George Grant cassette tape Transcript -- One of Two
This is one of two George Grant audio tracks orginally recorded on cassette tape. This sounds like George reading from a manuscript previously typed out on a typwriter. It's actually more interesting in print. This is George Grant's life story, as told by George himself. I have a hunch this has never been published before.
The better part of the first two decades of my life had little to do with trout fishing and nothing at all to do with fly tying. I was born in Butte Montana, a rough-and-ready mining town. My early years were more seriously concerned with a hard struggle to merely survive.
Tragedy was a constant companion in the form of mine disasters violent labor-management disputes that were arbitrated with bombs and guns and strikes that idled men for months and always there were long bitterly cold winters with not enough food clothing or warmth.
He sure did nice work
I have memories of World War one of an epidemic of influenza that took hundreds of lives and persistent post-war depression. My father was a sturdy Illinois farmhand semi-pro baseball player and spanish-american War veteran who worked in the dangerous depths of Butte's copper mines to feed and clothe his family.
He escaped the violent death that befell many but on a cold January night in 1929 I held him in my arms while the remnants of his metal laden lungs hemorrhaged out of his nose and mouth.
My wife's own father was killed in an underground mine accident. These were truly hard times and death in various guises stalked the streets and entered the humble homes with great frequency.
It is however no longer a question of who was right and who was wrong or why it had to be that way. These accounts and circumstances are included here only to acquaint the listener with the fact that my youth was spent in a region and a time of violent social change, a time that was not conducive to contemplative recreational pursuits such as childhood fishing.
if trout were mentioned at all it very likely would have been in relation to their desirability as a meat stretcher on the table rather than a discussion of the various attributes that are so highly valued today. My mother, also from a small town in Illinois was a strong resourceful resilient woman tempered with a kind heart that compelled her to feed bread crust to wild birds on cold snowy mornings when we had scarcely enough to feed ourselves.
She refused to succumb to the rigors of climate or the adversity of fate, persevering to within a few months of her 96th year as an expert seamstress. She plied her trade until she was 91. My maternal grandmother was a gentle French immigrant who understood and spoke seven languages sufficiently well to serve as a paid interpreter she was an accomplished self trained artist and the mother of eleven children of which my mother was the eldest.
Perhaps somewhere in this ancestry lay the genes that were eventually to result in an individual who believes fly-tying is a useful therapeutic tool that on occasion allows the mind to retreat from a busy world, also an avocation that satisfies the creative urge of many individuals whose everyday activities may border on monotony above all a fascinating endeavor.
That is a most vital factor in the conservation and perpetuation of wild trout for though it provides an effective means of capture it also allows the quarry to be returned relatively unharmed to continue to exist.
Because I was a frail youngster, the runt of the litter in a family of physical stalwarts I was viewed by them with much consternation and despair. It was evident that my future did not include toiling in the mines or in doing heavy work of any kind. Realizing this my parents wisely instructed me to enroll in high school courses that would be compatible with my lack of size and strength.
I studied typing shorthand bookkeeping and elementary journalism. Upon graduation I continued my preparation in business college. I became interested in fly tying about 1928 and it has been a consuming passion ever since. Fly fishing and fly tying were things that I could do fairly well and this gave me a feeling of confidence and achievement, but even more these activities brought me in touch through books and magazines with well-educated intelligent and humane individuals who taught me that trout were beautiful courageous wild creatures and while intensely interesting to pursue they were also too important and valuable to kill.
At the age of eighteen I was personal secretary to the president of a small railroad that ran from Armstead Montana to Salmon Idaho. Residency in Armstead is now drowned forever at the bottom of Clark Canyon Dam was made more tenable by the close proximity of the Red Rock and Beaver Head rivers which were then renowned for their large rainbow and Eastern brook Trout, but not yet populated by the now dominant Brown which was slowly working its way up through the Jefferson.
Later I occupied similar positions with several prominent men leaders informing and guiding the affairs of raucous immoral freewheeling Butte, a place where I was to live all my life but never really belonged except perhaps for the fact that the site was the hub of a surrounding countryside made lush and green by the world's greatest concentration of beautiful wild trout streams and possibly too because my being there was a was part of a master plan which I could not alter.
It was exciting to be closely associated with these interesting men and bask in their reflected glory but many days spent at their elbow gave me insight into their private lives and it soon became apparent to me that success and contentment were not synonymous.
My own life in contrast was routine and simple a source of some annoyance to my employers they said on more than one occasion young man you should try to make something of yourself but I also sensed a certain degree of Envy among them because of my unsophisticated lifestyle and the seemingly unlimited pleasure that I derived from my obsession with the outdoors.
They of course had no way of knowing and even I was not certain of it but desire and circumstance were drawing me irresistibly toward a life so foreign to my family background my business training and the mining camp mentality that prevailed all around me that it was difficult for others to understand my motives in retrospect it is now apparent that I was simply predestined to lead an idyllic life wading fabulous western trout streams dressing artificial creations to copy the aquatic insects and deceived a large wild child that lived within them enjoying the mystique and endless variety that is part of the sport called fly-fishing but which too many of us is a passport to another world.
As time passed unknown to them but through their writings I was being instructed in basic fly-tying by Paul Young, George HerTer, Roger Woolly, Major JH Hale and others.
I was being introduced to (there is a skip jump in the cassette tape here) not through something new and exciting artificial name theory and development by the early pioneers in this country.
Edward Ringwood Hewitt and John Alden Knight. I was learning the rudiments of the little known world of dry fly fishing, at least it was new to me by reading the writings of Emlyn Gill and George LaBranche my knowledge was being enhanced in the field of trout stream entomology through the works of Louis Rhead and Peter Clausen.
I learned about fly tying materials from Herter's fascinating and all-encompassing catalogue. The flies of Jack Boehme Bill Beaty and Franz Pott, famous montana fly tiers of an era, were being dissected thread by thread on my fly tying bench. I looked upon these men then with awe and admiration because of their knowledge and fame.
Today I recall them as another might recall his favorite college professors. You (sic) would seem to know everything worth knowing about fly-fishing and he presented his ideas with such convincing and final authority that even the slightest doubt seemed unthinkable.
Herter was somewhat similar everything in his catalogue, if you believed him, was superior he also seemed to convey the idea that these wonderful products could not be obtained from any other source. His way of doing anything was better ranging from how to cook a trout to how to make insect repellent.
I liked Louis Rhead because he called insects by names I could understand and pronounce in addition he was a consummate artist and the color plates in his book American Trout Stream Insects were and are superb to this day. I resent his critics.
Major Hale wrote about tying classic Scottish and English salmon flight patterns and I learned much about attention to detail from him.
Paul Young was my favorite because he took time out from her busy schedule to write me detailed letters in longhand that supplied me with answers to many of my fly-tying problems and fortified my knowledge of materials.
In 1933 a wonderful thing happened. I lost my job. I can say that now and really mean it but it is quite likely that I did not think it was so wonderful then.
in that time of deep depression you didn't look for another job because there weren't any for the next three years. June through October I lived in a small cabin rented at a fee of $5 per month, located on the bank of the Big Hole River near a place called Dewey. In the winter I returned to Butte and tied flies supplementing my income with my typewriter and temporary employment during those summers I learned a great deal about the river and I live the kind of life that many young anglers dream about but probably will never have the opportunity to experience.
This was the golden era of trout fishing in Montana superior to what had gone before and a time that will never be repeated in the future.
The Madison was at its peak and the big hole was probably even better although not as well-known. The quality of fishing in Montana the southwestern part at least was unsurpassed any place in the world it is quite likely that it was better than that experience today in Alaska British Columbia New Zealand Argentina or other faraway places.
My only regret is that at times I considered the mundane requirements of everyday living more important than being on the river as my knowledge of trout fishing and my flying capabilities increased I began to think seriously about becoming a full-time professional fly tier and ultimately the proprietor of my own tackle shop.
In those days such a choice of livelihood was regarded as hovering somewhere between foolish and insane especially if you were trained and qualified to do something more traditional
Over the years my quest for a small amount of success in this field for recognition and for escape from obscurity led me into several phases of fly tying and tackle shop operations that were less than sensational.
There were disappointments diversions disillusionment and outright failures but through it all I somehow retained a dogged determination and spirit of optimism never losing that intangible attraction that even to this day draws me to the vise in Winter and to the river in Summer. As one might suspect I am poor in material things but rich in fly tying and fly fishing experience, and memories of military service, marriage and entry into the wholesale retail sporting goods business curl(sic) curtailed my timestream in later years to a certain extent but only slightly.
I retierd early at the age of 61 in order to pursue my fly-tying ambitions not because I could afford to do so but because I had a working wife who supported me both literally and spiritually every inch of the way during the first four years.
After my retierment I wrote two books on fly tying. The manuscripts were sent to a number of publishers and were routinely returned with the usual rejection remarks, however at least one from one of this country's foremost publishers of sporting books for a note of optimism it said we have studied your material and discussed it unfortunately we conclude that while this is fascinating interesting provocative and perhaps groundbreaking it comes at a time when, and several reasons followed, all negative.
Disheartened but not wanting to give up I decided to publish the books on my own. This was done in two paper packs which admittedly were amateurish and crude although I lacked artistic ability I did all the drawings and the results were pretty much as one would expect despite all this the books had a combined sale of about ten thousand copies before I allowed them to go out of print.
However what was more important they introduced my name and my methods to a large number of people I was invited to attend and demonstrate my techniques and display my flies at the Federation of fly fisherman's National Conclave at Sun Valley Idaho in 1972. This was at a time when I was about as well-known as my unorthodox fly-tying methods.
Eventually I found myself seated at a long fly tying table alongside such notables as Art Flik, Dave Whitlock, Polly Rosebough, Doug Swisher and Carl Richards. I felt that I was out of place and I was extremely ill at ease. I was 67 years old and I had never previously tied a fly in public. Since early youth I have been afflicted with a hereditary tremor, a mild incurable disorder of the nervous system that can be masked by a self-imposed exterior calm under normal conditions, but is activated uncontrollably by stress.
This occasion was no exception. My hands trembled. I dropped tools and I broke threads, things I could do at home with my eyes closed. I could not do well at all I considered feigning illness and asking to be excused, but I did not because I wanted desperately to show to this knowledgeable audience the techniques I had developed over many long years and which I truly believed to be a revolutionary method of fly tying.
The interest of the onlookers was intense. They had never seen a hackle woven onto thread with strands of hair nor had they ever seen a realistic looking artificial nymph body he emerged from a short length of flat monofilament fishing line these people all strangers to me were patient and understanding and their genuine interest enabled me to continue with ever-increasing confidence today many of them are among my very best friends and supporters the following year 1973 perhaps out of sympathy or to compensate me for the ordeal they had unwittingly inflicted on me the previous year the Federation presented me with the Wayne buzz Buzek memorial fly-tying award. This award is given each year to the fly tier who is considered to have contributed most significantly to the advancement of the art during that particular year or in some cases for achievements that have extended over a period of many years.
I regard this event and many others that have since occurred as a culmination of a destiny that was set in stone many years ago.
The fulfillment of which while painfully slow was nevertheless inevitable.
Remembering my early years I derive much pleasure from embrionic fly tyers whose questions and interest take me back to the days when I wrote the great fly tiers of the world many of whom took the time to reply. I quote from a letter received during the past year: "I admire a perfectionist and I place you in that category I am NOT a 24 year old person infatuated by the master but a 40 year old man who falls into that category. Perhaps you think I am crazy in real life. I manage a jet engine shop and employ 78 people so I guess I wouldn't fall into the crazy category what has happened to me in the past four years.
I am sure happened to you many years ago I was bitten by the fly fishing and fly tying bug. The following is an excerpt from my reply you must have sensed something in my writing because at one time I was the world's super enthusiast in matters relating to fly fishing and fly tying.
Age and physical limitations no longer permit me to indulge in either of these activities to the extent I would like however I have not lost my enthusiasm and I sincerely doubt that I ever will. Fly fishing is a world within a world and you are most fortunate to have discovered it it is probably tried to quote the old saying fishing is a disease for which thank God there is no cure but it is true and could be extended to include fly tying as well as other aspects of fishing.
I know a young man who graduated laude from a technical college whose entrance examinations eliminate most prospective students. He could name a starting salary with a choice of large industrial firms but he prefers to operate a sporting goods store because it keeps him in close touch with the things he loves and allows him to remain in wild trout Country.
I know a young artist one of the best at what he does but would rather draw pictures of caddis and mayflies and illustrate articles in fishing magazine than to live in a crowded city and make better money, working on a nine-to-five job.
I am acquainted with many young men who would sacrifice almost anything to operate a tackle shop in trout country and while I do not encourage them knowing that all is not what it seems to be I feel that I understand them to a greater extent and most others would who can say that they are wrong. I believe that as long as we have wild trout and wild trout rivers we will have young men who are captivated by them and they will continue to enjoy a way of life that has attracted and held such a wide variety of intellects and enthusiasms down through the centuries.
I think this is good for mankind in general and especially good for the individual who participates in it.