The Story of The Gimp By Larry Myhre

27DEC 2018

Sometimes I just get into the mood to tie flies. That is what has occurred the past few days. Mostly, I’ve been working on streamers with visions of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, walleyes and crappies dancing through my head. So I have been tying Clouser minnows and Lefty’s deceivers in all kinds of colors and sizes. Of course, no fly book is complete without a liberal supply of muddler minnows. I’m partial to sizes six and four.

But then I got the urge to tie an old favorite. It’s a drab-colored nymph with the unlikely name of “The Gimp.”

It’s a fly that hasn’t gotten a lot of press over the years, and I’ve never seen it for sale in any of the fly shops or mail-order houses. So it is a fly that is destined to be created only at the vises of amateur fly tyers, if they have even been introduced to it.

The story of the Gimp goes back a long ways. And I am proud to say that I am a part of it. The fly was invented in the late 1940s by a guy who twenty years later was to become a friend and fishing partner of mine. His name was Lacey Gee, and he lived right on the bank of the Wapsipinicon River in Independence, Iowa.  In 1945, he started the Wapsi Fly Company, a business located right next door to a poultry processing plant. By the time I met him in the early 1970s, Wapsi was the third largest fly tying supply company behind Herters and Universal Vice, both now long gone.

I met Lacey through Erwin Sias, editor of the Sioux City Journal, where I worked as a reporter at the time. Lacey and Si’s friendship went back a good many years, and in 1955 Lacey and Sias co-authored a little 64-page booklet entitled “Practical Flies and Their Construction.” Thousands of copies were printed over the years. Most of them were contained in fly-tying kits sold by Wapsi, Universal Vice, Jann’s Netcraft and others. The book was revised in 1966. I have both editions, a few copies of the original was hard-bound and Sias autographed a couple of those for me.

The Gimp Fly

After Lacey designed the Gimp, he began putting them in the hands of good fishermen across the country. One of those was Erwin Sias who tested it on a small stream in central Nebraska. The result was an article by Sias in 1950 in Outdoor Life entitled, “They Go for the Gimp.”  Over the years the fly was tested throughout the country and even overseas, and reports were favorable. Yet, the fly never really caught on. Then in 1970, I wrote an article for Fly Fisherman magazine titled “Tying the Gimp Nymph.” I had not told Lacey about the story and when the magazine hit the newsstands, he began getting orders for the Gimp. He called me and said, “Don’t ever write another story without giving me a heads up.” All of his fly tyers in the Independence area had to suspend all tying and concentrate on the Gimp. One fly fishing supplier ordered 140 dozen of the fly. I didn’t feel too bad because at the time Lacey’s tyers were turning out 15,000 flies a week.

 Lacey sold the business to a friend, Tom Schmuecker, in 1973. Tom moved the business to Mountain Home, Ark., in 1978, and today it is the world’s largest fly-tying materials company.

And so the years went by without much notice about the Gimp. It appeared as a recipe in one fly tying book entitled “Flies for Trout” in 1993. In late 1999, Tom wrote me for more information about the Gimp. A magazine, “The Canadian Fly Fisher” had printed a reader’s question  in the Fall, 1999 edition about the Gimp which the reader had discovered in the booklet Sias and Gee had written in 1955. Tom wanted to fill them in on the background. I sent Tom a copy of the 1950 article in Outdoor Life magazine and also a copy of the story I had done for Fly Fisherman. I also made photos of the fly tied by Lacey and a letter of provenance he had sent me regarding the origin of the fly. The result was a story in the February, 2000 edition of that magazine. The story can be found online at flyanglersonline.com/featues/canada/can87.php.

In early 2008 I was contacted by Ward Bean a fly tier from Council Bluffs, Iowa, who was working on a story about the Gimp for Fly Tyer Magazine. Ward came up to visit, and as we sat in my fly tying room, I told him the story of the Gimp as I knew it. Ward also interviewed Tom, and the result was an excellent story on the Gimp in the Winter 2008 edition of the magazine. You can read it by visiting his web site warmwaterflytyer.com.

Today there is at least one Youtube video on tying this fly and, surprisingly, it is also offered for sale on eBay by a fly tyer.

One of the reasons I believe the Gimp has never became a commercial success is that a key component, a feather, is found only on the necks of Amherst pheasants. The feather is the aftershaft feather at the base of one of the large, barred-white neck feathers. Each Amherst neck would provide only enough feathers for a couple dozen flies and, at $10 plus a neck, it would be difficult to justify a few hundred dozen.

For those who tie their own, here is the recipe: tail, few fibers from a dun hen neck; body, blue-dun wool; wing, two aftershaft feathers tied flat over the body; hackle, two wraps of dun hen neck feather.

Sias retired from the Journal in 1978 and moved to northern Idaho where he fished every day of the week until he died at the age of 81. His wife Betty still lives at their cabin. She will be 102 this spring. Lacey and I fished a few times together after that, including two trips into Canada, and then he moved to Florida where he had vacationed for many years, and fished along the coastal waters. If you’ve ever fished or tied flies with marabou you have Lacey to thank. He discovered those feathers after importation of African stork feathers became illegal. Marabou feathers are found between the legs and around the rear end of tame turkeys. Lacey began marketing them after plucking them from turkeys destined for the processing plant next door. He was a pro golfer at one time, although I never held that against him. I played golf one time. He continued to play into his 80’s in Florida after he quit fishing, even though he had to pull around a portable oxygen tank.

While Lacey was a professional fly tyer, tackle manufacturer and expert fly fisherman who furthered the art of fly fishing as much as anybody else, he also became an accomplished jig fisherman. Jigs became popular fishing lures in the late 1950s in the Midwest. Lacey was quick to capitalize on their popularity by designing and selling a line of very effective lures. He also co-authored another book, “How to Fish With Jigs” with Sias in 1970. Lacey designed the Slim Jim, the G-Whiz, the Mitey Mite and the Fuzzy, all jigs which catch everything from walleyes to trout. None have been commercially available since 1973.

In a later addition to this blog, I’ll describe those jigs and how to tie them. For now, just know that when I grab my spinning rod and venture forth all of those jig patterns designed by my late friend Lacey have long had a priority place among my tackle.

And in my fly book, the Gimp and a large variety of marabou streamers are also found. Thank you Lacey Gee.

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