A Farewell to Tom Morgan and to FlyRod & Reel Magazine

The last issues of FlyRod &n Reel magazine.

We’re finally approaching the end of the spring runoff season, marked with torrential rains and flood conditions on the Big Hole River, just when I hoped to get in on the salmonfly hatch. I don’t know how the hatch was. I just knew I didn’t want to be floating or wading the river in those conditions.

With runoff tapering off, I’m looking forward to what I usually consider the best fly-fishing of the year, when insect hatches, which unfortunately includes mosquitoes, will be at their peak and rivers are more peaceful than in June.

As we get into the heart of good fly-fishing, we’ll note a couple sad absences from this summer’s fly-fishing scene.

As has been widely reported, Tom Morgan, one of the masters of fly rod design, died on June 12, after a long illness. He was age 75.

Tom Morgan had a long career in fly-fishing, starting as a teen-aged guide in Ennis. He later became an owner of the R. L. Winston rod company, and with his business partner, Glenn Brackett, moved the business from San Francisco to Twin Bridges, Montana in the 1970s.

Morgan and Brackett sold the business in 1991. In spite of becoming crippled from multiple sclerosis, in 1996 he launched a new rod-building business, Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.

While he could no longer fish or even hold a rod, with the help of his wife, Gerri Carlson, and other craftsmen, he continued to design and supervise the building of what many consider to be the world’s finest fly rods, including bamboo rods that sold for almost $4,000. Though he had recently sold the business, he continued to study the art and science of rod design to the end.

Personally, I never met Tom Morgan and I doubt that I could ever justify a four grand bamboo rod. But, I do have a Sweetgrass bamboo rod from Glen Brackett’s shop, and built by a craftsman who had spent part of his apprenticeship under Tom Morgan. I also have a Winston rod, which, even 30 years after Morgan left Winston, has a distinctive, softer action, a characteristic of Morgan’s philosophy of rod design.

Tom Morgan leaves a strong legacy of intelligent design and perfection of craftsmanship to all of us who string up a rod and go fly-fishing.

I also note the demise of FlyRod & Reel magazine, a long-time mainstay of my magazine rack. I started reading the magazine back in the 1980s, when it was still Rod & Reel magazine, and featured a more generalized coverage of fishing.

I looked forward to getting the magazine because of the quality of writing in the magazine. John Gierach, the modern philosopher of fishing, had the back of book column, with his musings on life and fishing, a basis of his many books. Ted Leeson set the standard for equipment reviews. Ted Williams, possibly one of our best living investigative reporters, covered environmental issues. Seth Norman, with whom I spent a week in Alaska a few years back, wrote intelligent and thoughtful book reviews. The most recent editor was Greg Thomas, an outdoor writer based in Missoula.

Some distinguishing features, aside from expected articles about fishing techniques and places to go, were the annual Fly Angler of the Year awards, the annual Robert Traver Writing contest awards, along with, of course, the Gierach stories and Williams’ exposés of abuses to the environment.

One of the first reports of the magazine’s demise that I saw was a Facebook post by Ted Williams, reporting he’d just been notified that his services were no longer needed. Editor Greg Thomas posted an article in late March on Angler’s Tonic, a fishing website, reporting the decision of the publisher, Down East Publications, to discontinue the magazine.

For most subscribers, the first news, aside from not getting a summer issue in the mail, was getting a Shooting Sportsman magazine, with an editor’s note that their FlyRod & Reel subscription was now a Shooting Sportsman subscription.

Nothing lasts forever, I guess, but I’ll miss FlyRod & Reel.

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