The fly that catches big fish, but no men.

Rodney Dangerfield, a modest but effective salmon fly

Rodney Dangerfield, a modest but effective salmon fly

Fly for a lifetime, by Dennis L. Smith
In the early 1970’s I had the good fortune to learn fly-casting and fly-tying. My teacher and mentor, G. M. Haskell, who also happened to be my dentist, knew I fished and introduced me to fly-fishing.

When I was in his chair and completely under his power he told me again and again that fly-fishing was the most enjoyable and satisfying way to fish. He wore me down, and I gave it a try. It has been a passion ever since. He gave me polar bear hair, jungle cock necks and various other exotic fur and feathers from his collection, and I became hooked on tying my own flies.

Initially I became an expert at catching sunbellies on the dry fly. Then I was invited to fish Maine’s Machias River by retired Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Warden Norm Roy.

We hiked into a pool called Munson’s Pitch, that was several miles above tidewater. I hooked and landed an eight pound Atlantic salmon on a fly I had tied. This fly was called “Lady Joan.” Fisherman Lee Wulff created it in honor of his wife, Joan, a skilled angler.

My first game fish on a fly rod was an Atlantic salmon on a fly I had tied myself. I did not truly appreciate this until giving it more thought, but was the beginning of a life-long appreciation of Atlantic salmon and of many fishing expeditions. In 1974 I traveled to Scotland to fish. My first stop was on the River Hummel, where it runs into the River Tay. We stayed in a local hotel. Our first evening in the bar a kind Scot, seeing my eagerness and realizing that I was a novice, gave me a handful of flies. Among them was an articulated fly. These are flies tied extra long with a trailing number twelve treble hook. This particular fly was missing one barb. It consisted of two black wings, one on each side, with a black body and fine tinsel ribbing.

I planned to fish for salmon on the River Spey the next day. The Strathspey Angling Association leased a seven-mile stretch of the Spey and sold day tickets. My wife at the time accompanied me. The weather was typical of what one might expect in Scotland, rain, sun, rain throughout the day, and the water temperature was 43 degrees.

To make a long story short, I caught an eight-pound salmon on that articulated fly. When I got it to shore I realized we were indeed novices, as we had no net or gaff. My wife jumped in the river, grabbed the fish, and literally threw it onto the shore. When I removed the fly, there was only one barb remaining on the number twelve treble.

Upon returning to Maine I copied the fly as well as possible. Only single pointed hooks were allowed then. I tied it using black skunk tail hair, with a black wool body and fine silver tinsel on a number four hook, 6x long. This fly caught fish. And more fish. And big fish.

My admiration for salmon increased the more I learned about them and fished them, and I decided to start a live release effort in Maine, as these salmon were too valuable to catch only once.

But this is a story about a fly so let us stick to the subject. I have caught many salmon on this fly, particularly on the Miramachi and the Cains Rivers. Numerous salmon in the five to eighteen pound class have fallen prey to this fly.

In spite of the habit of fly-tiers to name their designs, this fly had no name. It was one of a nondescript handful passed to me in a pub in Scotland.

One day I was releasing a salmon of approximately 18 pounds. The gentleman fishing above me asked if I would show him my fly. I obliged, as I am always willing to show my fly.

He looked at it a moment, then said, “Nothing I would ever buy in a store.”

This fly catches fish, and big ones, but it does not catch fisherman.

After many years without a name and getting no respect, I settled on the name for this fly–Rodney Dangerfield.

About fifteen years ago, after using Rodney off and on since I first acquired it in Scotland, I decided to use that fly and only that fly. It has proven to be a very wise decision.

In spite of guides exhorting me to try numerous, different flies I have stuck with my Rodney Dangerfield. We have been together a long time now, and are on a first name basis. We’re a team, and I when I hook another salmon I never fail to shout, “Alright, Rodney!”

Salmon caught with Rodney on the Maramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada

Salmon caught with Rodney on the Maramichi River, New Brunswick, Canada

Guest post by Dennis L. Smith, who says fish are his life. This is no exaggeration. Scale sample studies, documentation of catch sizes, and stomach contents–he filled notebooks full of data. He has been instrumental in the restoration of the alewife population in Somesville, and advocates measures to return Maine’s native salmon population to a destination fishery.



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Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.