Book of the Month February 2018

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What’s in a Name? During the 19th and early 20th centuries it was common for notable outdoor and fishing authors to adopt a pen name with a topical theme. Most of this occurred in England, but there were a few in the USA as well. For example, Robert Blakely, a prolific British fishing writer from the period, wrote under the name Palmer Hackle. The man many consider the “father of American fly fishing”, Theodore Gordon, sometimes utilized the name Badger Hackle. Sparse Grey Hackle was the pseudonym adopted by Alfred W. Miller when he wrote the beloved Fishless Days and Angling Nights (which is, by the way, available in our SFF library!).

Of particular interest to those who pursue steelhead in area rivers with the fly is a work by another such author. Greased Line Fishing for Salmon was written by Donald G. Ferris Rudd in 1935 under the pen name Jock Scott (taken from the traditional salmon fly of that name) from a compilation of salmon fishing notes and materials by A.H.E. Wood. A noted British salmon fisherman, Wood was credited with originating the greased line method to swing traditional salmon flies. “Greased line” was so named for the line treatment necessary to get the silk lines of the period to float consistently and came to be known as the method of swinging flies drag-free, both surface and sub-surface, through runs that had slow, uniform currents from bank to bank (usually in low water conditions).

The volume we hold in our library, Greased Line Fishing for Salmon (and Steelhead), was published in 1982 to connect Wood’s technique to northwest steelheading methods using the swung fly. Apart from the differences between modern gear and the rods and lines of Wood’s day, the methods appear to be much alike. (It should be noted here that Wood’s greased lining does not involve “riffling” or “waking”, which employ drag applied to a fly swinging through the surface current to create a wake that can attract a strike.)

The forward by Bill McMillan, noted northwest steelhead angler and author, is key as he does a masterful job of relating Wood’s methods to modern techniques. There are interesting comparisons between equipment, especially rods, of Wood’s time and our own. McMillan also provides a concise
history of steelheading in northwest waters, comparing both wet and dry methods and noting the early success of the few anglers, including Roderick Haig-Brown, who broke from the dictum that steelhead won’t rise to take surface flies. His reference to Haig-Brown’s pioneering role in taking
steelhead with swung dry flies is especially informative. But, one will want to read the entire text by Scott as well, to fully appreciate the greased line method as well as the differences and similarities between then and now in both gear and technique. Not to mention his enjoyable, yet very instructional, writing style.

One interesting observation: Wood evidently did not like the long rods of that day that were the forerunners of the current Spey rods now in vogue, and instead preferred one-handed rods for swinging his flies (though these “one-handed” cane rods were twelve feet long and weighed 11 – 13 ounces!).

Detailed sketches are provided throughout to illustrate the principles involved in the greased line method. Photos of Wood fishing his beloved Cairnton runs, displaying proper demeanor while dressed in the appropriate tweeds and tie, provide a feel for that period when this method was developed. There are grainy, instructional photographs. One shows Wood employing the proper “power stroke” in his forward cast. Another shows him landing a salmon while employing the correct “side strain”. A close-up of a Cairnton salmon shows how it was properly hooked in the maxillary, the result of a well-presented fly.

Meanwhile, there are nice color plates showing modern steelhead patterns, including bomber and other riffling types, for use in all water conditions. This volume, available in our SFF Library, should be read by anyone who wishes to swing flies through steelhead runs in area rivers such as the Clearwater and Grande Ronde.

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