The Green Butt Skunk
After a hiatus from the tyer’s table it will be good to get back to our monthly fly tying sessions. Heading into the fall months of the year the thoughts for many of us turn to swinging flies for steelhead on the Deschutes. In spite of the dismal prediction we are hearing about the outlook for steelhead on that river, it’s important to think positively and keep telling yourself that this year you may just have to work a little harder to find the fish that has your name on it. And always remember, just getting out on the water is a reward in itself!
Instead of looking at some hot new pattern I thought it would be good to look closely at a truly classic steelhead fly and some of its history. An Oregon attorney is credited with being the creator of the Green Butt Skunk. As happens in the world of fly tying, existing patterns continually evolve as new fly tyers add their own innovations in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the fly. That is the case with Dan Callaghan. It is thought that Dan most likely came up with his idea for the Green Butt Skunk in the 1950’s, tying it for the steelhead on his favorite river, the North Umpqua. He added some chartreuse chenille to an already existing steelhead pattern, The Skunk. If you are not familiar with The Skunk, just visualize something close to a classic Green Butt Skunk, minus the green butt. Adding the green butt apparently turned an already good steelhead fly into an iconic pattern used today by steelheaders in all parts of the world.
The true origin of the original Skunk may have been lost to time but the earliest mention of the fly seems to credit a Seattle gentleman named Wes Drain back in the 1930’s. Some sources say the name came from the general black and white color of the fly and some say that early examples used hair from a skunk. Apparently Drain’s original recipe actually called for a wing made of skunk hair, white over black. What better source of both black and white hair than a skunk! You can imagine that a single skunk skin would have provided early tyers with a lifetime of material for Skunk flies. But thank goodness we have a variety of other wing materials to use today because I can’t imagine where in our house my wife would allow me to keep a skunk skin!
The original Skunk fly
But being an innovative fly tyer was far from being Callaghan’s only claim to fame. A lawyer by trade, he lived in Salem his entire life. After discovering fly fishing for steelhead on the North Umpqua, Callaghan made it his life’s mission to do all he could to protect that river. He was one of the founders of both The Steamboaters and The North Umpqua Foundation, two organizations that are focused on protecting the North Umpqua River. Callaghan was a very accomplished photographer, and after his death in 2006 Callaghan’s wife helped to publish a book called Dan Callaghan’s North Umpqua, a collection of 156 of his photos taken over a period of fifty years. He was also a member and supporter of many conservation and flyfishing organizations, too many to list here. But if you ever feel like you have too many things going on in your life to participate in or support conservation and flyfishing, check out this link, to read more about Dan Callaghan’s dedication and accomplishments:
Another tribute to Callaghan was conceived by his good friend Steve Bukieda, along with Joel LaFollette to honor his memory. The plan was to display some variations of the Green Butt Skunk as a way to honor its creator. It came to be known as “The Dan Callaghan Collection – 101 Green Butt Skunks”. An idea that started out to be a modest display of a few variations of the Green Butt Skunk soon snowballed to the point that the number of flies had to be cut off at 100. The 101st fly in the display is one that was tied by Callaghan himself. LaFollette accompanied the impressive 3-panel display down to Salem for its official unveiling at the state Capitol. It was later auctioned off for $6,300, with the proceeds going to the North Umpqua Foundation to protect fish habitat. The winners of the auction chose to remain anonymous and wanted the collection to be displayed in a place where it could be enjoyed by the public. If you haven’t already seen it, stop in at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn where it is on display. If you are like me, you may have seen the collection there but never examined it very thoroughly. Upon looking closely at the names of the tyers, you will undoubtedly recognize many of them. It’s almost a “Who’s Who” list of noted Pacific Northwest fly tyers and steelheaders, as well as recognizable names from outside the area. It is interesting to see in one place how 100 other tyers have their own take on Dan Callahan’s fly. Indeed it is certainly an appropriate and impressive tribute to the man who brought us the Green Butt Skunk, arguably the most recognizable of all steelhead flies.
Joel LaFollette and Mary Kay Callaghan, Dan Callaghan’s wife with “The Dan Callaghan Collection– 101 Green Butt Skunks”
A few Green Butt Skunks should be in the flybox of every steelheader. Join us for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, Sept. 27. As always, we will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6 pm.