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Charles Robert “Chuck” Fothergill was a native of Illinois, moving to Colorado in 1956. His first ten years here were spent in Denver working for Martin Marietta and Sunstrand Aviation, but his passion was turning to fly fishing. Chuck worked with Jim Poor, who owned Mountain View Tackle and later “Anglers All,” and tied flies for the likes of Orvis and Abercrombie and Fitch. He was also the founder and first president of Denver's Cutthroat chapter of Trout Unlimited, the second chapter in the United States.

Fly fishing in America in the late `50's consisted mainly of fishing dry fly patterns that would float on top of the water or wet fly patterns that would sink a few inches under the surface. While on the South Platte River, Chuck surmised that the trout must be eating the insect in it's larval or nymph phase before it began to rise to the surface. He was convinced that more fish feed on the bottom and to fish down there would be more productive. Wet fly fishing was done down stream with sinking lines, Chuck started using a floating line and fished it up stream, he used weight to make this system work. This new way of fishing became known as the “weighted leader, up-stream, dead-drift technique,” or the "Fothergill Method."

In 1965, Chuck moved his family to Aspen, Colorado to work with Phil Wright at The Aspen Country Store where he ran the fishing and guiding department. In May of 1970 Chuck and Jim Ward opened “Chuck Fothergill’s Outdoor Sportsman.” Jim ran the cross country skiing and hiking department and Chuck ran the fishing. For several years this was the only fly fishing store between Denver and Salt Lake City.

During the next few years, Chuck really developed his new nymphing technique on the Roaring Fork. In those days all fly rods were dry fly rods and it was very hard to cast the weight needed to get the fly to the bottom of the river. Chuck developed a “power drive” method that was strong enough to cast the extra weight. Then the Scott Rod Co. began to develop rods (particularly their famed 904, 9 foot for a 4 line) designed by Harry Wilson, that were the first commercially available rods capable of casting effectively a weighted leader. The actual “nymph rods” were introduced on the market in late 1970 folowing a design improvement made by Wilson.

It's real popularity as a new method of fly fishing sprang out of a meeting between Fothergill and Bernard "Lefty" Kreh several years later. Lefty asked Chuck to teach him the “outrigger” technique and that name stuck for Chuck’s system. Lefty used the term “out-rigger technique” (in a published article in “Fly Fisherman” magazine) due to the generally high rod position during the drift of the weighted nymph, and because it reminded him of the out-riggers on sailing vessels. Lefty never quite understood (until later years) that he had witnessed a brand new and most productive way of fishing. This method is now known to all fly fishermen simply as "nymph-fishing".

While Chuck was instructing George Odier in the early 1970’s, they watched a conventional fisherman work the pools below the water treatment plant on the Roaring Fork. When the conventional fisherman was finished, Chuck politely asked the man if he could fish the same water. He proceeded to catch 22 fish using the high stick technique, where the conventional fisherman had caught only two fish. George and Chuck’s other friends called this “doing a Fothergill.”

Chuck was a great teacher. He was always conducting fly tying classes and fly fishing clinics. He taught hundreds of people between Denver and Aspen to fish and tie flies. Many of these people went on to become guides and shop owners in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. In Aspen he taught the “gang of eight” who were the premier fishermen and guides in Aspen for years – Charlie Loughridge, Bob Sterling, George Odier, Frank Beer, Bob Simon, Terry Ross, Hal Clark, and George Manuel. Winter fly fishing was indeed introduced in the early 1970’s by Fothergill and his guides, using Chuck’s technique, practically unknown outside of Aspen at this time. They found out that they could catch a reasonable amount of fish even in the coldest months. Today, winter fishing, using this technique, is common everywhere that fishing is permitted in winter.

Chuck teaching Aspen's schoolchildren----------catching a trout in mid winter (photo by Peter Miller)

About 1972 Chuck and Phil Wright started the Ferdinand Hayden chapter of Trout Unlimited in Aspen. During the summer of 1973 Chuck started the “bunny bash,” a full day of fishing and fly tying instruction for women. The bunny bash remains a yearly event for the Ferdinand Hayden chapter and is credited for the increased numbers of women on Colorado's rivers.

Roy Palm, the owner of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, Colorado, knew Chuck as a conservationist way before that was popular. Palm says that Chuck was the first person in the Roaring Fork Valley to talk about catch and release. The limit in those days was 18 fish per day. Between 1972 and 1974, as president of the T.U. chapter, Chuck worked with the state fish and game department to get six miles of the upper Roaring Fork river declared catch and release. This was a first for Colorado and maybe for the U.S. Shortly thereafter, Chuck got the fish and game to designate the upper Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork as “Gold Medal” water.

During the late 1970s Chuck started a line of fishing accessories with a unique fly fishing vest. This was the first vest with a comfortable knit collar and included many features that are now standards in the vest industry. In the late 1970s Chuck organized the first national fly fishing symposium in the U.S. The symposium was held in Aspen and the likes of Lee Wulff and Joe Brookes showed up. Chuck also brought such legends as Ernie Schwiebert, Dave Whitlock, Lefty Kreh, Poul Jorgenson, Doug Swisher and Carl Richards to Colorado to fish the waters.

Ernie Schwiebert, Chuck Fothergill, and Dave Whitlock ready themselves to catch some trout

In 1979, Chuck was featured with a chapter entitled "Advanced Nymphing Techniques" in a book called The Masters on the Nymph (Nick Lyons Books, 1979), where he explained his outrigger technique to the world. During 1980, Chuck and George Odier were fishing in Yellowstone using the outrigger technique and a large group of fishermen stopped to watch the strange way they were fishing. Just ten years later, on a return trip to Yellowstone, George noticed that most of the fishermen were using the outrigger technique.

The year the "Masters" book was published, Chuck and Bob Sterling went to New Zealand to fish for three months and used a stream guide book. They talked for several years about doing a similar guide book for Colorado. Five years later in December of 1984, they took four months off and wrote the guide. In April they raised $40,000 and published 2,000 copies of the guide, which sold out in two months. In October of 1985 they went to Wyoming and wrote a guide for Wyoming's rivers. They published that guide in the spring of 1986. In December of 1986 they went to Montana and published a guide on its rivers in the spring of 1987. The guides are still in print today and are selling about 10,000 copies per year for Stream Stalker Publishing, the company Chuck and Bob had started. Later Chuck wrote and published “Fly Tying 101,” a manuel for beginning fly tyers.

Bob Sterling in 1989 ____________Chuck Fothergill on the Bighole in 1984