Jim reflects on a significant figure in Australian flyfishing, Sir Lawrence Wackett.

I wrote some time ago about a couple of anglers who have passed on and commented on their input to the world of flyfishing. I rued the fact that so much knowledge leaves us with each departure. At the time, I made an aside about a truly great Australian and since then, have had a couple of requests to write more.

Sir Lawrence Wackett wrote a book which I enjoyed immensely called Studies of an Angler. My enjoyment was not so much for what he wrote on barometric pressure (which most reviews of the book have commented on), but about three original trout flies, which he had designed body moulds for.

There seems to me, looking back in time, an affinity between aviation and authors of books on flyfishing. Three significant Australians, namely David Scholes, Sir Lawrence Wackett and Sir Hudson Fysh, all made important contributions to both flyfishing and aviation. Wackett and Fysh were members of the Number One squadron in the early days of the Australian Flying Corps during World War 1, before the founding of the Royal Australian Airforce, which both were involved in.

Wackett later headed up the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and was the designer of aircraft, notably the Wackett-Wirraway, and later the manufacture in Australia of hundreds of aircraft and parts. Also, under license from the North American Aviation Company, there was the Sabre jet fighter with Wackett modifications.

Wackett wrote two books on fishing, being Studies of an Angler and My Hobby is Trout Fishing. Sir Hudson Fysh, apart from being an important aviator and the founder of Qantas, wrote Round the Bend in the Stream. Lastly, David Scholes wrote ten books on flyfishing in Australia, after earning the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) in England during the Second World War; both as a bomber and fighter pilot.

Anyway, for Wackett, my interest was especially about the moulds for his flies. My early partner in business was Bob Roles and Bob had borrowed one of the moulds from a friend in the 1960s to make some mayfly red spinners. I was fascinated by them and the resultant flies and wanted to know their history and how they came about.

In 1982, I learnt Wackett was living in Sydney, so on one of my visits north, I looked him up.

Finding the listing in the White Pages of the phone directory, I called and spoke with Lady Wackett, who immediately refused my request to see him. She informed me he was too ill to be interviewed. I let her know my interest to meet him was about his two books and fishing interests. She must have understood my disappointment and she eventually relented and said I could call in for a few minutes. On the appointed morning, I arrived at the front door and was given very strict instructions. “When I rub my nose, it will be my signal for you to leave immediately. You must stay no longer than twenty minutes. Do you understand?” I of course agreed and promised not to stay any longer. I was then let in.

I walked through to his bedroom and was introduced. A rather grumpy, “What do you want?” started the conversation and I felt very uneasy. I began by telling Sir Lawrence of my interest in his moulds and suddenly he livened up. I immediately discovered that, as ill as Sir Lawrence was, he was still passionate about flyfishing and the flies he had made. He enquired how the fishing was on the Goulburn River and other waters, and he regaled me with tales of the mythical Dome Hole under the wall of the original Eildon Weir.

I really didn’t find out as much as I would have liked. In fact, it was difficult to get a word in. The conversation turned to his books, his son killed in the war, his love of the flies he’d had tied from his moulds. The moulds were engraved in the Commonwealth Aircraft Factory by special artisans. There was a wasp, a mayfly spinner, and a beetle. The moulds were made so a hook was inserted, then a fine sheet of thermoplastic was warmed and presto, out came a plastic mould with a hook. Then, all that was needed was to tie on a hackle. (I was informed by Mike Stevens only recently, that one of the engravers was a friend of another author and Australian flyfishing great, John Brookes.)

Lady Wackett asked me to stay a while longer and made coffee. The conversation ebbed and flowed, and I was then invited to stay for lunch. When it was eventually time to depart mid-afternoon, I was given over 100 copies of Studies of an Angler, and a special copy of My Hobby is Trout fishing.  As I left, Lady Wackett informed me Sir Lawrence had become a quadriplegic after a fall from the roof of his house in Beaumaris, Victoria. He had invented a special chair for quadriplegics. They had moved to Sydney to be closer to family members. She thanked me for coming and commented she hadn’t seen him so alive for weeks. I thanked her for allowing me to stay for as long as I had.

I came away with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I had met a great man and was in awe of the time spent with him. To this day, I feel grateful that I went to the trouble of meeting him. He wouldn’t let me pay for the books and I promised that every cent made would go to towards flyfishing causes. Subsequently, the Stawell Fly Fishers Club and Stuart Mill Anglers Club in western Victoria were able to use the proceeds to build screens on Lake Lonsdale and the Teddington Reservoirs to keep trout from heading out over the spillways on a one-way trip to the irrigation channels of the Wimmera.

The mayfly mould is now in the Fly Fishing Museum in Tasmania and hopefully someday, the other two or more will come to light. Perhaps even this article might jog a memory as to their whereabouts?

Mayfly mould (pic Courtesy of the Australian Fly Fishing Museum).

When Arnold Gingrich compiled his book The Fishing in Print, reviewers made comment about Wackett being one of the ‘worriers’ of flyfishing. Agreeing that his treatise on barometric pressure was an important add-on to the knowledge of angling, they reflected on the need to go fishing whenever time allowed, rather than waiting for conditions to be perfect. They then espoused the thought that the ‘worriers’ generally created the innovations and advancements we use today. I guess we should always respect and be grateful for the new ideas and innovations that come to us regularly. Looking back, when we consider the modern graphite fly rods and plastic lines we use today, if it wasn’t for the likes of Jim Green at Fenwick and later at Sage; or Lee Wulff with his longer bellied fly line technology – and many others – we would still be in the dark ages of flyfishing tackle. Therefore, I think of these brief notes as being in honour of the worriers and inventors like Wackett and others.

Sadly, Sir Lawrence Wackett (known as Larry to his mates but not to me) died a few weeks after our meeting in March of 1982. He was 86 years of age.

Suggested reading:

Around the Bend in the Stream by Sir Hudson Fysh.

Lifelong Pleasure by John Brookes

My Hobby is Trout Fishing and Studies of an Angler by Sir Lawrence Wackett.

The Fishing in Print compiled by Arnold Gingrich

The Other Side of the Hill, the remarkable story of David Scholes, an Aviator, Angler, Artist & Author by Donald C. Boden

Also, a search of Wikipedia for the aviation history of both Wackett and Fysh is worthwhile.