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Mares: The Governor Aiken Fly

Carefully, I cast the big lavender colored streamer fly into the current of the Connecticut River, and watched it swing out in a gentle bow

"Take it!" I hissed to the unseen trout or salmon and repeated the angler's prayer, "Oh, Lord, suffer me to catch a fish so large that even I, when talking of it afterwards, will have no need to exaggerate!"

The fly in this case was the "Governor Aiken Bucktail Streamer" - as of May, the Vermont State Fly Fishing Fly.

Credit for this new addition to the menagerie of state tree, fossil, reptile, fish, insect, bird and so forth, goes to Rhey Plumley, a fly tyer, trout activist and man about Vermont's streams and lakes.

In the unlikely venue of the Burlington City parking garage, he told me the story.

Plumley got idea about two years ago when he met the coach of the Finnish women's hockey team which was in town for a tournament. An avid angler, the coach was visiting the Classic Outfitters store in South Burlington where Plumley worked. In one conversation the Finn told him that Finland had a national fly, called the Nally Poo.

“Why not an American national fly?” Plumley mused to his wife. But she dismissed that idea, saying, "Congress is so dysfunctional, they can't agree on anything. Why not just work on Vermont? " Almost immediately, Plumley thought of the Governor Aiken fly – named for George Aiken, Governor of Vermont and long time U.S. Senator.

Plumley had known the fly for more than twenty years, had fished it for brook trout and land-locked salmon. It was listed in the Col. Joe Bates definitive book Stream Fly Tying and Fishing . Rumor had it that baseball great Ted Williams once traded one of his signature rods for a Governor Aiken.

But Plumley kept wondering who had created it. Through Attorney General William Sorrell, a fishing buddy, he got in touch with Aiken's widow Lola. She said the creator had been Russell Merriman of Montpelier, who had fished with the Governor on Great Averill Pond in the 1930's and 1940's.

Plumley 's next stop was the Quimby Lodge in Averill where he found archive photos of the Governor fishing with Merriman and Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, the Republican Presidential nominee in 1936.
Now fired up, Plumley wrote a proposal to Patrick Berry, the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, who passed him on to State Representative David Deen of Westminister, a retired fishing guide. Deen was happy to guide the bill through the various committee hearings.

Along the way, legislators decided that the state reptile would become the painted turtle. And on May 5th, Governor Shumlin signed the overall Fish and Wildlife bill - giving both the Governor Aiken fly and the painted turtle official recognition.

As for that bright fall day fishing on the Connecticut, I cannot lie. The fish were not biting on the Governor Aiken - or anything else I threw at them.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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