Reading, writing and tying
By CLEM FULLERTON
In 1972,Leonard Wright wrote an intriguing book titled Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect. He detailed his attempts to design a fly pattern along with a fishing technique that would be effective during caddis fly activity. He settled on an imitation that used individual stiff hackle fibers for the down wing plus a generous amount of stiff wound hackle, which provided excellent flotation.
The fly was only one half of the problem he wished to solve. He eventually learned a specific technique to use when fishing his new pattern. He writes, Cast your fly about 20 degrees downstream from straight across so that it falls with the line and leader curving upstream. In a moment after your fly hits the water, raise your rod sharply so that the fly darts upstream about an inch. Lower the rod tip and feed extra line through the guides, which will give you six or eight feet of drag free float. Wright claimed to have considerable success when using both this fly and technique. He believes the short move upstream of the fly convinces a trout that the artificial is a live caddis fly. He was widely hailed as being the innovator of this technique.
As is so often the case in fly-fishing lore, it aint necessarily so. You may go to the head of the class if the name Richard Alden Knight rings a bell. In 1968, five years prior to Wrights book, Richard Knight wrote a slim volume titled Successful Trout Fishing. In chapter five, headed Dry Fly Secrets, Knight gives clear written instructions along with drawings to show how to fish a dry fly using a down and across presentation. When the cast is made, he tells us to mend the line so that the line and leader are upstream of the fly at all times. He then writes, Raise the rod slightly in order to skitter the fly upstream. As my geometry teacher once said, after proving a theory, QED.
No case for plagiarism is to be inferred here. These two fine fly-fishing writers, working independently, originated an identical technique. That said, why did one end up being lauded for innovation and the other is so faded from memory as to be invisible?
Several forces were at work here. In 1968, interest in fly fishing had been declining for over three decades. Book reviews of fly fishing writing were sparse to none. Remember, Fly Fisherman magazine did not make its appearance until 1969, to a very small audience. Richard Knights book passed unnoticed by the public. Wrights book, however, was reviewed in the 1972 August-September issue of Fly Fisherman. It was also reviewed in the winter, 1973 issue of Trout magazine. Also, Ernie Schwiebert placed a glowing review on the back of the dust jacket of Wrights book. Thus, Wrights book was brought to the attention of fly fishing enthusiasts.
Dick Knight, who died all too young, was the son of John Alden Knight, well known author and fisherman who wrote The Modern Angler, Black Bass, A Field Book of Fresh Water Angling and, along with his son Richard Knight, The Complete Book of Fly Casting. John A. Knight also put forth the Solunar Theory.
Successful Trout Fishing and the book on casting were loaded with fine black and white photos taken by Jackie Knight, Dicks wife. At a Federation of Fly Fishers conclave, Jackie Knight was astonished to learn that I did not know how to tie a surgeons knot. She took me in hand and in five minutes I was a certified tier of the surgeons knot. The teacher was talented, not the student.