Revolutionaries in American Fly Fishing: Frank Sawyer | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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Frank Sawyer, a legendary figure in the world of fly fishing, made significant contributions that continue to impact the sport today. Looking into his legacy and exploring how he shaped American fly fishing has uncovered more than expected and is well beyond being the grandfather of the "Pheasant Tail Nymph" pattern.

Frank Sawyer: The Foundation of Modern Nymph Fishing

Frank Sawyer, a Riverkeeper on the famed Avon River in England, is often credited as the originator of upstream nymphing. His innovative techniques and fly patterns laid the groundwork for modern nymph fishing. Here are some key points about Frank Sawyer and his influence:

  1. The Pheasant Tail Nymph (PTN):
    • Sawyer invented the iconic Pheasant Tail Nymph, commonly known as the PTN. This simple yet effective fly remains a staple in fly boxes worldwide.
    • The PTN imitates various aquatic insects, particularly mayfly nymphs. It consists of pheasant tail fibers and fine red copper wire.
    • Anglers still use the PTN today, and many variations have emerged over time.
  2. Upstream Nymphing Technique:
    • Sawyer developed and refined the technique of using weighted nymphs fished upstream to target trout and grayling feeding near the river bottom.
    • Known as the “Avon or Netheravon Style,” this method involves presenting nymphs naturally by allowing them to drift with the current.
    • Sawyer’s approach revolutionized nymph fishing and remains a fundamental technique for anglers worldwide.
  3. The Tuck Cast:
    • It is quite likely that Sawyer invented the tuck cast, although he didn’t explicitly claim credit for it.
    • In his book “Nymphs and the Trout,” he described the tuck cast as a way to make nymphs sink quickly: “To make a nymph pitch and sink quickly, the best method I have found is to stop the rod on the downward stroke in casting and check the running line passing through the left hand just when it is extended horizontally over the water. This check tends to make the nymph curl downwards with the cast and then penetrate the water before the line falls.”
    • The tuck cast allows anglers to get nymphs deep quickly, mimicking natural behavior.
  4. Other Notable Sawyer Nymphs:
    • Besides the PTN, Frank Sawyer tied several other effective nymph patterns:
      • Killer Bug: Represents shrimps, beetle larvae, and sedge larvae.
      • Sawyer Swedish Nymph: Represents summer mayflies, pond olives, and sepia duns.
      • Grey Goose Nymph: Represents pale wateries and spurwing.
      • Bow Tie Buzzer: Represents red buzzer.
    • Each of these patterns reflects Sawyer’s keen observations of aquatic insects and their behavior

  1. Legacy and Ongoing Influence:
    • Frank Sawyer’s contributions extend beyond his lifetime. Anglers worldwide continue to use his techniques and patterns.
    • His emphasis on natural presentations, upstream nymphing, and attention to detail set a standard for fly fishing that endures.

In summary, Frank Sawyer’s impact on American fly fishing cannot be overstated. His innovations, patterns, and techniques remain relevant, and anglers owe a debt of gratitude to this visionary Riverkeeper.

This video I found has a great historical look at the various nymph patterns of Frank Sawyer. His legacy lives on, inspiring generations of fly fishers to explore the underwater world and connect with nature through the art of nymph fishing.

Remember, whether you’re casting a PTN or perfecting your tuck cast, you’re following in the footsteps of a true fly fishing pioneer!

If you liked this article then you'll enjoy Revolutionaries in American Fly Fishing: Tibor “Ted” Juracsik | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast
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