Great Flies of the Adirondacks

New York’s Adirondack Mountains have a rich fly-fishing and tying history. Robert W. Streeter shares the stories of some of those patterns and the anglers who created them.

The history of fly fishing in the Northeast is written, but the book is missing a chapter. The Catskill Mountains dominate much of the tale, but New York’s Adirondack Mountains also played a big role in the evolution of American angling.

Adirondack fly-fishing history dates to Colonial times, and much of it revolves around six men who influenced fly fishing there and beyond. These anglers created flies and fishing methods for tumbling mountain streams such as the East and West Branches of the Ausable River, Oswegatchie River, Saranac River, Sacandaga River, and Fish Creek. The effectiveness of their techniques has stood the test of time.


Fly-fishing gear in America was imported and sold as early as Colonial times, and fly angling in the Adirondacks likely began during that era. Fly fishing was popular among the English upper class, and British military officers stationed in the colonies did fly fish. While there isn’t proper historical documentation, Sir William Johnson, the King’s 1st baronet for Upstate New York, may have been one of the first to cast flies in the Adirondacks. His home, called Fort Johnson, is adjacent to a trout stream. Johnson also built a camp on the Sacandaga River he called Fish House, where he and his friends fished.


Hook: 1X-long dry-fly hook, size 10.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Salmon-orange hackle fibers.
Body: White mohair.
Rib: Oval silver tinsel.
Wing: Salmon-orange goose wing quill.
Hackle: White.

While it would be speculative to say that Johnson cast flies, records show that one of the British officers he served with, Lieutenant John Enys, was a fly angler. Johnson died before the American Revolution, and Enys, while on a post-war trek to Canada, fly fished for salmon in streams along Lake Champlain, including the Saranac River. Enys’s journal documents his fishing.

The Colonial influence in early Adirondack flies involved the choice of color. The British fished for brown trout in England, but in New York, brook trout reigned and preferred more brightly colored patterns.

Fly fishing in the Adirondacks blossomed in the late 1800s. Along with the building of elaborate vacation retreats for the wealthy called “great camps,” train service, guiding, and hotel businesses were estab- lished. Adirondack guides eagerly rowed their “sports” to fly fish for trout, bass, and other local species.

Let’s take a look at six tiers who influenced the development of Adirondack flies. Their patterns are as effective today as when they first dropped from their vises.


William Scripture, Jr. was destined to become a lawyer. The son of a famous State Supreme Court Justice, he was called “Scrip,” and eventually became an attorney in Rome, New York. At heart, however, he was a fly fisherman, and his school principal often asked him how the fishing was after Scrip returned from his absences from class.


Hook: Standard dry-fly hook, size 12.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Moose mane hair.
Body: Moose mane hair.
Wing: Mallard goose wing quill.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Scripture fished with the most famous anglers of his day at his beloved Fish Creek Club, including Dr. Henry van Dyke, who was an author, ambassador, and famous minister who officiated at the funeral of Mark Twain. Scripture also fished with popular fly-fishing book author, Dr. George Parker Holden.

Ida Wolcott greatly influenced Scripture’s fly-tying methods. Ms. Wolcott owned a fly company in Rome, and produced all the flies used by Scripture’s father. Scrip raided his father’s fly collection and disassembled the patterns to learn how they were tied. He also acquired a treasure trove of Ms. Wolcott’s tying materials.


Hook: Standard streamer hook, size 6 or 4.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tag: Red wool yarn.
Body: Yellow wool yarn.
Wing: Brown bucktail.

In the early 1900s, Scrip caught trout in his favorite Adirondack streams, as well the Mohawk River, in Rome, that would make us envious. In one anecdote, he detailed landing a 28-inch-long brown trout!


Ray Bergman became a fly fisherman at a young age when he met a seasoned angler who showed him how to stealthily catch trout with fly tackle near his home in Nyack, New York. He would eventually gain fame as an author.


Hook: Standard wet-fly hook, size 14 or 12.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Guinea hen.
Body: Rusty wool.
Wing case: Guinea fowl.
Antennae: Guinea hen.

Bergman had a deep connection with the Adirondacks. When his fishing-tackle business in Nyack failed in the early 1920s, he had a mental breakdown. His wife, Grace, took him on a retreat to the Adirondacks. They rented a cabin owned by guide Chan Westcott near Cranberry Lake. He spent seven months there, hunting, fishing, and recovering.

Bergman wrote two articles about his Adirondack experiences for the old Forest and Stream magazine. From that point, Bergman made part of his living as an outdoors writer, eventually landing the coveted position of angling editor at Outdoor Life magazine. Bergman and his wife traveled the country, feeding the creative engine for his stories.


Hook: Standard streamer hook, size
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Silver tinsel.
Throat: Red hackle fibers.
Underwing: Gray squirrel tail hair.
Wing: Grizzly saddle hackle.

Bergman authored four fishing books, including his iconic Trout, which was first published in 1938. Trout sold 225,000 copies—which is astronomical for a fishing book—and it remains relevant today. Trout is unique for its rich color illustrations of flies. The book is also incredible for the amount of technical detail describing fishing techniques.

As a commercial fly tier, Bergman produced more than 200,000 flies, including patterns of his own design.


Henry Leon “Lee” Wulff is a legendary fly angler whose techniques are still taught at the Wulff School of Fly Fishing, which he founded with his equally famous wife, Joan. Lee Wulff was a prolific writer, authoring numerous magazine articles and books on fly fishing, but he is best known for his filmmaking and hosting the American Sportsman television series. Lee passed away in 1991, but he left an incredible legacy.


Hook: 1X-long dry-fly hook, sizes 16 to 12.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Brown bucktail.
Body: Peacock herl and red floss.
Wing: White bucktail.
Hackle: Dark brown.

Wulff pioneered bush-plane fishing operations in Newfoundland, Canada. The ink was barely dry on his pilot’s license when he took off from Round Lake, New York, in his Piper J-3 Cub floatplane for Newfound- land, a flight that includes an extensive open-ocean crossing. Aircraft of that era had only a compass and fairly primitive radio system; most of today’s bush pilots would not attempt such a feat without modern instrumentation, including GPS. Wulff was bold and didn’t follow conventional wisdom, and many of those traits extended to his fly fishing. He thrived on challenges, including catching salmon with size 28 dry flies!

Prev1 of 2
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse