View Full Version : Smokies Flies and Fly-Tying Traditions
05-26-2010, 11:05 AM
One of the many joys of Troutfest was the opportunity to talk, at some length, with Walter Babb. A fair amount of our exchange revolved around traditional mountain trout patterns, and I thought those on the Forum with an interest in angling history or in knowing more about some traditional patterns might find an outgrowth of that conversation, along with a subsequent one I had with Marty Maxwell, a skilled fisherman and virtuoso of the vise from Robbinsville, might be of interest. Here, in no particular order, are some tidbits.
1. The wet fly commonly known as a "Speck" on the Tennessee side closely resembles a once immensely popular early season N. C. pattern which was called a Deerhair. The basic difference is that the latter features plenty of hackle at the top.
2. In my book, on page 61, you will find mention of a pattern once known as a Herby-Werby. Turns out that this was an early name for a Tennessee Wulff. I had never made the connection but Walter did and even had an explanation for the name.
3. The Fred Hall pattern known as an Adams Variant on the N. C. side is usually called an Adams Irresistible in Tennessee. Speaking of Hall, whom I knew fairly well when I was a youngster, he is generally credited with developing the Thunderhead and aforementioned Adams and possibly deserves much wider recogntion. Yet were the truth known, it seems likely that his wife, Allene, may have been the real innovator as a fly tier. Some index to this is given by a question I asked her after Fred had died and when she was only a year or two from her death. "Allene," I inquired as she completed an Adams Variant while I took photos, "who really developed this pattern, you or Fred?" She answered me without really giving an answer. "Jim," she replied, "some questions are best let unanswered."
4. Legendary Mark Cathey relied exclusively on one fly, a Grey Hackle Yellow.
5. There are a number of contemporary fly tiers--Roger Lowe, Kevin Howell, Marty Maxwell, and Bill Rolen are among those I know--who learned their craft from past generations and are gold mines of knowledge.
6. A great project someone needs to undertake would involve listing traditional mountain patterns, and there are scores if not hundreds of them, and trying to trace their history.
7. The various Wulff patterns were being tied in the Smokies well before Lee Wulff's name was attached to them. The Royal Wulff was just known as a Hairwing Coachman and the Tennessee Wulff, as has been noted, was a Herby-Werby.
That's enough for now, and I just hope others are as fascinated by this aspect of angling history as yours truly (and I don't even tie flies!).
05-26-2010, 11:43 AM
Good stuff Jim!
I'm a sucker for history....especially anything pertaining to southern appalachia.
That reminds me...we had an extensive thread at one time that contained book reviews & suggestions. I've looked through nearly every thread in the smoky mountain fishing forum, but haven't been able to find it. Does anyone else think they can drag this one back out of the depths??
It would be even neater if someone would put together a history of these flies along with pictures of each one. Like you I am a sucker for the history of fly fishing and of the Mountains.
05-26-2010, 07:07 PM
FRW--Both Roger Lowe and Kevin Howell have come out with slender "recipe" books, but both works, while first-rate, focus more on how to tie than on historical information.
I know Hugh Hartsell is busy on a book, and he has both the background and fly-tying expertise to do a book like this (although I don't know that this is what he has in the works).
Such an effort would require considerable research, most of it in the form of talking with a bunch of old-timers and gleaning from their memories of fly tyers who are now fishing where there are always hatches and where big trout come to the fly with a will.
There's some material in print, much of which I touch on in the chapter on "Flies" in my book, but far more exists through oral history.
I for one would herald the publication of such a book with great joy.
05-26-2010, 08:52 PM
Jim - maybe this could be a topic for the LR Journal? I would really like to see some of these flies and their history preserved somehow. That would be a great book project for someone to take up.
fly fisherman DK
05-26-2010, 11:21 PM
I would also love to see someone attempt to put something together like this, because I too like the flies that were established in the southeast specifically for that area.
05-26-2010, 11:40 PM
..for this post and the insights it affords and also for your most recent book. I have almost finished it and am wondering what your next subject will be :) As a kid and even at times as an adult I often dreamed of what it would be like as a child or even as a teenager to live in the midst those beautiful mountains that comprise and surround the Smokies. Though at the age of 54, such possibilities no longer exist and even my visits of late are limited to non-existent, reading, make that feasting, on your book has afforded me great pleasure. As I have read it, I can all too readily see myself in the places you describe, even doing the same or at least similar things. Thanks and God Bless!
05-27-2010, 07:18 AM
Growing up in Waynesville, NC, was the perfect place to learn from some of the tyers mentioned in this thread. Frank Coffey, Bennie Joe Craig, Rex Wilson, Don and Dwight Howell, and my uncle Ralph Mills were great tyers and incredible sources of knowledge. Ralph started teaching me to tie when I was about ten; the first two patterns I learned were the Secret Weapon Nymph and the Yellowhammer. I am very fortunate to have spent time leaning old mountain patterns and techniques from all those gentlemen over the years. I remember that Ralph had all these cigar boxes in his fly tying room, and they would be full of a particular size and pattern. Imagine how many size 14 female Adams it takes to fill a cigar box, which is still mind boggling to this day. I am delighted that tyers from my generation like Roger Lowe (who is from Waynesville also) and Kevin Howell are keeping the local traditions alive and passing them on to the next generations through books and videos.
I remember tying at a Conclave in Gatlinburg in the late 80ís, and there was a gentleman there from the fly fishing museum who was asking for old Smokies patterns for an exhibit. I tied a couple of Secret Weapon Nymphs for him, and when I gave them to him, he said he had never heard of that pattern, and he didnít think it was an old pattern. While I was talking to him, Eddie George came by and saw the flies, and commented he had not seen a Secret Weapon Nymph in 15 years. The guy apologized for doubting me and gladly boxed up the flies.
I think organizing a roundtable for old mountain patterns at next yearís Troutfest would be a great program and a lot of fun.
05-27-2010, 09:46 AM
Pmike--Thanks for the kind and gracious words. I did unquestionably have a wonderful boyhood, and realization of just how much that was the case grows with each passing year. If I am able to convey some small portion of the joy of those years through the printed word, that's a matter of quiet satisfaction.
As for my next book, there actually has already been one, although it has nothing to do with fly fishing. It is Classic O'Connor, an anthology containing several dozen of Jack O'Connor's grand tales which I selected, introduced, etc. I have another book in press (University of S. C. Press) of a somewhat similar nature. It is a collection of Archibald Rutledge's Christmas stories and is scheduled to be out in early November. Another book, one which won't make me a penny but which was something that needed to be done, is a detailed bibliography of books on turkey hunting along with commentary on collecting these books. I'll do it in a limited edition.
All that being duly noted, I do have two Smokies-connected books I still want to write. One is a biography of Horace Kephart. I've studied and written about him for decades, and he desperately needs a fair, fact-based biography which will help dispel the many myths which have currency to day about the man and his milieu. The second is a book on speckled trout--a mixture of history, their lure and lore, how to fish for them, and where to fish for them. It would be a short book with somewhat limited appeal, but it's one I'd like to do. There are a couple of books in this general field out there. Ian Rutter has a dandy little guidebook on the subject focusing specifically on the Smokies and several years ago Nick Karas wrote a detailed general account entitled, if memory serves, Brook Trout. I'm more interested in specks as they were in yesteryear, the sad route the species traveled as logging began in earnest, their tenacious clinging to survival, the restoration efforts, the discoveries of a distinct southern Appalachian strain, and most of all, the manner in which they continue to hold the imagination of so many anglers in thrall.
The biggest decision connected with that book will focus on the issue of geography--how much to reveal about speckled trout destinations. I'm inclined to "tell it all," knowing that distance and difficult of access protect most thriving speck populations, but I have some reservations. For example, I look at what upper Big Snowbird is today as opposed to what it was twenty years ago and I'm troubled. The Cherohala Highway and easier access made some difference, as did revelations from writers (I'm one of the guilty parties). My Graham County sources tell me there are now otters above Mouse Knob Falls, and that's a factor too. Combine these things and recently two guys who really know how to fish made a trip there and reported--"We could scarcely catch enough fish to fry a mess." Contrast that with typical days of 40 to 60 fish two decades ago and it's a bleak picture.
Obviously I'll have to make the decision of whether to follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy or a quite different one, but I would welcome forum input on the matter. The whole issue is a contentious one and I must be honest in saying that I'm of two opinions about it although as I age I'm far more inclined to reveal "secrets" than I once was.
The questions then are: Was I once selfish? Does realization that I've had my days in the sun on remote streams make a difference? Should special places be a situation where you earn what you learn?
Input welcome, and I see I've been quite long winded. Your post raised a whole bunch of thoughts.
05-27-2010, 12:14 PM
...just added those titles to my wish list. Were you selfish, I hardly think so! You/we just grew up and lived in a different era IMHO. I was born and raised on the west coast of Florida and as a kid I can recall spending days wading the local (Bradenton) rivers if not boating around in them. One of the main catches was "red fish" or red bass and man were they delicious. I recall one time I got into a school of them and caught 18 of them, not a one was over 16 inches if that but none were less than 12 inches. If I did the same thing today I would likely be looking at some major fines if not jail time (smile), however back then it was legal. I might also add that there were many fish-less day as well, so the mentality was catch them when ya can. The same was true of mullet, in my home town a delicacy, but many places elsewhere just bait or even a trash fish. My brother and I would wade with cast nets until our heads felt like they would split wide open from glare induced headaches sometimes catching more fish than we could carry. Just typing this makes me miss one of Mom's grandest banquets of mullet, grits, slaw, and baked beans, with hush-puppies. I even remember how many of the "nicer" dining establishments, at the time wouldn't serve "Jew-fish" or Grouper, thinking it to be no better than or perhaps not even as good as mullet (which many did serve).
Now days if you catch Red Bass, they have to be within a slot and theres a limit as to how many you can legally keep. I have all but quit fishing salt water here in Florida because it feels like you almost need to hire or at least consult with a lawyer just to stay legal. I believe in conservation but feel most efforts would be more effective if directed toward some of the commercial ventures. I live in Jacksonville Florida now and the few times I've fished the St. Johns it has amazed me to watch the dead and dying fish float by as commercial boats drift by and dump their "by-catch". Now here I go getting way too long winded, only to say the days of your youth were a different day and most of us didn't know then much of what we've learned since.
As to the matter of "tell or no tell", IMHO, most of the folks that would abuse such knowledge or be abusive to any of the locals possible to mention, would be more apt to stumble upon them than to pick up a book and read it. Among those that would read, including myself, our ability would be very limited if by nothing else other than time alone. I suppose what I am saying is that due to brevity of time allowed on my visits in the mountains, most of my adventures would be vicarious and through reading about more so than actually traveling to most locations divulged.
In closing I have to say I too feel a bit torn about whether or not some locations should be divulged even with the most remote possibility of their abuse, but in the end I will defer to you and your wisdom on the subject (smile) This is one of those areas that the more I think about it, the foggier it seems to get for me.
Thanks again for all you have contributed to the sport/art and those of us who love those mountains and all they represent to us, oh so dearly...
05-27-2010, 02:30 PM
pmike...enjoyed reading your last post and your fishing days as a boy...I grew up in Jax about a block from the St. Johns River and spent many a day fishing for whatever would bite...your right about the regulations now....I am 63 years old and had to buy a license to surf fish for the first time this year...you can only keep one red fish (grew up knowing them as red bass) that is within the slot limit...one of my best friends from college grew up in Bradenton and I can remember all the stories he used to tell about hunting and fishing in that area before it became urbanized...how did a boy from South Florida get into trout fishing in the Smokies....again...enjoyed your ramblings.
05-27-2010, 02:42 PM
An article appeared in NC Wildlife Magazine almost 20 years ago thet had some artist drawings and photographs of older patterns. Many mentioned in the previous postings. That got me interested in tying. I got my first kit from Paul & Faye Hughes in Linville. Faye showed me a few flies from her youth, One called the Back Scratcher. That got me started. From there I met Kevin Howell, Roger Lowe, and Jim Casada. I've gotten their books and tapes etc to learn many of these patterns. They have shared their thoughts and ideas when I have seen them at show or their shop. Ilook forward to one day meeting Hugh Hartsell, Ray Ball and Walter Babb. Having a group at Troutfest next year would be fantastic. It would be a great way to keep these patterns and their history alive.
05-27-2010, 05:00 PM
I see you are over in Tallahassee, another of Florida's beautiful areas. I was introduced to the Smokies as a kid of about 6 or 7 when my family began to travel yearly to Tiger, GA for our annual vacations. Cannon's Cabin's, run by Bertha Cannon was our base camp of sorts and we would travel all over the region on day trips only to return to our cabin in time for dinner. Mom was an excellent cook and would always pack us a picnic for lunch and then buy an prepare allot of local produce and meats for dinner.
The funny thing is that we never went fishing as kids in the mountains though my Dad had been very active in Boys Scouts and the outdoors as a young boy and into his adult years. In fact his Dad, my grandfather was among the small group of men that purchased the land for Camp Flying Eagle and began what became the "Sunny-land Council" of the Boys Scouts of America in that region. Unfortunately Dad never did much of anything like that with my brother or I. I do recall seeing others fishing and even have some images indelibly etched into my mind , of folks fishing the mountain streams, especially all along the Oconolufftee and through Cherokee. as well as over toward Pigeon Forge and through Gatlinburg. I still recall when Pigeon Forge' main attraction was the Pottery Barn and Moonshine Museum (smile).
I have such fond memories of those mountain vacations that their memory more often than not brings tears to my eyes. They were and will always remain among my fondest memories throughout life. My wife and I have for the most part continued to family tradition and for the past 15 or so years we have vacationed at and visited Townsend, TN every time we had the chance. I recall whining one day to her about how much as a child I had wanted to learn to fly fish and even told her of my Dad's refusal to ever take me/us, to which she replied, "there's nothing stopping you now!". My lightning fast mind realized she was onto something and I went to several of our local stores in Jax to purchase and assemble a monstrosity of a fly fish rig. the rod was a 5/6 weight with a reel that was 4/5 weight and weighed what felt like 10 pounds. I took this with me the next time we went to Townsend and fished in through town a bit. All I caught were some war paint shiners or chubs, but that was all it took, I was hook and the hook was well set. My wife must have been impressed with my reactions because the next Christmas when I asked what she'd like, would you believe that she asked me to take her to a local fly fishing store and buy her a rig as well, next came the waders and she has been hooked as well as me. She did much better on her first outing, catching several trout in North Georgia on the Toccoa.
If that wasn't bad enough, we were blessed kinda late in age, (she was 40) but don't tell her I said so (smile) to have our third daughter. As a baby Vic was very colicky (sp?) and one of the only things that seemed to comfort her was for me to hold her belly down on my arm while watching outdoors and fishing programs. As soon as she could hold it, I bought her a spinnig rod and Barbie vest, at three she told me that although she has a spinning rod, she didn't have, but needed a fly rod...and on it goes...
05-28-2010, 09:26 AM
pmike....great background...while I am a natural born Floridian my Dad married a girl from Sevierville whose father never went anywhere without his fishing tackle. Since I was young enough to remember our family spent every summer in "the mountains". I remember the same Pigeon Forge that you do and the primary destination was Gatlinburg. My grandmother would actually put up stranded tourists when the one motel in Sevierville would fill up.
I ate plenty of trout before I even realized where they were coming from...usually when my grandfather would leave the picnics we were on and head upstream with his fly rod. I caught my first trout on a fly over in Greenbrier when I was 13...50 years ago this summer and as you the hook was set fast and deep.
I too got a late start and my 17 year old son has been fishing those cricks since he was five...finally got him to let go of the spinning rod and he has now claimed my favorite 2wt his own personal property. I introduced my best friend from college to this sport over 40 years ago and we now spend a week every fall in Elkmont camping and fishing....I would love to move a little closer to that area...I can remember leaving Jax after work on a Friday and driving all night to get to Elkmont at first light....would fish most of the day, spend the night with my grandparents....fish Tremont on the way home and pull in about midnight Sunday....that would probably kill me now....
Again, I enjoyed reading your posts and will keep an eye out for your exploits...Jim
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