Tuesday September 02, 2014

The art of flies recognized on stamps

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Welcome to Week CI 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.

Last week I started a look behind the art, the flies, and the tiers, for a series of four Canadian stamps highlighting obviously, fishing flies.

The Alevin was created in the spring of 1939 on the B.C. Adams River by legendary fly fisherman, author and artist Tom Brayshaw.

Brian Chan is the man to tie the Alevin.

"It was an honour to be selected to tie this historical pattern which is an important part of the fly fishing heritage of B.C.," he said.

Chan provided some background on the historic pattern.

"The Alevin or Egg 'n' Eye pattern was created by Tommy Brayshaw, a pioneering angler and artist that spends much of his fishing time on the Shuswap lake system near Kamloops, BC," he said. "This lake and river system is part of the Fraser River watershed and large numbers of chinook and sockeye salmon would migrate up the system and there was incredible trout fishing when the salmon arrived. The trout fed on salmon eggs, flesh and the newly hatched alevins in the early spring.

"This fly was created to imitate a newly emerged sockeye fry just coming out of the gravel redd that it was laid in the previous fall. The fry have part of their yolk sac still evident which is what the orange throat of the fly represents.

"This pattern continues to be a very effective imitation anywhere there are emerging salmon fry and hungry trout nearby."

As for Chan himself, he has been a tier for decades.

"I have been tying flies for over 45 years, starting at a very young age and much of it, self taught," he said. "From a very young age I was fascinated with fishing and would read issues of Outdoor Life Magazine which my father read. It was reading this magazine that piqued my interest in fly tying and fly fishing in general.

"I have fished since a child, spending many weekend days and summer holidays fishing with my dad for pacific salmon along the coast of BC.

"My passion for fishing led me to pursuing a career as a fisheries biologist, writer, angling guide and TV show personality."

Named after the narcotic-laced drink, the Mickey Finn was another Canadian original, created by Charles Langevin in the 19th century and promoted by John Alden Knight, the inventor of Solunar Tables. It was used on the Jacques-Cartier River in the Quebec City area.

Not surprisingly the Mickey Finn was tied by a French Canadian; Hazel Maltais. Her English is limited, so Pierre Baraby was good enough to help out in having some email questions answered for me in English.

"My written english is not perfect but I hope it will help you," he began, before telling more about Maltais. "Hazel was born in the village of Kedgwick in the northern part of New Brunswick. There was a small stream just in back of their house and she started fishing for brook trout with her father at the age of five. They where fishing in brooks and streams of the surrounding area. She started tying flies about 40 years ago, mainly by necessity to get the flies she needed.

"She started fishing for salmon after she moved to Québec at the age of 21. This was the period when fishing for river salmon started to be accessible to every one. Before, salmon fishing was strictly restricted to members of private clubs, mainly American and rich people.

"She learned fly tying by herself and has never stop tying flies since then. Paul Leblanc, who is also a famous fly tier, became her companion about 35 years ago and they were both devoted to the sport of fly fishing and a co-owner of the Boutique Salmo Nature in Montreal, one of the largest fly fishing stores in Canada."

Maltais was honoured by the offer to tie the fly for Canada Post.

"She was asked to tie the Mickey Finn by Canada Post, a well known streamer fly in the province of Québec commonly used for brooks, pike and also Atlantic Salmon. She remembers having caught a large one on this fly at the Falls, a famous pool in a natural deep gorge on the Darmouth river in Gaspé," explained Baraby.

"She considers that it was a great honour to have been chosen to illustrate this series of stamp."

The P.E.I. Fly, originally tied from the feathers of the now-endangered Red Ibis, is perhaps the earliest Canadian creation, with its origins dating back to descriptions in 1860s literature.

Rob Solo from Corner Brook, NFLD, tied the copy used for the stamp.

Like the others, fishing came first for Solo, although one of the most notable tiers of his generation soon inspired him to try his hand at the bench.

"I began fly fishing at the age of eight in 1967," he said in an article forwarded to me. "I fished for Brook trout in the beginning and I was rewarded with a four and a half pound sea-run brook trout as my first trout. Soon after I saw a couple of fly fishing films Lee Wulff did for the Newfoundland Tourism department and I decided right then and there that I wanted to pursue a life like his.

"I began tying trout flies when I was fourteen years old, and like Lee, tied the flies by holding the hook in my fingers. "Soon after, my pal took a fly-tying course and he showed me how to "properly" tie flies. It was at this time that I began to focus on salmon fishing."

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Soon salmon flies drew Solo's attention.

"I became enamoured with the classic salmon fly and tied, and fished them, with great success after I took a course in the Spring of 1986 from the Master fly dresser, Ron Alcott, from Groton, Ma. I had met Ron at the first ASF Conclave, held in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, during the summer of 1985," he said. "Ron instilled discipline in my fly tying and taught me about the importance of proper proportions in flies.

"Another famous tyer at the Conclave was Charlie Krom, who saw my innate ability to create new salmon fly patterns and fly styles, and, in how I devised new methods to apply materials to a hook. He encouraged me to develop my tying styles to its fullest potential and I took his word for it. I am still exploring and devising new ideas for fishing every season.

"Lee Wulff, my fly fishing and tying inspiration, was at the Conclave too and his contribution to my tying is that I incorporate durability and an artistic flair in all my flies."

The fly for the stamp is a creation Solo said, he has actually not used.

"Unfortunately, I can't say that I devised, nor have I ever fished, the Prince Edward fly. I was contacted by Circle Design to tie one of the four flies for the 2005 Canada Post stamp series," he said. "I was selected because I had previously placed highly in world tying events and had been bestowed a major tying award.

"They initially wanted me to dress the Jock Scott salmon fly. Because of time constraints and the lack of authentic materials to dress the fly, I suggested they contact Rick Whorwood, of Stoney Creek, ON, who did complete the Jock Scott fly for Circle and Canada Post, (see the April 16 article in Yorkton This Week)."

"I was then given the choice of tying the Prince Edward fly which I gladly accepted. When I researched the fly, I saw the pattern called for a wing of Ibis body feathers, which I also did not have. Again because of time constraints and because I did not like using feathers from birds that were in severe decline, I convinced them that I could substitute common poultry feathers, dyed the appropriate color to emulate pinkish-rose color of the Ibis feathers. They agreed and I settled on dyed hen saddle hackle to tie the fly.

"To add authenticity to the Prince Edward, I dressed the fly on a double gut-snelled, authentic blind-eye hook as it would have been fished during that era.

"I call the fly the Prince Edward because that is its correct name. It was dressed at the turn of the nineteenth century and is classified as a Fancy Lake or Bass wet fly, which was common to that era. How they came up with the Prince Edward Island moniker is conjecture, but the fly was supposedly fished in Prince Edward Island for 'white trout', or as we know them by today's name of sea-run Brookie.

"Whether the fly was a fly devised in Canada, the US, or the British Isles is an enigma."

Solo said he is just proud to have been part of the stamp series.

"Regardless, to be chosen as one of the dressers of the Canadian fly stamp series was, and still is, quite a memorable achievement. From what I understand, the call went out to many of the best in the business throughout Canada and I, along with Rick Whorwood, Hazel Maltais, and Brian Chan, were selected. To be part of such a select group of professionals and chosen to be even a small part of Canadian history, is an honour."

I have to say, as this two-parter marks my 100th, and now the start of the next 100 articles on all things fishing, it is special.

But it is more than achieving a milestone thanks to so many faithful readers seeming to appreciate what I write here. This two-part article is interesting because it was a chance to connect with fly tiers recognized as the best this country has, not to mention artist Alain Massicotte whose work is so amazing on the stamps.

It has been a very gratifying experience tracking each down, and finding them so accommodating of a modest scribe's efforts from Yorkton, SK.



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