This week’s Throw Back Thursday Fly is Benn’s Black Prince TBT.
Benn’s Black Prince was created by John Benn. It’s one of the flies listed in John Shewey’s book Classic Steelhead Flies (2015). Benn was a famous fly tyer and angler in the late 1800s. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and ventured to the Eel River to fish for steelhead and is known as the first to fly fish for steelhead on the Eel around 1880.
Here is a close-up of the fly.
I wasn’t aware how important Benn was to West Coast steelhead fly fishing until I read Classic Steelhead Flies. In fact, I had never heard of Benn. Shewey dedicates a whole chapter to him. He was born in Ireland and moved to San Francisco in the 1860s and was a millwright. After some health issues, he opened his fly tying business in 1877 and became a celebrated West Coast fly tyer during the next 25 years. The flies tied by himself and his daughter Martha received awards from the California State Fair, the Universal International Exposition in Paris, The Saint Louis World Fair, and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland.
The trip from the Bay Area to the Eel River was arduous. There was no direct route by road or rail from San Francisco to Humbolt Bay or the Eel River. Steamships were the most direct route by sea and could easily take 20 hours. Timber and other forest products, along with commercial salmon and canning were the industries of the time in Northern California and the towns of Fortuna and Fernbridge in particular.
If you fly fish for steelhead, you owe it to yourself to find out more about John Benn and his influence at the turn of the century. You can read more information about Benn and his incredible story, in Classic Steelhead Flies.
Benn started tying trout flies and that influence can be seen in the steelhead flies he and Martha developed: Benn’s Coachman, Benn’s Martha, Carson Coachman, Benn’s Railbird, and The Soule.
Here are links of the book listed above.
Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!
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