ray bergman trout

Vintage Copy of Bergman's Trout
Vintage Copy of Bergman’s Trout

Guest Blogger: Bob Nelson, Sacramento, CA

I was going through some old fly tying stuff and came across a box of 100 #16 Mustad 98480 hooks with a price tag of $1.95. I got me thinking of how lucky I was to have a couple of guys named Richard in my life. Dick Miller was an elementary teacher in Grants Pass, Oregon. In the fifth and sixth grades, we had clubs one day a week as the last period. Mr. Miller started a fly tying club and I joined. I was already familiar with fly fishing as both my older brothers were fly fishermen. My oldest brother, Dick, bought me my first fly rod, a bamboo rod from Montgomery Wards. He taught me how to cast, how to read the water. He showed me how to look through the water to see the fish. My two brothers taught me a lot about camping also, but that’s another story.

Learning to tie flies in the late 50’s was much different than now. Especially in a small Southern Oregon town. My first vise was a clamping style that cost a dollar. We used sewing thread and bee’s wax. I did not use a bobbin, in fact I didn’t know what a fly tying bobbin was. We would cut off a long piece of thread, wax it and use a wooden clothespin to provide tension. There were a couple of sporting goods stores in town, as the Rogue River was a destination for fishermen. Both stores carried a limited selection of materials. There was also a guy that ran a fly shop out of the front of his house. I did buy a Jungle Cock neck there for about $5. We had lots of feathers available, however the hackle quality was nothing like what we have today. Typically it took two hackles to tie a fairly good dry fly. There were Mustad hooks and only Mustad hooks. We bought them in 100 hook boxes because that was the way they came. We learned to tie on size 12’s mostly. I remember being very pleased with myself when I tied some flies on a #14.

I must have checked Ray Bergman’s Trout out of the library 50 times. I poured over the color plates and tied some very poor copies. Mr. Miller taught us the Grey Hackle Yellow as our first fly; red dyed duck quill tail, yellow four strand floss body, and grizzly hackle. We learned to tie this as both a dry and a wet fly. Then we learned a pattern he called a Red Ant; brown hackle tail, red four strand floss body, and brown hackle. We didn’t bother with ribbing. Brown and Grizzly hackle were the only colors I used for quite a while. Of course we all wanted to learn to tie the famous Royal Coachman, when we couldn’t master the fan wings we either left them off, or tied it as a trude.

I can remember, as a kid, fishing the South Fork of the Rogue. I saw the Rainbow start out from the bottom of the creek, rise, and swallow the Grey Hackle Yellow I had tied. It was the first fish I had caught on a fly I tied myself. I yelled so loud my brothers came running, thinking I must be hurt. I remember how proud I was to show them the trout. It was the first of many over a life time of tying and fishing. Without those two men, my life would have not been the same.

I am sure there are thousands of “Richards” around the country that came before all of us. Without them we would still be using clamp vises and clothespins. There would be no genetic hackle and a thousand synthetic materials that they never dreamed of using. So, once and a while, when you are tying a favorite pattern, or when you are taking that quiet moment on the stream, stop and remember the “Richards” in your life. Tight Lines to one and all.


  1. I really like the the thesis/title and enjoyed the narrative very much. We do take a lot for granted today and an occasional reminder of our roots is much appreciated.

  2. Great tribute Bob. I loved this book, and still do. Other than a single destiny-serving glimpse of one clear stream, it was this book that ignited the trout fascination in me long ago. I too read it countless times, poring over every little phrase, and dreaming, from warm water bluegill country, of epic mornings on western streams. It remains a sacred work in my mind and on my shelf.

    – Mike

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