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"All That Glitters is Not Gold"

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The theme All That Glitters is Not Gold was suggested by William Lovelace for the Jan-Feb 2008 edition of Salmonfly.Net. William has been a major steelhead fly contributor to the site over the past year or more. The suggestion was born out of the idea that Steelhead flies have evolved during the latter years of the 20th Century and into the 21st in form and materials. The use of “glitter” materials in steelhead flies ranges from various types of tinsel bodies and ribs, to synthetic dubbing with opalescence, to flashy synthetic materials for wings, toppings and tails. All have become prevalent in modern steelhead flies and even more so in Pacific Salmon flies.

Skykomish SunriseThe Steelhead flies that were widely known and fished in the first half of the twentieth century, flies like the Thor,  Black Demon, Royal Coachman, Umpqua Special,  and Owl-Eyed Optic, and later the Skykomish Sunrise, Skunk, Queen Bess, Boss, Burlap, and Humboldt Railbird were flies that were designed for large rivers with heavy currents. Their design was probably inspired by the profile of the Royal Coachman patterns designed by John Benns around the turn of the century for the Eel River (Rose, 2003)1.

They were large profile flies, tied on heavy hooks that were meant to improve their sinkability in heavy water. Many of these flies were tied in bright colors, but with fur and feather of definite proportion and boundaries of color. Much of that began to change when Syd Glasso’s flies became widely known in the Northwest.  Rose (2003 ) writes in his book Steelhead Fly Fishing on the Olympic Peninsula,

If you hold one of Glasso’s patterns, say a Sol Duc Spey, in one hand and a Skykomish Sunrise in the other, the differences are striking. The color schemes of the two flies aren’t that different …

…But the Sykomish Sunrise has distinct boundaries between the colors, while the Sol Duc Spey colors seem to blend and create a shimmering effect in the water. The lines of the two flies are also markedly different.

Sol Duc, Tied By Stu FarnhamGlasso received much of his inspiration from the Scottish Spey traditions. His flies though, were not only beautiful, they were extremely effective. Though they were tied on a lighter hook, the proportions of the fly created a larger profile, and with less bulky material than the traditional steelhead flies, the sinkability improved.

Syd Glasso’s patterns did not receive instant recognition. He fished successfully with them through the 50’s and 60’s, but they were not mentioned in print until Trey Combs published color plates of his flies in his  1976 book, Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies. I refer to that book more extensively in the article Summer Steelhead Fly Fishing. Since then, Spey flies have become the recognized standard for excellence in the art of tying and fishing steelhead flies, but it was also from the concept that Syd Glasso introduced of tying steelhead flies with thinner bodies on lighter hooks like the tinsel bodied flies like those presented by William Lovelace in this issue.

And so, in recent years, the flash has evolved from simple tinsels to holographic tinsels and mirages; Krystal flash, or Twinkle as noted in Lawrence Finney’s fly presentations; the flashy Estaz bodies of the flies presented by Paul Smith, and even materials that reflect Ultra Violet light, as noted in John Glaspy’s article in this issue A Simple Approach to Flies for Alaskan Salmon in August.  Some of the flies presented in this issue are traditional steelhead flies, others are for Pacific Salmon, and one is even for a species never mentioned on this site before, The Tarpon Gurgler in Dennis Dickson’s article “Just Keep Reeling Bette”. New, flashy materials are here to stay, regardless of whether or not you use them in your own tying.

But why should they not. They can exist side by side with the old. The traditional flies will not go away, nor will they be forgotten. I, for one will do my part to make sure of that.  The role of Syd Glasso and other well-known tyers in bringing  the richness of the classic Speys  to steelhead fly tying will be etched in time and preserved in the steelhead books and literature as long as there are fish to be caught .


Books Mentioned in this Article

  Steelhead Fly Fishing on the Olympic Peninsula

1. Rose, D. (2003). Steelhead Fly Fishing. Portland: Frank Amato Publications, Inc.

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