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.
“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.