Saturday August 23, 2014

A look behind Canadian fly stamp designs

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Welcome to Week C of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

There are times this column allows me to do some really cool things.

As readers will know, in addition to a fishing addiction, I have an interest in fishing stamps.

Canada is not a country with a huge number of fishing stamps, but there is one set which is particularly striking.

In 2005 Canada Post released four stamps highlighting fishing flies.

"One of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation, fishing is enjoyed by Canadians of all ages -- and by many tourists who come here on fishing vacations," explained a release related to the flies from 2005. "Fly fishing has been around for thousands of years. The sport was first mentioned by Roman writer Claudius Aelianus or as he is known today, Aelian. This author, who lived from 170--230 AD, spoke of a Macedonian way of catching fish with red wool and feathers attached to a hook. When British emigrants came to Canada, they brought their love of fly fishing and used their Scottish and English salmon and trout flies. New Canadian flies and variations were developed with patterns for specific rivers or lakes, but the majority of both salmon and trout flies used in Canada today can be traced to Scottish or English classical designs."

The flies featured on the stamps are:

• Alevin - created in 1939 by legendary fly fisherman, author and artist Tom Brayshaw, this fly is used with great success on the Adams River of B.C. where large rainbow trout find it irresistible. Its red throat hackle is meant to replicate the yolk sac of the alevin or larvae stage of the trout -- hence the name. The fly on the stamp was tied by Brian Chan of Kamloops, B.C.

• Jock Scott - The Jock Scott, used for salmon, is the most famous Scottish fly and has been a mainstay on Canadian rivers since colonial times. It remains one of the four most popular classic patterns in use today. Rick Whorwood of Stoney Creek, Ontario tied the fly on the stamp.

• P.E.I. Fly - This fly, one of the earliest Canadian creations, was described in detail in the 1860s book, Salmon Fishing in Canada, and was originally tied from feathers of the now-endangered red ibis. It can be tied for either salmon or trout and in this stamp, it's tied for trout. Rob Solo from Corner Brook, Newfoundland provided the featured fly.

• Mickey Finn - The Mickey Finn, as it's now called, was created in the 19th century by Charles Langevin and known at that time as the "Langevin". It was used on the Jacques-Cartier River in the Québec City area and appears not to have been used or known outside of that region. In the 1930s, John Alden Knight learned of the fly at a private fishing club in New York and immediately recognized the value of this "Red and Yellow Bucktail". He used it with great success in 1936 and decided to rename the fly, "The Assassin". Very shortly after, Knight's fishing partner, Gregory Clark (of the Toronto Star) changed the name once more -- this time to "Mickey Finn". The fly is used for bass, pike, salmon and trout. Tier Hazel Maltais of Montréal created this stamp's fly.

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Each of the four domestic rate (50-cents) stamps in this release features a specially commissioned fishing fly set against painted background scenes from Montreal artist Alain Massicotte.

And this is where this article gets hugely interesting for me.

I was able to contact Massicotte for an interview via email.

"In 2004, a design firm from Winnipeg (Circle Design Incorporated) contacted me to take part in a project of series of stamps on fly fishing; they were looking for an illustrator able to work in a realistic and painterly style," he explained about the work.

"At the start, we work on a bid, they present a couple of proposals of design, competing with other design firms; so we have to understand, there were at least eight options and I was one among them.

"Finally Canada Post selected the one with me."

Massicotte said fishing art is a bit different for him.

"I don't do a lot of fishing art, sometimes with the Canadian magazine Outdoor Canada, maybe one time a year," he admitted, but added he likes different things too. "Being an illustrator for 35-years, I always advocate versatility in my work, for the last seven years, I'm painting a lot, starting a painting career, till now, I (have) painted 500 landscapes."

Interestingly, Massicotte ( is not a fisherman.

"Unfortunately, I'm not a fisherman at all, I think an illustrator is like an actor, if you have to interpret a serial killer, you don't need to be one," he said. "As a professional, I have to illustrate a lot of different things, that brings me variety and renewed pleasure in my work."

Asked which of the works he favoured, Massicotte said they were done some years ago. "If I remember, I think I prefer the winter scene for the simplicity of the composition, the dark tones and the wave motion water," he said.

The flies on the stamps were tied by expert tiers from across the country: Rob Solo in Newfoundland, Hazel Maltais of Quebec, Rick Whorwood from Ontario, and Brian Chan of B.C.

Of course with the Internet these days I had to go looking for the fly tiers themselves.

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Canada Post noted in 2005 "the elaborate Jock Scott, composed of 57 different elements, originated in Britain during the Victorian era and became a mainstay of early angling in Canada."

Whorwood said it was a natural for him to tie the Jock Scott in the sense it was a fly he always aspired to learn. He explained he "started tying flies in the early 80's," adding he "had become an avid fly fisher so it was more or less a natural progression

"I fished as a child, my grandfather, father and two brothers were also avid fishers, we mostly trolled for pike. I vividly remember casting a hula popper and catching a large mouth Bass off a dock, looking back on it now this was most likely what got me hooked on casting and catching fish near or close to the surface, which is a big part of fly fishing."

And the course was set for Whorwood.

"After a few years of fly fishing for trout, I stared to look for other species to pursue. I made a trip to Gaspe Quebec, where I caught my first Atlantic Salmon, preparing for the trip I started to look at tying some Atlantic Salmon hair wing flies.

"Around that time, a fiend from P.A. had invited me as his guest to the international fly tyers symposium. After spending the day watching the Classic Salmon fly tyers I knew that I wanted to pursue this style of tying.

"The Jock Scott (stamp fly) is the holy grail of Classic Salmon flies, so it was only natural that I worked towards that fly."

Whorwood explained the Jock Scott was originally dressed (how they described tying back then) in the late 1800's.

Whorwood provided a link to a bit of history on the fly,

I won't include it all here, but have to share for legend/lore grows up around all things famous.

J. David Zincavage, in the article The True Original Jock Scott - All Three of Them, describes "The article entitled "The Original Jock Scott" by the late Colonel Joseph D. Bates, Jr., published in the Fall 1990 issue of 'The American Fly Fisher', develops a theory that Lord John Scott's eponymous gillie dressed the original version of the most famous of all salmon flies using the Titian-colored hair of his employer's wife for the rear portion of the body. The article proceeds to assert that as the fly became known publicly, commercial tyers first dressed the rear portion of the body with orange silk, attempting to match as closely as possible the hue of the original dressing …

"Forrest had done of the allegedly original Jock Scott, complete with hand written label. We thus find that there are twelve instances of the publication of the dressing of the Jock Scott or accounts of the fly's history published before 1900, besides the R.T. Simpson account. Not a single published version of the pattern calls for the use of a woman's hair, or even for an orange-colored rear body. Every single dressing specifies 'gold' or 'light yellow' silk for that part of the pattern.

In addition, not one of the historical accounts, other than Simpson's, mentions Lady John Scott's hair as an element in the fly's dressing. The story of the use of a Lady's hair in a salmon fly is an appealing and romantic story, and it is inconceivable that Tod or Alston, "Punt Gun" or Kelson could have resisted rehearsing such a story, had they ever heard it.

"Fishermen and inventors of patterns are at best- in the modern sense-: 'trustworthy to a degree'."

As much as Whorwood is an avid fisherman, and accomplished tyer, he did note, "in truth I've never fished full dressed Salmon flies, I have however fished many Classic Spey & Dee flies.

"Maybe it has something to do with spending hours tying a classic full dressed fly only to lose it to the stream bed?"

In terms of effort, the Jock Scott is about as detailed as it gets at a fly tying bench.

"Being a traditional pattern, and the fact that it has some 50 components in it, yes I would think it is one, if not the hardest fly that you can tye," said Whorwood.

So was he satisfied with his Canada Post specimen?

"I was contacted and asked to be part of a small group of tyers for the stamp project (2004). The years leading up to this, I had worked very hard and spent many hours trying to perfect my tying ability. There are a number of exceptional fly tyers in Canada so I felt honoured and privileged to be asked to tye the Jock Scott.

"I don't know if I would say it's my best, I don't think I've ever tied a fly and felt that I couldn't improve on something," said Whorwood.

Next week, I'll continue this look into the amazing Canadian fly stamps, talking to Solo, Maltais and Chan.



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