Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Fishing Heroes: The Great John Betts

My Fishing Heroes: The Great John Betts

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.

Photo from Charlie Meyers profile of Betts in the Denver Post

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.

Some of John's incredible hand made reels.

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


Unknown said...

Wow. Awesome article. Please do more articles like this in the future. Very informational and knowledgeable. I will expect more from you in the future. For now i will just bookmark your page and surely I'm gonna come back later to read more. Thank you to the writer!


Unknown said...

John was truly a creative, wicked smart, I am lucky to have been one of his few friends. He was reclusive. That seems an odd statement unless you knew him like I did. I introduced John to Michael when I became I'll and was unable to collaborate for some time. John and I made wood rods, matching hand made reels, and line as a system to work together. The reel is not separate item but made to balance with a specific rod its paired with. I am better now and making equipment once again. I am making 5 wood rods currently for Pacific Bay to display at their headquarters. I have many Betts stories and a few secret flies not known to anyone I am not allowed to talk about by his request until now. Sorry Michael they are phenoms. I am a professional writer, just laid off, maybe I should write a book. We did come up with a faster, more advanced process to make a wood rod in 6 hours, and as John's says. "Much better than bamboo or synthetics, and and I know synthtics#-JB

Unknown said...

Unknown above is Peter Dallman.

Unknown said...

I found a betts rod in my family home.... smooth caster
Wondering about it's history.