Remembering Fran Betters, Sage of the Ausable

Fran Betters, champion of the West Branch of the Ausable in the Adirondack Mountains and inventor of some of the most popular and effective fishing flies, died Sunday.

Betters had been in poor health, and had acknowledged on his Web site that he hoped to “hang on a bit longer in hopes of finding the right person to buy my shop.”

It was Betters who in the 1950s came up with the idea of using one propped-up clump of deer hair as both the wings and legs of a dry fly – a simple, sturdy pattern known as the Haystack that suggested an Isonychia mayfly bobbing on the Ausable’s brawling currents. The same construction using snowshoe hare’s foot fur instead of deer hair became the Usual, a generalist emerger/dun that has caught trout from coast to coast, while the basic structure of the Haystack was tidied up to become the Comparadun and Sparkle Dun – slim, flush-floating flies that catch trout where traditional hackled dry flies won’t.

Betters pretty much considered the West Branch of the Ausable the best trout stream in the world. Advancing age and old injuries from a car accident kept him off the water in recent years, but he could still be found from morning until night cranking out Picket Fins, Ausable Wulffs and other signature patterns at a messy tying station in the middle of his shop.

betters 2

Fran Betters and Bob Mead at Betters' shop, the Evening Hatch, in 2007.

“No self-respecting fly rodder, on a pilgrimage to the West Branch of the Ausable River, would even think of putting a wadered foot in its storied waters without first stopping in at the Evening Hatch to pay homage to the High Peaks gatekeeper,” said longtime friend and renowned tier of ultra-realistic flies Bob Mead.

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10 responses to “Remembering Fran Betters, Sage of the Ausable

  1. thanks for all you have to say about Fran Betters. Sounds like he was a very good and loved man. thanks for sharing, hope he can read your words from somewhere

  2. tight lines my friend now you and dad are fishin again jack aurnhammer

  3. let me tell all about fran 1968 i was 12 my father took me out of school and we camped out in wilmington at the state campgrounds met fran in a little shack that looked like my uncle’s outhouse he asked me if i tyed flies and i said i was just starting he sat me down and made me show him what i could do that started a lifelong friendship that i will truly miss —-the next year dad my uncle ray and myself stayed at happy hours moteland i started tying at the bar–the next day fran asked me if i was trying to put him out of work i took that as an honor —jack aurnhammer

  4. Pingback: Fran Betters Passes Away: Another Loss To Fly Fishing World « Tippetsandleaders’s Blog

  5. Frank E. Sangiorgio

    Met Fran Betters some years ago.Have a picture of him at his bench. Also own 2 of his rods and they beat any of the “store bought Winstons etc. A loss indeed. My condolences to his family.

  6. Cynthia J. Morrell

    I had the privledge to meet Fran Betters a few years ago when I entered the Two-Fly contest. Not knowing what fly to choose for the contest, I wandered into Fran’s shop. There I met the most wonderful and interesting man tying flies. His stories of the Ausable and the Wilmington area intrigued me. Before I left he held out his hand to me and in mine placed a Haystack fly and said, “this fly will serve you well tomorrow.” Well, the next day it produced a nice rainbow trout for me and my partner. I couldn’t wait to see Fran at the dinner reception that evening. Of course, he already knew that if conditions were right and I presented that fly correctly as he told me, I would be successful. My love of fly fishing was greatly enhanced by my chance meeting with Mr. Betters.

    My condolences to his family.

  7. Our family takes yearly trips to fish the West Branch of the Ausable and our first stop was always to see Fran. His tireless energy and the sheer number of projects he had going was inspiring. He was a good man and an excellent teacher in all areas of fly fishing. Our visits will not be the same without his presence as it is impossible for us to separate this place and this person.

  8. I met Fran years ago on the first of what has become several yearly pilgrimages to the Ausable. He was a gentleman of the finest order and the advice given to me over the years is immeasurable. I just happened to be fishing the pocket water by Whiteface Mtn. the day Fran passed, and, fittingly, pulled a nice ‘Bow out of one small pool using one of his Ausable Bombers. That particular fly will never be used again as it now sits under a glass dome as a memento to Fran. Rest in peace my friend, you will be sorely missed.

  9. Larry Stephenson

    I grew up in Wilmington and knew Francis since I was a child. He and my father grew up together and were great friends, fishing and poker playing buddies. I used to sell Francis wood chuck and red squirrel tails for tying flies. I have lived in the Pacific North West for 25 years and when ever I would visit Wilmington I would make a trip to the shop to see Fran. I have several dozen Haystack and Ausable Wulff flies Fran tied and the Ausable Wulff is my favorite fly for the Middle Fork Salmon river in Idaho.
    Some may not know but Francis was an author as well. He wrote for the Lake Placid News and also wrote several books and magazine articles. Francis was not only a gifted Fly Fisher, Fly tier and Author he was a genuinly good person who I will miss.

  10. Very saddened to hear of Fran Betters passing. He was always a very helpful, kind wonderful man to my wife and I when we would go fishing up in Wilmington. I now live in Florida, and have not fished the Au Sable in over twenty years, but I will always remember the kindness, and support he gave to me on my fly tying, as well as his willingness to help all who walked through his door. God bless You Fran Betters.

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