Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dr. George Parker Holden on Theodore Gordon

Dr. George Parker Holden was one of the leading voices on both fly fishing and on bamboo rod making. His book The Idyll of the Split Bamboo is considered a major classic in the field of rod making, and his 1919 book Streamcraft is one of the best fly fishing books of its era.

Holden knew Ted Gordon and wrote of him on occasion. The first instance we have of this is in article from Forest & Stream dated September 1916 on the Neversink River in New York. In it he wrote:

We were camping in the vicinity of the late home of the lamented Theodore Gordon, sage of the Neversink, super-angler and ardent nature student. It was the privilege of the writer to meet Mr. Gordon along the stream that he loved, the summer before his death, when he mentioned in the course of casual conversation that he was tying some flies for a gentleman in Nova Scotia after specimens of native insects much had been sent him. It was also my pleasure to make the acquaintance during the past winter of Dr. Edward Breck, at an interesting lecture that he delivered in the interests of the Naval Defense League. The Neversink country being mentioned, Dr. Breck inquired if I had ever met Gordon. I then recalled the incident of "the Nova Scotia gentleman." "Yes," said Breck, "I am that fellow."

The beautiful Neversink is a stream not enough appreciated by our Eastern anglers, but those who do realize its charm will be glad to learn while no one may fill Theodore Gordon's unique place as a writer beloved of all gentle anglers, that flies tied in the exquisite Gordon fashion are still obtainable from Gordon's friend and neighbor, Mr. H. B. Christian, of Neversink, who was intimately acquainted with Gordon and his work. We know of one of the Christian flies that caught nineteen goodly trout and remained in excellent working order; they certainly are tied to stay. In the July number of this magazine Dr. Breck says of the Nova Scotia trout: "I don't think our uneducated trout take much to the dry fly, but I use it mostly here, all the same, for, though the wet fly gets five where the dry lures one, the use of the dry is far more fascinating. The best luck I have had with some flies made for me by that finest of all anglers, the late Theodore Gordon. These were tied by Gordon from insects, well preserved, that I sent him from here, and were beautifully wrought."

A month later, Holden wrote a letter to Forest & Stream entitled "Note on the Gordon and Blue Grannom Flies" in which he elaborated on Gordon's influence on fly tying. Holden wrote:

In the Neversink article in September Forest and Stream mention is made of the late Theodore Gordon and of his skill as a fly tier. The accompanying photograph of flies tied in the Gordon-style by H.B. Christian of Neversink, N.Y. may interest your readers.

The fly, first made up commercially by a well-known New York tackle house, generally known as the "Gordon," was called a Golden Spinner by Gordon himself. It was never as successful on Neversink waters as the Blue Quill Gordon, shown at the left in the illustration. This fly has a quill body wound with gold wire, the effect being of a bluish body with a fine brown ribbing; the wings are wood duck and the hackle and tail of a graysh blue. The fly shown at the right is a Whitchurch Dun.

Concerning the "Blue Granite" fly noted in the same article, it is doubtless the American or Blue Grannom. Now for a pretty piece of piscatorial observation retarding the same. I have since learned that Mr. Will L. Hall, a skilful and enthusiastic angler of Brooklyn, once remained an extra week on the Neversink for the particular purpose of studying this fly, with the result that he found it to hatch out only in shallow water, and that while over the water in dense flight for a season it was very little on the water, for which reasons he regards the artificial as of very little value.

-- George Parker Holden, Yonkers, N.Y.

Later in his book Streamcraft, Holden wrote again on Gordon when he noted"

"When the late Theodore Gordon first began to use the dry fly he wrote to Mr. Halford to learn how it was tied, in response to which he received some of the Halford flies and a long letter on the subject. Gordon's experience was that the particular patterns which he received from England gave service on American streams much inferior to native creations in imitation of certain "American bugs;"…It was the writer's privilege to meet the Sage of the Neversink, super-angler, and ardent nature student the Summer before his death, alongside the stream that he loved. In the course of casual conversation he mentioned that he was tying some flies for a gentleman in Nova Scotia, after specimens of native insects which had been sent him. Some two years later it was also my pleasure to make the acquaintance of Dr. (now Lieutenant-Commander) Edward Breck, the veteran woodsman and author of The Way of the Woods, at an interesting lecture that he gave in the interest of the Naval Defense League. .

It's always interesting to see what one legendary fly angler had to say about another, so Holden's perceptions of Ted Gordon are exceptionally interesting and informative.

-- Dr. Todd

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