The American Fly Fishing Experience - Theodore Gordon, His Lost Flies and Last Sentiments

John Gubbins

 The American Fly Fishing Experience tells the story both of Theodore Gordon, the Father of American Dry Fly Fishing. It deals both with his personal story and the story of his fly fishing innovations. His personal story is straightforward. For years he and his mother lived in Savannah until bad investments forced him North to work in his uncle's Wall Street firm. His summers were spent fly fishing the Catskills where he met, courted, and lost his great love, an attractive, young, athletic woman. A consumptive from childhood, Gordon's declining health forced him to leave Manhattan permanently in 1906 and take up residence in the town of Liberty, New York near the Loomis Sanatorium. During his last years in Liberty he made friends, sold fishing flies, and bred chickens. Local Catskill anglers revered him for his stories and angling skills.
    With Gordon's personal stories, The American Fly Fishing Experience exposes his fly fishing inventions. It is the only book to do so. For business reasons Gordon kept his fly designs, his method of tying flies, and his strategy for finding what he called the “effective fly” secret. At first stymied by his secretiveness, I, as many other writers, grew frustrated and resentful. Reassessing I concluded a new avenue of research was needed, one no other writer had pursued. Encouraged by the sports books of George Plimpton, I decided to try fishing like him, a forbidding task, for Gordon on a Catskill river was the best angler of his day. Nonetheless it occurred to me that attempting to fish like Gordon, no matter how clumsy, might turn up new information about him.
    After teasing out all references to his favorite flies and his strategies for fishing them, I practiced fishing like him on my Upper Peninsula Michigan rivers and then spent two weeks fly fishing New York's Beaverkill and Willowemoc Rivers. It was an eye opener. Gordon's approach to fly fishing demands rigorous discipline and still catches fish today. Fishing like Gordon proved to me that he was a tough minded accomplished angler, always experimenting, never satisfied with the dictates of tradition. His style of fishing, what he called “rough and ready” fly fishing, is the American fly fishing experience. Gordon led us to it.