Autumn Journal: November 5

A friend of mine, Mark Libertone, of Wellsville, New York, is dealing with a major health issue, and I was glad to see that a benefit was being staged for him at a local VFW. Mark is a well-known soft-hackle fly tier, co-founder of our local TU chapter, and an artist who has championed the use of wingless wet flies and the fishing arts of James Leisenring and Vern “Pete” Hidy. It was good to mingle with the friends of Libertone, with his family and community members ready to support him and to wish him the best. There were plenty of items ready to be won at the benefit dinner and Chinese auction, and wife Leighanne had the lucky ticket for a set of flies photographed by Lance Hidy, a renowned graphic designer and professor who also happens to be the son of the late author and flyfisher, Vern Hidy.

Each mounted image is a work of art, with a retail value of about $60. I believe I’ll get them framed. And I know they’ll be my ticket to some further research on the subject of wingless wet flies and “flimphs” (a Hidy term for a blend of nymph and wet fly). These soft-hackled wet flies have a history going back to the origins of British flyfishing (if not further back in time) in the northern parts of England. As a life-long student of the great outdoors and of our ways for finding peace and satisfaction there, I’m ready to learn more.

James Leisenring was a Pennsylvania angler who took the wingless, soft-hackle fly baton from the hands of G.E.M. Skues in England and developed it here in the States. Leisenring not only fished soft-hackle flies and promoted their use in America, he and his student Vern Hidy wrote a well-known book called The Art of Tying the Wet Fly. After Leisenring’s death, Hidy wrote about the use of soft-hackled flies and taught the lessons and techniques of his mentor. In 1971, Vern Hidy revised the original Leisenring book and renamed it, The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flimph. It’s a book I learned about from my friend Mark Libertone, and so tradition stays alive.

The three prints of wet fly art in my possession are, first of all, the “March Brown” tied by Vern “Pete” Hidy and photographed by his son Lance. Secondly, there’s the “Stewart’s Red Spider” tied by Jim Leisenring and photographed by Lance Hidy, and thirdly, there’s the “Worsted Blue & Ginger” (tier unknown) and photographed by Lance. Last June, Mark Libertone took part in a gathering of flimph tiers at the Catskill Flyfishing Center and Museum where he and others got to meet Lance Hidy. There they tied flies for the public and got to share memorabilia from Leisenring and the elder Hidy. At the recent benefit for Libertone, Mark spoke highly (once again) of this man whose graphic art passed into Franklin hands. I only wished that my own camera had the power to capture the resolution and feel of the Hidy prints.

Next morning, after chores and domestic details, I headed out to Naples Creek to look for brown trout running up from Canandaigua Lake. It was cold out there, with a steel-grey sky that looked as though it could spit out snow at any moment. The creek was lower and clearer than expected. I fished about a mile of water from outside of Naples up into the village but never saw a sizeable spawner. Other than a couple of small wild rainbows, I caught nothing. There was one other fellow out, a cigarette-smoking, redworm tossing local who suggested that the breeders had been here for a couple of weeks, but he, too, was seeing none of them today.

This was flyfishing at its coldwater basics. Fiberglass and Woolly Buggers (I don’t have much luck with soft-hackles late in autumn). Upstream wandering without much hope for success. Being out there for the die-hard beauty of it all… There was little here to connect me to the world of health issues, flimphs and soft-hackle flies, to friends and family in distant places, to anything beyond this stream on a cold November day. There didn’t seem to be a link, and yet, I recalled some words I read to my audience at a seminar given at Alfred University a couple of days before: “Cold clean water is connected to everything else in the natural world and to the well being of our human lives.”

I may have thought about the trout I wasn’t catching, but I also thought about an old friend, Mark, and about the waiting realm of flyfishing history as suggested by guys like Leisenring and Hidy. On the mile of wading along Naples Creek, I probably thought of these fellows any number of times, pausing briefly between casts, not getting deeply involved with anything from the day before but, cumulatively, doing what I could to keep tradition alive.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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7 Responses to Autumn Journal: November 5

  1. Joseph Hord says:

    I enjoyed the look into flyfishing’s history. I’ve read a little about soft hackles and flimph’s, but have never tied or fished them. You’ve got me thinking I need to do a little more research and give them a try. Those are some good looking flies!

    • Joseph, Thanks for the words! You know, I’d been aware of wingless wets and had known a little of their history for years, but always assumed I didn’t need to go there because I’d done well enough with more modern day versions, but I’ve been experimenting with soft-hackles some over the last couple of seasons and find that they really are effective, especially during peak hatching periods. They haven’t lasted for hundreds of years by being ineffective. And they’re fun to tie, as well!


  2. Antonio Gallegos says:

    Greetings from New Mexico Mr Franklin, I hope all is well up there after the bumpy weather. Those are beautiful pictures of classics! I am a rarety down here in that i do have an interest in the soft hackles. Their simplicity, elegance and trout catching effeciency will never go out of style. They work great on some of the more jaded trout here that have have just about every kind of nymph and dry tossed in their direction. Two of my go to flys are the pheasant tail soft hackle (in down to 20 they will work on the San Juan during a Baetis hatch) and the partirdge and orange.

    • Antonio, Great to hear from you, and thanks for the appreciation! Things are going pretty well in upstate; we’ve really dodged some bullets in the past year or so. You are right, those soft hackles are an interesting lot and a proven fish-getter. Their simplicity and elegance combined with their historical significance make them special for appreciative anglers. I, too, very much like the small Pheasant-tail and the Partridge & Orange (one of my go-to soft hackles). I look forward to your fishing updates from New Mexico!


      • Antonio Gallegos says:

        Sadly I have not been able to get out fishing for a few months now due to work and school. Hopefully at least once this fall/winter I can get out the Rio Grande and take a few nice pictures of the canyon and hopefully hook a fish or two. I will keep in touch Mr. Franklin and hopefully will have a good report here with in the next month. Take care, best wishes.

      • Thanks Antonio, the Rio Grande in fall must be pretty awesome, good luck and let me know how it goes.


  3. After Scott Cornett commented on RR off-post, I responded by saying that this was Election Day and I had just gone out to vote for… Salvelinus. Next day, Cornett answered, saying, “Amen, and it looks like Salvelinus won! Or at least got a stay of execution!”

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