Local fly fishing legends of the past & future



Each week we will share an interview with a local fly fisherman that has done many things for the sport.



This week we highlight Roger Duckworth. Fly tying innovator, U.S. Army Colonel(r), and a great friend.



TU640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?


Roger: I was probably 4 or 5. We had a "crick" running by my Grandparents house in WV. My Grandmother would bend needles to make hooks and give us thread for line. We would use worms dug from under the cow paddies around the barn for bait. We caught mostly creek chubs and dace but occasionally we would get a prize sunfish.


TU640: What species of fish is your favorite to fish for and why?


Roger: That is a tough one so I will hedge. To me, there is nothing like seeing a trout take a dry fly in a crystal clear stream, especially when you can see the entire rise. I was fishing the Bechler River in Yellowstone a few years back and threw a caddis into a deep pool. I saw a brown rise from the bottom in 15' of water and slowly sip the fly. It was only a 15" fish but one of my best memories. But, fly rod small mouth fishing with surface lures is hard to beat. That immediate explosion and hard fight are hard to match. Most of my WV streams are loaded with small mouth and red eye bass. Not to be outdone, stalking a pod of bone fish on a Bahama flat combines hunting, stalking, accurate casting, and a knowledge of what they eat, and luck. If you are fortunate to hook one, those 100 to 200 yd runs with the line zipping through the water will get your attention, as will stomping the water to chase away sharks!


TU640: At what age were you introduced to fly fishing? How did you get hooked?


Roger: My Grandfather and uncle were fly fishermen. I think I was about 12 when I first fished with them. My dad bought my brother and me True Temper fiberglass fly rods, HDH size line, and Shakespeare automatic fly reels. We had no instruction so we practiced in the yard. We fished a lot but catching trout on flies, with no YouTube, was tough. There was not a single event that hooked me. We moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1952 so that my parents could find good jobs. They had my brother and me out of the city at every opportunity, usually fishing. We caught perch and white bass by the hundreds in Lake Erie, many catfish, and anything that would bite a worm or lure in surrounding streams. My mother loved fishing so I think I was hooked genetically.


TU640: Who had the greatest impact on you as an angler?


Roger: The love of fishing was born in me but the greatest impacts were the great authors of the day. I cannot remember them all but I was a voracious reader and read anything I could find from authors like Joe Brooks, Wright, Lessening, Marinaro, Schwiebert, Fox, Humphries and later Kreh, Sosin, Swisher and Richards. I still have many of their books. I am heading for the Henry’s Fork in mid-June so I am currently reading Joe Brooks book on fishing the Yellowstone area.


TU640: Do you have a favorite trout species? If so, what makes it special?


Roger: Again a toss-up. I love browns as they rise so readily to a correctly presented dry fly and seem to do better at natural reproduction after being stocked. The wonderful South Holston in Tennessee and the Green River in Utah are perfect examples of this. The rainbow cannot be matched for the vigorous fight and will also take a dry. Both are beautiful.


TU640: Do you have a favorite spot to fish?


Roger: If so, what makes it your favorite? My favorite river is the Elk River in WV from Bergoo to the headwaters of Slaty Fork. The main tributary, Slaty Fork, has a naturally reproducing pool of both brown and rainbow trout. They are the most wary of anywhere I have fished but can be caught during major hatches or with a big streamer after the water is colored from rain. Hooking a 25-30" brown will not surprise anyone familiar with the stream. Is a rugged stream only accessible by walking a good distance on an old overgrown railway line. It is wilderness. The stream and area are as beautiful as you will ever see. Interestingly, at low water, the stream flows into a hole in a rock and disappears! From that point it is named Dry Fork which rarely has water. About 8 miles down the stream bed the water re-emerges in several huge springs which starts the "Elk" River. It is somewhat unique as the stream has the characteristics of a freestone stream but with the enriched water quality and incredible hatches of a limestone stream. The fish are fat and the insect hatches are phenomenal. All of the classic Eastern hatches occur there, BWO. March Browns, Sulphers, Cahills, Caddis, Stone-flies..... Like the Slaty Fork, a 25" fish is no big deal. This fish are hard fished and are smart. Bring your “A” game.


TU640: What is your favorite memory of fly fishing and why?


Roger: There are many memories. The week before I entered West Point in 1967, my parents, family, and friends camped on the Elk River. I slept in a tent with my dog. I would catch trout at daybreak and we would feast upon fresh trout fried in bacon grease, bacon, eggs, and hash browns for breakfast. I can still remember those great aromas.


TU640: Over the years, what have you seen us improve or gain regarding angling, and what have you seen us lose?


Roger: By us, I think you mean TU. Certainly the stream awareness and improvement projects have been both needed and wonderful. At a personal level, TU working with Trout in the Classroom, PHWFF, Casting for Recovery, and various youth groups has been very rewarding. My only disappointment with TU (and others) is what I see as a myopic focus on restoring brook trout no matter the collateral damage. The perfect example is the destroying of perhaps the best "native" rainbow reproducing stream in the Tellico system, Sycamore, to stock brook trout. Up until they (I will not mention the authors) killed the rainbows, you could get 100 strikes a day on a dry fly and occasionally catch a rainbow up to 15". Now it is almost a dead stream. I have asked some of those involved why a hatchery raised brook trout is superior to a stream bred rainbow trout and have not gotten an answer.... I do believe in brook trout restoration but not by destroying thriving populations of other trouts that have become “native”.


TU640: What impact do you think organizations like Trout Unlimited have had on angling? What are their greatest contributions and what issues should they focus on for the future?


Roger: Certainly stream protection and stream improvement as well as adult and youth education are primary. The biggest issue of any organization is their main goal becomes survival of the organization rather than the reasons that they were organized (Frederick). Members have to carefully monitor that. Also, the organization needs to work to balance the needs of the economy with the needs of nature. Those living in nice homes in Fairfax County need to understand why a town in Utah must continue to live from the income that the local private and public lands provide. These people also have mortgage payments and mouths to feed with far fewer employment options than the D.C. area. Discourse and balance are the Key. The wonderful work that the Henry's Fork Foundation does to protect that fishery while fully coordinating with the huge farming community that need water to survive is the model of communication, understanding, and cooperation.


TU640: As an accomplished fly tier, which flies are the most difficult to tie, which are the most beautiful, and could you recommend an all-purpose fly?


Roger: My greatest challenge is tying two flies that look identical! I consider anyone who can do that to be good. I do not tie flies that are multi-step with exotic materials. I tie flies that match the hatches in the East, mainly mayflies and caddis. Both species are easy to tie. I also tie down to size 32 midges but usually 26 is as small as I go. If you keep them simple they are not too hard. I am one of the thousands that would name the Adams as the dry fly and the Pheasant Tail as the nymph. Have a box of each from 14 to 20 and you will catch some trout anywhere in the world that I have fished.


TU640: What are some of your favorite flies to tie?


Roger: I mainly fish the hatches so I tie BWO's in 18-22 for the Winter fishing and size 14-18 Sulpher patterns for the Summer. Size 14 and 16 tan caddis work really well also. The SINGLE BEST dry fly pattern that I have found, bar none, is the BREADLINE EMERGER to imitate mayflies. It is magic for BWOs, Sulphers, and PMDs. It has all of the trigger points, a shuck indicating a cripple, a natural silhouette, legs, and a wing. There is a video on YouTube to demonstrate the pattern and is easy to tie.


TU640: Can you tell us about the technique that you came up with to make durable extended bodies?


Roger: I read about a method where a tier held a silicone coated needle in his hand and rotated it while adding dubbing to create a perfect extended body. I merely automated the technique by rotating the needle with an electric drill. I have several videos on YouTube showing the technique. You will be amazed at how easy it is! And the bodies look and float like the natural.


TU640: What does fly tying add to the experience of angling?


Roger: I am of Scottish heritage so it is the money savings! Actually, it is the ability to be stumped while fishing, capture a few of the flies that trout are eating, tie up some imitations that night, and catch fish the next day. That is a thrill. My article on the PITA fly in Southern Trout a few years back and the Yellow Post Emerger in Fly Tyer Mag were examples of that process. My largest brown was caught that way during a Flavia hatch on the lower Henry’s Fork.


TU640: What is it like catching a fish on a fly you tied?


Roger: The first successes were the greatest thrill but early on they were few and far between. I would make up flies and they rarely worked. It took me too many years to learn how selective trout can be. I now tie specifically to match the phases of the hatch. Now I have much more success.


TU640: Can you tell us a little about any fly tying awards and publications?


Roger: My biggest award was a 28" rainbow on the Elk (WV) this Spring. I have had two articles in Fly Tyer Magazine, one in Global Fly Fisher, and one in Southern Trout. I was one of the "Featured" fly tiers in Southern Trout a few years back. Though not a publication, I enjoy teaching a 1 hour class/slide show on fishing the tail-water hatches in this area where I try to cover equipment, techniques, and some entomology. I get excellent feedback on that class and I offer it to any TU or PHWFF chapter interested.


TU640: In your opinion, who are some of the best fly tiers out there today?


Roger: Locally, I have to give the nod to Brain Batka and Rob Prytula, but we also have some GREAT tyers who are volunteers for PHWFF, David Ligon and Howard Brooks to name but two. Brian ties commercially and ties beautiful and durable flies. He also is a top-notch rod maker. I wish you could “feel” the 9’ 2wt he just finished for me!


TU640: Do you have a story that sums up what fishing means to you?


Roger: It was my last day and hour of fishing in New Zealand in 1980, I hooked a beautiful 30+ inch steel-head on the Tauranga-Taupo river that flows into Lake Taupo. It came out of the water about 6’, shaking it’s head and threw the fly. I smiled, reeled in my line, went to the car and drank a Steinlager. What a wonderful memory! That is called fishing and not called catching.


TU640: What qualities do you think make a good fishing partner and angler?


Roger: Quiet, independent, and always on time.


TU640: What is the most interesting place you have ever fished?


Roger: I have already covered the Elk in WV. The Strawberry River in Utah is interesting because it is so challenging. The stream has crystal clear water and many big brown trout. Two fish a day is a great day. Trying to land a 20”+ stream bred brown on a 7X tippet is a great fishing challenge!


TU640: Will you tell us about your service in the military? Some of your most memorable times?


Roger: I entered West Point in 1967 and graduated in 1971. I retired in 1997. I had a wonderful career and served with the greatest people in the world, of all races and religions. All of their lives mattered. I started out in artillery which I loved and then entered aviation and finished up in research and development. I was very fortunate to be able to command an Artillery Battery, two Black-hawk Companies, and an Air Assault Battalion. I have a thousand memorable memories serving with the greatest men and women in the world. My final years working to develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was a real highlight as I knew then and now that autonomous vehicles are the future in warfare. But, we will always need that Army “grunt” to kick the door down on that last enemy bunker…..


Col(R) Roger Duckworth


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