Who Are the 50 Most Influential Fly Fishers of All Time?


Check out Fly Fisherman’s 50th Anniversary issue.

The 50th Anniversary issue of Fly Fisherman magazine is out, and it’s full of great stuff–including a list of the 50 most influential fly fishers of all time. The list was created by the magazine’s staff, and I’m sure they’ll get plenty of argument over who’s included and who’s left out. We’re proud to see that Orvis is well-represented, with Tom Rosenbauer coming in at number four (4!) and Perk and Dave Perkins at number twenty-nine. Here’s what the FFM editor’s had to say:


Through his books, articles, and podcasts, Tom Rosenbauer has had a profound influence on the sport.
Photo by Phil Monahan

Tom Rosenbauer. Tom Rosenbauer will likely hate seeing his name on this list because he’s a humble everyman who never intended to become a fly-fishing “expert.” Instead, he has always acted as a student of the sport—investigating, experimenting, and asking the right questions of the right people, and then sharing that knowledge through magazine articles, dozens of books, and as host of the most downloaded podcast in the world. The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide Podcast has more than 11 million downloads.

His book The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, first published in 1984, is likely the best-selling instructional fly-fishing reference of all time, and he has more than ten books currently in print, including most recently The Orvis Guide to Leaders, Knots, and Tippets (Lyons Press, 2018). He has been a fly fisher for more than 50 years and was a commercial fly tier by age 14. He brought beadhead flies to North America—Orvis was the first U.S. company to sell them—and is the inventor of tungsten beads.


Dave & Perk were recognized with Lifetime Conservation Achievement Awards by The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in 2011.Photo courtesy TRCP

Perk & Dave Perkins. The entire Perkins family earns a mention here, because together they helped raise our entire sport. Leigh Perkins recognized the opportunity to make the brand synonymous with a fly-fishing lifestyle, and bought The Orvis Company in 1965. He retired in 1992, and since then Orvis has been run by his sons Perk and Dave Perkins. Under their leadership, the company has tripled its revenue and more importantly has committed 5% of its pre-tax revenue toward conservation. In recent years grants have gone to The Clark Fork Coalition, The Everglades Foundation, the ongoing fight against the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, and many other projects across the nation. Since 1989, Orvis, through its direct contributions and customer matches, has donated $21 million toward conservation.


Perk and his pal, Chico, scan the water in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
Photo by Laurie Andrews

While Orvis is too often unfairly characterized as a “corporate” fly-fishing brand in a world of mom & pop businesses, the truth is that Orvis is a family-owned and -operated success story. A third generation of Perkins is now learning the ropes from the ground up. Perk’s son Charley was the narrator of a recent Orvis film 90 and Counting about the life of his grandfather. His brother Simon was a fly-fishing guide on the Missouri for a decade before he got his first desk job at the Vermont headquarters. Simon is now director of brand marketing and played a key role in bringing new fly fishers into the sport, particularly women. Last year the Orvis 101 casting clinics introduced more than 15,000 people to fly fishing nationwide.

Pick up a copy of the magazine to see who garnered the number-one spot (you can probably guess), as well as to compare the list against your own top 50.

Click here for more information at the Fly Fisherman website.

13 thoughts on “Who Are the 50 Most Influential Fly Fishers of All Time?”

  1. I always thought that Theo Bakelaar introduces the beadhead fly to N.America. Had no idea Tom R was responsible for that-very cool! Thank you, Tom!

  2. No doubt all the people mentioned have been influential!
    But the people that have been mostly influential are the people that got you interested in fly fishing in the first place.
    Your father or mother, your neighbor, your uncle, your cousin!
    Anyone who got you interested in the sport of fly fishing may remain nameless , but thank them for bringing you to a passion that fills your heart and soul everyday!

    1. Indeed! A tip of the hat to John Huff, who came into the hardware store where I was earning a teenager’s salary. He came in to look for a small set screw for an odd looking fishing reel. I asked him about it and he told me it was a fly reel. He said if I had 50$ he would meet me at a nearby lake after work to get me started. That was a kings ransom to me at the time, but I never regretted it. Especially since his version of “getting me started” for 50$ was an all-night lesson, a fine glass fly rod, loomis reel with line, and big box of flies! Never looked back…
      Thanks John!

  3. I do not believe that one cannot currently group the Orvis brand with mom and pop fly fishing businesses. It may be true that they started out small but, family-run does not necessarily mean small. Their success comes from a lot of hard work , yes, but also a lot of connections which many small businesses do not have.

  4. Hands down the most innacurate article ever written! Oliver white? Lols! So many legends out there that aren’t on the list that actually made a difference in the industry not just a good fisherman with a cool looking beard..

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