I have decided to start an occasional series of profiles on men and women I greatly admire in the fishing world. I can think of no one more perfect to kick of this new series than the great John Betts.
My friend Michael Hackney has developed a close relationship with this legendary figure. For those who don't know who John Betts is, well…you really need to do your homework. You can begin by reading this profile of Betts by Robert H. Boyle published in 1981 in Sports Illustrated.
Betts is amazing for many reasons, but for me, he has always been the model of the inquisitive mind. He is always asking questions--the probing, intelligent kind of questions that are the product of a fertile mind that reads broadly and with vigor. A great historian in his own right, his career has been about never accepting what is taught as gospel, but instead seeking to find the new, the improved, the novel. Whether this is utilizing synthetic techniques in fly tying (which he pioneered with his classic work Synthetic Flies in 1980) or developing new theories on wooden rod design (Making Strip-Built Fly Rods from Various Woods on a Lathe), John is always pushing forward--cognizant and respectful of the past, but never wed to it and never tethered down by the ghosts of waters long passed under the bridge.
Take Betts' 2011 work--Reels and Making Them (with Michael Hackney). It was published by the Reel Lines Press in association with The Whitefish Press, and it is one of the most fascinating books on the subject ever written. While I may never build a reel to the precision John has, I am enthralled reading about the process, and the theory that went into it. It is insight into a brilliant mind, as well as entertaining and historical.
Synthetic flies, strip built wood rods, hand made reels -- what do these all have in common? Betts teaches and inspires the angler to build for themselves. He is constantly reminding us, through his work and legacy, that stolen moments on the lake or stream are more rewarding and even more fruitful when the angler fishes with tools they have created with their own hands. It's truly inspiring.
His latest book is a collection of 100 book plates he drew that have been collected into a charming little book called Remarques. It is vintage Betts, who is a world class artist in addition to all of his other attributes. It's charming and lively, much like John himself.
It is my understanding that Betts has a number of other books in the works, and I for one cannot wait. After eight decades his mind is as fresh as anyone when it comes to the world of fishing and its tools.
He is one of a handful of authors I can guarantee will have a wider audience in 50 years than his already large readership today. As time marches on, people begin to catch up with where John was five, ten, even twenty years ago.
I can't wait to see what John Betts comes up with next. Whatever it might be, you can bet it will be years ahead of its time--just like John Betts.
-- Dr. Todd