- By: Joe Healy
For the past several months, we’ve been poring through, reading, studying back issues of the magazine to gather material for our 30th Anniversary special section that begins on page 36. Some of the pleasant surprises: Gary LaFontaine writing about his early fly-design discoveries and also about general fly-fishing techniques such as the Yo-Yo Retrieve (November/December 1996); Verlyn Klinkenborg, now often read in National Geographic or The New York Times, writing the book-review column; Earnest Schwiebert’s 1980 essay on perch fishing and later (1987) his several-thousand-word rebuttal to greased-line theories for Atlantic salmon; seeing bylines such as Lefty Kreh, Robert Traver, George Reiger, Eric Leiser, Sylvester Nemes, Russell Chatham, Geoffrey Norman, Howell Raines, Jim Bashline; and of course the work of columnists Lee and Joan Wulff, John Gierach, Darrel Martin, Ted Williams, A. K. Best, Dave Hughes, Jack Samson, Jeffrey Cardenas, Ted Leeson, Chico Fernandez, Buzz Bryson, Seth Norman—and many, many others. (Mea culpa for the names I’ve left out, only for space reasons.) About 180 issues have worn the name Rod & Reel (adding the word Fly made the title complete in 1989) in these past three decades, a canon filled with masterly work of the best thinkers and doers in our sport.
One story that caught my attention was published in Volume 1, Number 2 in 1979. The title was “It Looks Like The Devil To Me” and profiled not a fly fisher or tier (though some of us certainly look like the devil after a long weekend of fishing); but a fly—the Devil Bug. Rod & Reel began as an all-tackle fishing magazine, so having a fly profile that early in the game called out attention. I also had a sense of déjà vu: the bug looked familiar, or maybe its name did. Somewhere out of my youth came memories of this bulbous creation. I don’t recall fishing one; more likely, my father had one in a tackle box or I had seen it in Fredon’s bait shop in Syracuse, New York, sometime in the 1970s. (Bubbling bait tanks, the sweet-rank smell of minnows and worm bedding; row upon row of plastic-packaged lures.)
The plot thickened when I read Tony Atwill’s story and learned that the Devil Bug originated in Old Forge, New York, and was an Adirondack bass standard. O. C. Tuttle developed the fly; his wife named it (“It looks like…”). Eppinger tackle, makers of the Dardevle, bought the rights to make the fly in 1977. Sensing history, I called Eppinger. I spoke with Karen Eppinger—who still ties Devil Bugs the way Tuttle’s daughter taught her more than 30 years ago. The company had seven full-time tiers making the bugs back then—“All we did was tie!” Karen says—to supply retailers from the local bait shop to Kmart. Atwill’s article is as fresh today as it was in 1979—you can still buy Devil Bugs from Eppinger—which is why we’re republishing it (with updated photos by Ted Fauceglia) on page 26. Isn’t it nice to know that much has changed and advanced in our sport in these three decades—and much also hasn’t.