Fly-Fishing History, Part V 1914 – 1938

Written by: Gordon M. Wickstrom

[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.

1914, in America
The Dry Fly and Fast Water by George M. LaBranche. This influential book along with LaBranche’s superb casting and angling skills–made him the foremost advocate for the dry fly in American waters after the death of Theodore Gordon in 1915. LaBranche was the first to advise searching fast, broken water with the dry fly and the serious use of the dry fly for salmon.

Associated with his favorite fly, the Pink Lady–which he is said to have invented–he sometimes would fish it exclusively in order to prove the importance of accuracy and presentation in casting over pattern, color, and even size. He was also widely noted for the elegance of the figure that he cut on the stream (as evidenced in the photo above).

1921, in Britain
The Way of a Trout with a Fly by G.E.M Skues (pronounced SKEW-ees). At first associated with Halford in the development and use of the dry fly, Skues, a highly original and perceptive thinker, broke with Halford over his unbending insistence on the floating fly. Skues took up the sunken fly and, most importantly, the nymph, which he can be said to have originated. He became for the nymph and the wet fly what Halford was for the dry. Like Halford, he had marked influence in America.

1924, in America
Carrie Stevens, of Maine’s Rangeley region, tied the first modern streamer fly with hackle wings. With her prototype of what was to become the Gray Ghost, she stepped to the pool below Upper Dam–between Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson Lakes–and took a 6-pound, 13-ounce brook trout! Fly dressers following Mrs. Stevens would, in many cases, develop the streamer further with wings of hair, as in the famous Mickey Finn created by John Alden Knight in 1936. 

1926, in America
Telling on the Trout by Edward R. Hewitt, the first American to make a study of nymphs and their use. This book and his A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for Seventy-five Years (1948) place him among America angling luminaries. 


  • In this period, the rainbow trout was introduced into Britain. It has been highly successful in ponds and reservoirs and popular with an increasing angling public that crosses social, economic, and class divisions. The rainbow failed to take hold, however, in the classic chalk streams of southern England.

Ray Bergman circa 1940

Ray Bergman at his vise, circa 1940.

1938, in America
Trout by Ray Bergman. Bergman’s monthly magazine columns and this comprehensive, down-to-earth and practical book may have been the fishing “manual” used by more American anglers of the mid-century than any other such book. Its approach to angling was well suited to the pragmatic, “try almost anything” American temperament. Trout is also valuable as a historical document, especially in its display of colorful plates of seemingly countless flies, as well as its account of them.

Previous Installments:

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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