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The West, apparently, still has reservations. Last year the Montana Fish and Game Commission said: "The brown trout is a good fish, but the average fisherman is not skilled enough to catch it."
In the East, however, the brown is indelibly etched in sport fishing history, and with its newly won approval came the golden age of angling. Theodore Gordon, known as the "father of dry fly fishing in America," was also godfather to the brown trout.
"They afford a man a sensation that he is in no danger of forgetting to the last day of his life," he wrote.
In the early 1900s Gordon knew the feeding habits of trout as well as the fishery biologists of today. And it is these feeding habits that are the key to the place the brown trout has won in anglers' hearts. During much of the fishing season the brown is a surface feeder. Thus all the action, all the drama, takes place in full view of the fisherman. The brown is also a selective feeder. About 80% of its diet is composed of May flies in various stages of development. Most of the dry flies eastern fishermen use are imitations of May flies: there's the subimago, or first winged form as it emerges from the nymph stage; and the imago, or final winged form. Fishermen call the first stage "duns" and the second "spinners." Thus the iron blue dun becomes a Jenny spinner.
The advent of the brown trout created the fly-fisherman in his most exalted form—the purist, using the dry fly only.
A poll of Catskill flytiers to check the favorite brown trout flies reveals that three patterns head every list: quill Gordon, Hendrickson and the light Cahill.
Far from scorning Salmo trutta, there are now thousands of anglers ready to spend millions of dollars to catch it. Today brown trout fishing has become a many-splendored, money-spending thing. The accouterments of a well-equipped angler will add up to about $350.
Back in 1653 Izaak Walton wrote of the brown: "The Trout is a fish highly valued both in this and forraign Nations....he is a Fish that feeds clean and purely, in the swiftest streams and the hardest gravel: and...the most dainty pallates have allowed precedency to him."
Three hundred years later, fishermen are still finding out how right Walton was.
But the finny foreigner, just to show it has absorbed American democracy, often grabs a juicy worm dangled by a Catskill farm boy whose fishing equipment set him back less than $20, including his farm boots.