“Up on the Esopus”- With Ed Ostapczuk “Ed Sens, the Forgotten Catskill Fly Tyer: Part 1”

Up on the Esopus With Ed Ostapczuk

 “Ed Sens, the Forgotten Catskill Fly Tyer: Part 1”

Article, Flies and Photos by Ed Ostapczuk

Ed Sens—who was he, anyway?

In How to Take Trout on Wet Flies and Nymphs ([1952]1974), noted outdoor writer Ray Ovington called Ed Sens “one of the most successful nymph fishermen in the United States” (p. 81). Later, in The Trout and the Fly (1977), Ovington called Sens “my mentor, responsible for many of the patterns featured in my various books, a meticulous German who tied to match his personality” (p. 25). In the same book, he goes on to credit Sens (and himself) with extending the “great work” of Preston Jennings and Art Flick (p. 66). Both editions of How to Take Trout on Wet Flies and Nymphs provide detailed nymph patterns developed by Sens for all the great Catskill hatches. By 1969, when Tactics on Trout was published, Ovington had modified some of the Sens’s patterns into “Ovington versions,” even though he still referred to Ed Sens as a “fly-tyer extraordinaire” (p. 315). These Ovington works all recall the author’s fond association with Ed Sens.

Ray Ovington was not the only angling author to sing high praises of Ed Sens. In Challenge of the Trout (1976), Gary LaFontaine declared, “The initial attempt at specific imitation of the caddis pupal form was an innovation of Edward Sens less than twenty-five years ago. These simulations of two Eastern species, Rhyacophila lobifera and Psilotreta frontalis, were listed by Ray Ovington” (p. 110). Then, in Caddisflies (1981), LaFontaine wrote that Sens was a fly tyer for Jim Deren’s Angler’s Roost In New York City and created “one of the best known of these early pupa imitations,” calling Sens “a serious student of entomology” (p. 102). Leonard Wright, Jr., shared these feelings when he remarked, “Yet the Ed Sens pupal imitations represent one of the few American attempts to deal seriously with caddis flies in any form” (Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect, 1972, p. 21).

Sens is mentioned honorably in Gary Borger’s A Guide to Food Organisms of the Trout (1980, p. 89) and Designing Trout Flies ( 1991, p. 82). And recently, Rick Hafele, in Nymph Fishing Rivers and Streams (2006) wrote, “Ovington was a close friend of Ed Sens, an important fly tier and angler in the Catskills. Sens developed a set of nymph patterns designed to complement each of the best-known dry-fly patterns of the area. He also developed effective nymph-fishing techniques” (p. 4).

However, no one praised the influence of Ed Sens on the Catskill fly-fishing scene more than Ernest Schwiebert. In The Masters on the Nymph (1979), edited by J. Michael Migel and Leonard M. Wright, Jr., Schwiebert wrote, “Sens was another solitary genius who fished the Catskills, and his work resulted in a superb series of nymphs keyed to our better-known mayfly patterns. His nymphs trace their lineage almost directly to Skues and are perhaps the most popular series available” (p. 31).

I first encountered the name of this forgotten fly tyer back in the mid-1960s when I read Schwiebert’s Matching the Hatch. The author gave full credit to Ed Sens for two caddis pupae he listed in this book, but decades would elapse before I would read much more about Sens in any detail. Once again it was Schwiebert, in Nymphs, Volume I (2007, pp. 83–87) who provided the most information available about this fly fisher in any single source. Here I learned his father, “Pop Sens,” purchased a large farm along the upper Neversink in the vicinity of Claryville, where Ed befriended Herm Christian, Edward R. Hewitt, and other notable Neversink fly fishers. According to Schwiebert, Sens became quite a proficient night angler, catching many large brown trout on his Giant Stone Fly. (The Giant Stone Fly will be covered in Part 2 of this article).

Schwiebert declared that “innovations introduced by Sens did not stop with the popular mayfly hatches” and that “he must also be celebrated for his revolutionary imitations of emerging sedge pupae. . . . Sens was clearly ahead of his time” (p. 86). But perhaps the highest compliment Schwiebert paid this fly fisher was that regarding Ovington’s use of what he learned from Sens in How to Take Trout on Wets Flies and Nymphs, “the knowledgeable reader is left to wonder what a wonderfully original manuscript might have been written had Sens understood the potential of his theories and fieldwork, and had elected to prepare the book himself” (p. 87).
In the next issue of the Gazette, I’ll discuss how and why a Catskill fly tyer such as Ed Sens can end up forgotten by the modern angling masses. For now, give this praise of Ed Sens’s entomological knowledge and tying skills, let’s discuss two of his signature patterns, the Green Caddis Pupa and Dark Caddis Pupa. His Green Caddis Pupa is a forerunner of many modern caddis patterns and an important fly for the genus Rhyacophila, commonly known as the Green Sedge.

The angling literature provides some conflicting information on the dressing of these two flies, with Ovington and A. J. McClane in one camp and Ernest Schwiebert in another. Since my introduction to Sens was through Schwiebert, I’ve chosen to give his dressing, but with a nod to McClane, who stressed the importance of “translucency,” an emphasis that might have given an important impetus to Gary LaFontaine in the years to follow. I’ve modified Schwiebert’s dressing to include a floss underbody with a picked-out, dubbed translucent overbody as described by Ovington. And, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of these flies, for the Green Caddis, I used a mix of LaFontaine olive Sparkle Yarn and Touch Dubbing. One fly was tied on a traditional Mustad 9671 hook, the other on a piece of iron that was not available to this forgotten tyer, a curved Mustad 37160.


(Top Photo)

Dark Caddis Pupa 

Hook: Size 14 Mustad 9671

Thread: Black

Abdomen: Gray floss underbody,

    gray rabbit, picked out

Thorax: Brown seal dubbing

Legs: Dark brown partridge, tied long

Wing case: Thin mallard primary, tied alongside

(Bottom Photo)

Dark Green Caddis Pupa

Hook: Size 14 Mustad 37160

Thread: Black

Abdomen: Apple-green floss underbody,

olive sparkle yarn/touch dub mix, picked out

Thorax: Brown seal dubbing

Legs: Long gray mallard fibers, tied along body

Wing case: Thin mallard primary, tied alongside

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