By Howard Meyerson
In the spring, when thoughts of trout fishing inevitably hit hard, I almost always bring the fly boxes out for a gander. One by one, I pick through them looking for gaps, the flies I need to replace for the coming season, having left some hooked on a stream snag, an overhanging branch or a fish that broke off.
Invariably, I will count how many Adams flies I have. To be frank, it’s rare that I use them, but I take comfort in their presence and never hesitate to tie one on when all else fails. They were the first flies I used when I started fly fishing, and they remain a classic Michigan fly design today.
Classic also is what Jon Osborn and Joe Van Faasen call them in their charming new book, “Classic Michigan Flies, 16 Legendary Patterns.”
“If ever there was a do-all, go-anywhere fly pattern, the Adams is it,” Osborn writes about the circa 1922 fly pattern designed by Michigan fly angler, Leonard Halladay for his friend, Charles Adams, a Ohio judge and the fly’s namesake.
“When Adams tested it on a pond near Halladay’s home in Mayfield, he ruled it a ‘great success.’ After fishing the nearby Boardman River, he enthusiastically ruled it ‘a knockout.’ The rest, as they say, is history.”
The Adams pattern today is as much a part of Michigan trout fishing history as the legendary but now extinct grayling that used to swim in state waters. Its characteristic striped wings and gray body have tantalized Michigan trout for nearly 90 years.
“We had three groups of people in mind when we did the book: people who love fly fishing, people who love history and people with an appreciation for art,” said Van Faasen, the book’s illustrator. His watercolors grace most of the book’s pages.
“We both have a passion for the historical aspects of fly fishing and see this stuff slipping away into the labyrinth of legend.” Osborn said. “You can imagine with a 100-year-old fly how many facts slip away. So we tried as best we could to talk to people before it could slip away further.”
Osborn and Van Faasen are natives of Holland. Osborn is a police officer there. Van Faasen is a product designer and artist. Both love fly fishing and the lore that surrounds it. They bring a slice of it to life with their book.
“Classic Michigan Flies” presents a snapshot of 16 old and new Michigan patterns,
drawing on a variety of historical and contemporary sources with a touch of literary license for flourish and mood. The result is an eminently readable book that presents the origins of each fly and recipes for tying the original style and modern versions.
Flip through its pages, and you embark on a journey into Michigan fishing history. There is Bob Fortney’s original 1932 dry-fly, once a comer on Michigan streams. It’s pink-and-gold-ribbed body resembles nothing that anyone knows of, but dressed up with a wood-duck flank tail and grizzly hackle, it passed for a May fly and was fished as an attractor, much like an Adams. Fortney lived in Paris and worked as the district fisheries supervisor for the Michigan Department of Conservation.
Griffith’s Gnat is another historic treasure, said to be created in the 1940s by George Griffith, co-founder of Trout Unlimited. But was it? Osborn discusses the controversy that still reigns today over its origin.
A few modern classics also are covered, such as Rusty’s Spinner, a 1980s pattern created by the late Rusty Gates, former owner of Gates AuSable Lodge and river activist. There also are streamers such as the Circus Peanut, designed by Russ Maddin in 2002, along with Kelly Galloup’s famous 1996 Zoo Cougar streamer design. Osborn calls them “the most influential and effective streamers of all time.”
“Our definition (of Classic) was is that it was created and stood the test of time and that it
continues to exist and catch fish on a regular basis. They are tied and used in varying degrees,” Osborn said. “Madsen’s skunk (circa 1940s) is fished very hard on the AuSable River by guides, and it’s unbelievable how well it does.”
Osborn and Van Faasen came up with the idea for the book over beers. Each knew of the other, but fishing together would come later as a result of the project. Both wanted to create something to help anglers remember.
“We wanted to focus on Michigan because we live here, and that was always one of the things we knew would stick,” Van Faasen said. “We wanted to capture the legend of Michigan fly fishing.
“The first eight to 10 were not difficult to pick. And for the last six or seven, we tried to round out the book with a couple of modern ones and a few famous old ones like the Adams.”
When I finished reading “Classic Michigan Flies,” I have to admit I felt compelled to dig out my fly boxes, though spring still is a few weeks away.
I had no Cabin Coachmen or Madsen’s Skunks, certainly no pink-and-gold Fortneys. But there, in the upper left hand corner, was a row of Adams — four of them to be exact. I looked at those classic flies with new appreciation — felt a familiar longing for spring — and vowed to fish them once again.
Classic Michigan Flies, 16 Legendary Patterns
By: Jon Osborn, Illustrated by: Joe Van Fassen
Published by: Stackpole Books
Available at: local fly shops, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and at classicmichiganflies.com
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This story appears on: MLive Outdoors.