolutionary dry flies. These flies and correspondence with Halford started Gordon on the way to defining the dry fly for America, though he steadfastly refused Halford’s dry-fly purism. His Quill Gordon pattern became the premier American dry fly and the first in a line of Catskill School trout flies representative of American insects. Gordon gave the dry fly both an American home and character. His seminal and delightful “Notes” were published in England’s Fishing Gazette and later in the American Forest and Stream.


  • During this period, the Catskill mountain streams of New York, under the inspiration and technical virtuosity of Theodore Gordon, came into ascendancy as the center and model of American fly fishing.

1892, in America
Favorite Flies and their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury—an ambitious, encyclopedic study, principally of American “fancy” traditional flies and their origins, all beautifully illustrated in paintings—went a long way toward defining the trout, salmon, and bass flies for that time in America.

Previous Installments:

Fly-Fishing History, Part I

Fly-Fishing History, Part II

Fly-Fishing History, Part III

Gordon Wickstrom is the author of 
Notes from an Old Fly Book (2001) and Late in an Angler’s Life (2004), editor of The Boulder Creek Angler newsletter, and writer and director of The Great Debate—A Fantasia for Anglers, an imagined debate between Frederic M. Halford and G. E. M. Skues.

One thought on “Fly-Fishing History, Part IV”

  1. Hi:

    I’m writing a short piece about the Quill Gordon dry fly, and found a picture of Theodore Gordon above. I’d like to use the above picture, if that is okay. And certainly would provide credit?


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