Fly Fishing History Part VI: 1941-1952

[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.

1941, in America
The Art of Tying the Wet Fly by James E. Leisenring. By the time of this publication, Leisenring was already the acknowledged master of the wet fly and the forerunner for the modern nymph, doing for the sunken fly what Theodore Gordon had done for the floater. The venerable Pennsylvanian’s sparse, delicately shaded, soft-hackle flies set the style of modern wet-fly development and sunken-fly techniques.

1945, in America
The advent of nylon in the 1930s would revolutionize fly fishing. After World War II, it made leaders of Spanish silkworm gut and its Japanese substitute obsolete. Nylon led the way to the Dacron-core modern plastic fly line.

The spinning reel (fixed spool or threadline reel) was introduced from Europe and instantly became popular—not without dislocating and unsettling fly fishing for a time. Nylon provided monofilament lines necessary to make spinning reels practical.

Early Spinning reel

Spinning reels arrived from Europe after WWII and converted many fly fishermen for a time.

photo courtesy Mullock’s Specialist Auctioneers & Valuers

1948, in America
Fiberglass cloth was developed into efficient, dependable, and inexpensive fly rods, generally superior to the “production grade” cane rods which they largely replaced.

  • In the East, focus had shifted from the Catskills to the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania where Vincent Marinaro and Charles Fox held forth.
  • The Western states were fast coming into prominence in American fly fishing, developing a new angling culture, altogether eclectic and irreverent. Western fly tiers were developing big attractor flies, wet and dry–the fly-as-lure, rather than as a natural food. They also developed dressings for the hefty naturals found in Western waters. Perhaps the Pott woven-hair flies from Montana, typified by the Sandy Mite, were the signal of this Western revolution as early as the 1930s.
  • Anglers at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Casting Club, in the post-war years, developed the shooting head fly line—thirty-foot heads spliced to monofilament shooting line. They broke all distance-casting records, thus enabling big flies to be cast in excess of 100 feet on rough Western Rivers.

    Yak Caddis

    Western-style fly tying from mid-century has resulted in many large, bushy patterns,
    such as this Yak Caddis, that reject classic methods of imitation.

1950, in America
A Modern Dry Fly Code by Vincent Marinaro opened a new world of insect imitation for the trout fisherman: the world of the terrestrial, those land-born and -bred insects that fall into the stream in numbers providing a substantial part of a trout’s diet. Experimenting on and writing from his limestone spring creeks of south-central Pennsylvania, there were few shibboleths of fly fishing that this powerful theorist and innovator did not challenge, adding greatly to American fly fishing in the process. 

1952, in Britain
An Angler’s Entomology. From Dublin, J. R. Harris provided a thoroughly modern and complete description and illustration of all the insects that trout feed upon in the British Isles.

Read previous installments in the series:

Fly-Fishing History, Part I

Fly-Fishing History, Part II

Fly-Fishing History, Part III

Fly-Fishing History, Part IV

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.

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