5-8-2020 Valley Angler-Down East Rod Holder

A Down East rod holder clamped to Old Town Canoe. The fly rod is a F. E. Thomas. (BILL THOMPSON PHOTO)

Maine is one of the nation’s best-known and loved states by fly fishermen. The state is home to many legendary regions like: the Rangeley Lakes, Grand Lake Stream, the Belgrade Lakes and Moosehead Lake.

Maine has given us many legendary sportsmen as well: Cornelia Thurza Crosby, better-known as “Fly-Rod Crosby,” Carrie Stevens (the Gray Ghost), Herb Welch (artist and fly shop owner) and Louise Dickinson Rich (author of “We Took to the Woods”) to name a few. With all of this going for it, Maine has produced a few notable inventions that have contributed to the sport of fly fishing. Here are a five of my favorites.

At No. 5 is the classic L.L. Bean hunting boot. Leon Leonwood Bean began selling his rubber bottomed boot with leather upper in 1912. His first shop was in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine. Freeport is still the home of the flagship store. A smart marketer he obtained a list of nonresident Maine hunting and fishing license holders and set up a mail-order business. Ninety percent of his first run of boots failed and Bean famously refunded the money to all of those who had purchased them.

The rest is history and today L.L. Bean is a major part of Maine’s economy. The boots are must have if you hunt or fish. They are waterproof and comfortable and come with the same money-back guarantee as they did in 1912. The boots are also highly regarded by fashionable ladies, too — just ask my daughter-in-law.

At No. 4 is the famous Old Town Canoe. The first canoes were made in 1898. The company used the name Indian Old Town Canoe. The first canoes were wood and canvas, a Maine intonation that replaced the birch bark canoe.

The company introduced the first square stern canoe in 1917, for use with outboard motors that were then coming onto the market. After World War II fiberglass began to replace canvas.

In 1995, the company began making kayaks and by 2000 they were producing more kayaks than canoes. In 2009, the company opened a new factory in Old Town, Maine, where the watercraft are made today. Wood and canvas canoes are still apart of the company’s business although made and restored at a separate facility.

Generations of fishermen have enjoyed Old Town canoes and the old wood and canvas are highly sought after. I own two Old Town canoes, a 13 footer and a 17 footer, both purchased in the 1970s. The smaller one belonged to my dad and still gets a lot of use by our family.

At No. 3 is the Down-Easter trolling rod holder. The Down-Easter was the brainchild of Fritz Peterson in 1946. It is still manufactured in Lewiston today by the Peterson family. The original models are still available. There are newer models with added 20th century innovation.

The first powder-coated model came was introduced in 1996. The Down-Easter rod holder is the third hand of many anglers. I own a couple of the old school models designed to clamp to the gunnel of a canoe, and for my money nothing has come along in the last 70 years that comes close to their versatility and quality.

No. 2 is the six-sided split cane fly rod. OK, I will admit that the bamboo fly rod was not invented in Maine, but none can deny that it was perfected in Maine. The story is that someone showed Hiram Leonard an early four-sided rod and was asked if he could duplicate it. Leonard said he could and not only that he could do better. And that he did and the H.L Leonard Rod Co. and the six-sided rod became the standard.

Leonard was a noted gun maker and hunter before he made bamboo rods, but the rods are what he will be forever known. Not only did Leonard rise to the top of the rod industry of the day, but along the way some of the men who worked for him became minor gods in the lexicon of fly fishing legends.

Edward Payne, Fred Thomas, Bill Edwards and the Hawes brothers all worked for Leonard. The company was moved from Bangor, Maine, to Central Valley, N.Y. Thomas left the company and returned to Maine, where he founded the F.E. Thomas Rod Co. Edwards also worked and built rods in Maine of his own and perfected the heat-treatment method for bamboo fly rods.

Last but not least, the No. 1 thing invented in Maine that has had the most lasting and most important effect on fly anglers is the creation of the streamer fly. Legend has it that a Grand Lake Stream guide, by the name of Alonzo Bacon, plucked a white feather from a canoe seat cushion and tied the feather on a hook. The new feathered fly, dubbed the “Roosters Regret,” caught trout and salmon and thus the first streamer was born.

The idea was copied by other Grand Lake Stream guides and soon streamer flies were the rage all over Maine. The story may well be true, but flies of this type had been tied all over the world for centuries.

As for the bucktail streamer, that honor may go to a fellow by the name of Theodore Gordon, the father of the American dry fly. A couple of other enterprising anglers, Herbert Sanborn and Emile Letourneau, went on to create the tandem streamer. Letourneau is the brother of noted Maine outdoor writer Gene Letourneau. Today, the classic Maine streamer is used the world over.

Maine not only gives us its beautiful lakes, streams and mountains, it has also has given us fishermen some nifty stuff. Despite Bill Green’s warning: “Kids don’t go bragging just because you’re from Maine,” I am proud to be a native son of the “Pine Tree” state.

See you on the river.

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