Me and a buddy started tying flies about the same time, around twelve or thirteen, checking out every book we could from the local library’s limited selection. He was the one who looked up the flyshop in the local telephone book, he was the one who signed up for fly tying classes. I just tagged along, at first.
He was the one who wrote a letter to Dave Whitlock and dropped it in the mail, back before everyone lived online. Dave wrote back- sent a book, a couple of his matuka sculpins- I remember admiring the neatly packed deer-hair heads.
No one would’ve faulted Dave if he chose to ignore the letter. In an era before everyone was trying to sell you something, he chose to give freely of his knowledge. He chose to encourage a thirteen year old kid.
Dave Whitlock was a polymath- an expert angler, tyer, photographer, writer, and illustrator. He broke the sport into its nuts and bolts components, making fly fishing accessible to neophyte anglers. He developed a handful of patterns for trout, bass, and panfish, carefully studying insect life and forage fish along the way.
Dave did as much as anyone to push for and popularize trophy trout fishing on the White River tailwaters of Arkansas, turning put-and-take fisheries into an economic engine supporting thousands of jobs in the historically impoverished Ozark highlands. He helped develop the Whitlock-Vibert egg nursery box, a deceptively simple tool which has helped managers augment, research, and develop trout fisheries across the planet. And in a sport which is still too often a boy’s club, Dave was an early and vocal proponent of getting women on the water.
A lot of modern fly fishing has roots in Dave Whitlock’s work. He died Friday, at the age of 87, still working at what he loved. His impact cannot be overstated. He will be missed.
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