Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Voices from the Past: Dixie Carrol

Dixie Carrol was a prominent outdoor writer circa 1910-1950. For many years his "Rod and Reel" column was syndicated to newspapers across the nation, and he was the author of a number of important works. The following selection from 1917 deals with the hair fly, a relatively new introduction that was becoming popular. Dixie interviewed Ed Wyman, an influential fly tier of the era, and his opinions on the hair fly are carried in this interview. Dixie often used the faux "letter" as a trope for his columns.

About the Hair Fly


Dixie Carrol

My Dear Buck,

Your fly book. old man, is dolled up with as nice a collection of feathered hooks as one would meet in many a day's fishing. and the colors range from the black gnat to the gaudy fancies that at times are the only thing in the fly line which seem to interest the game fish. But I see at a a glance that you have overlooked a fly that sure has a littie wiggle of its own and that is the hair fly. This fly, oldtimer. is an affair that will tease more fish into striking than most any one pattern, and there is a surprise in store for the angler who has never used it. The hairs have a nervous twitch in the water that resembles the movement of a struggling insect. and when tied in combination with the feathers they make a fly that speaks for itself as soon as it is casted by an expert fly fisherman, and besides that it has a call to the fish which they cannot resist.

Talked it Over With Ed.

Last week I “sat-in” at a fly fest with Edward Wyman of St. Louis of the show me state, and Ed certainly did show me as nifty a bunch of hair flies as I ever hope to see. Wyman is a fly-caster of the finest, a regular sure-enough sportsman and probably the cleverest fly-tier in the game, and a few words from such an authority on an angle of the kit that he has feathered is a bit of info that is worth pasting in the scrapbook. Here's a bit from Ed on the flies and fly casting:

Fly-casting is not difficult and can be learned in a surprisingly short time under the instructions of a competent mentor. With this newly acquired skill you have before you an immensely broadened field of enjoyment. In the early days the old English gentleman, as a rule, tied his old flies for trout and salmon fishing, or had them tied at the streamside by his gillie. This worthy would scan the sky and appearance of the water, take note of the weather and direction of the wind, and thus, after scrathing himself, crossing his fingers and getting a hunch, would soon make on the spot he [a fly] deemed suitable for his master's use.

Fly Tying as an Art

The tying of the salmon flies is a cult in England and Scotland, where for generations certain families have followed this beautiful art. One must confess an inherent skepticism, not consistent with his lineage, of the entire desirability of the patterns of flies blindly adored by past generations, and the lack of durability of many of those now sold is most exasperating. To be on a stream with but one fly of a pattern that is a killer at that particular time and to have that fly work apart and dissemble is certainly the height of misfortune. True, new types are being produced, some of them handsome enough and attractive to the eye of the novice, but few of them made to stand much real use.

The first requisite in an artificial fly is killing quality, then it should cast well and be thoroughly well made of fine and suitable materials. Much of the joy that comes to the angler is through the discussion and selection of his tackle; of course the fly is the most important item, then the line, and then the rod, equally, of course; the rod is of first importance, and then the line, and then the fly. The vicious circle; you can play both ends against the middle and the middle against both ends and never lose. Look well to your leaders. The reel needs be one with a fairly large spindle to accommodate the bulk of the enameled line. And the rod, one made in this country will do very well, indeed a really good one is as rare as a fine fiddle and should last as long, and will, if treated right. The fine rod is a joy forever and the best is the cheapest, which is true of all tackle.

The Fly of the Future

As has been said in the development of fly-tying as a business, it may be an art and a fine art at that. The fly of the future will undoubtedly be of hair and hair combined with feathers, These flies have been found wonderfully efficient, met every requirement, and may be made in many forms, embracing an infinite variety of shades and colors and varying from the finest of trout flies to those for pike and muskellunge. Royal sport may be had casting for muskellunge with one of these flies. A grilse or salmon rod may be utilized or a regular bait casting rod. A seven-ounce, nine-foot fly rod is a rather sporty proposition, too, in this musky game.

Those who have never seen really fine hair flies can hardly imagine their remarkable appearance and action in the water: When skillfully tied they are the most killing flies, for all fish [are] taken. They seem alive and give off glints of color and produce an effect that must be seen to be understood. Fly-casters can now try something new with confidence and to their advantage, while bait-casters who have had none too much done for them by commercial fly-tiers, will find the long-sought lures adaptable to the heaviest an well as to the lightest form of bait-casting. The hair fly responds as no other type of fly can to the manipulations of the rod and line and much depends on how--after being delivered properly--a dry fly is controlled In the water. The hair fly also makes a very fine dry fly, the hairs having a spidery twitch on the surface.

I have known 50 heavy bass to be taken by one of thse hair flies in five hours, those over the limit thrown back uninjured, of course, the fly being good for many more, owing to its durability. Even greater records have been made with a single fly in use from season to season. Them files have been called the "Artificial Flies Par-excellence" and have been praised unstintedly by all anglers who have seen and used them.

Not bad at all, old man, for a bit of info from the father of the hair idea in flies, and before you hit the stream this season take a look-see at the hairy twitchers which sure awaken an interest la the big fellows.

The influence of Ed Wyman can be seen in such modern hair flies as this saltwater pattern.

-- Dr. Todd

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