If you’re like me, you love the serenity you find in the solitude of fly fishing. There’s nothing quite like stepping into a river with only the passing geese to talk to, your thoughts to contend with, and the mystery of the river to solve. I love fishing with my wife just as much–and with my siblings, my friends, my dad–but it’s an entirely different restorative feeling to venture out alone through dew-tipped grass on a chilly morning and wade your way upstream as the morning cloud deck dissolves and the sun falls on your shoulders.
But every now and again, we’re reminded that at its core, fly fishing is a community. We are all connected by this sport, by the watersheds we share, by our common love for the outdoors and everything it so graciously offers us. Even when we step into the river or onto the shore by ourselves, we are united in the gravitational pull of the water and what may be waiting for us beneath the surface.
That reminder most recently came to me through the contact form of this very website. A man whose name I did not recognize reached out to me to inquire about a custom design he’d like to see available on our gear. The days that followed proved to be a testament to the fly fishing community, and for me personally, it presented an opportunity to be involved in something truly meaningful.
Jerry Shillcock grew up in northern New Jersey and calls the beloved waters of the Catskills his fly fishing home. He and his dear friend, Vin Sherburne, camped and fished there almost every weekend during fishing season until their lives and careers directed them elsewhere. Despite this, they made it a point to meet up to fish frequently, including their traditional “June trip.” It was during their fishing trip in June of 1987 that Jerry invented the Softshoe fly.
“I first tied the Softshoe while camping on the banks of the Beaverkill river in New York during the March Brown hatch. My childhood buddy, Vin, and I had been fishing the Usual by Fran Better since the early 80s and had tinkered with it by changing the tail to pheasant tail fibers. It looked much like a standard wet fly and fished great, as the snowshoe rabbit wing material seemed almost magical: translucent, lots of movement, and the trout couldn't get enough of it.
“Tying some at camp one morning while Vin was tying Soft Hackles, I asked him for a feather and tied it in front of the wing. It looked like it was a mayfly exploding out of its pupal husk right there in my vise. We both thought it looked like something that could work well, and Vin cleverly combined the SOFT hackle and snowSHOE rabbit ingredients central to the fly to suggest I call it the Softshoe. It produced beyond our wildest expectations.
“[We] kept it secret for years, as Vin was a guide and used it to save otherwise fishless days, and later owned a fly shop where, after charmingly asking me if it was OK, he shared it sparingly amongst his clients. It can easily be adjusted to match any mayfly hatch by changing body color / wing color / size.
“This fly is designed to fish both dry and wet, even on the same drift. Fish it like a normal dry, and when it begins to drag, strip under and swing wet. Take ratio is about 80/20 dry/wet, but in broken pocket water that moves to about 50/50. You can put a little gel floatant in the wing and it will let the fly sink into the film as it gets saturated and keep the wing above, much like a natural. Some clients like to put the gel in, pull it under and let it pop back up. [I] had a guy catch 30+ trout in a couple hours doing that last week. Also works well as the dry in a dry/dropper setup. Easy to tie, durable, versatile, and deadly.
“Vin passed away far too young in 2009, and when I retired in 2020 I decided to spread the word to see if I could get the name ‘Softshoe’ into the lexicon of the sport Vin loved so much as a way to memorialize my old buddy. So far, so good. I have sold, traded, donated to Casting for Recovery, given away on the stream, and shared the recipe with fly tiers around the world so that now hundreds of people are fishing it, calling it by name, and singing the praises of this fly. Momentum has really built, and I am hopeful it will continue thanks to the power of social media.”
It was this fly that Jerry inquired about when he reached out to me about a custom design. He’d seen our “Flyagram” series and envisioned something similar for the fly he invented and which was aptly named by his dear friend.
When I decided to accept design requests as I prepared to open Drift & Mend to the public, it was in the hopes that someone would simply request Design “X” on a hoodie instead of a shirt, or I’d receive something like “Can you please include my state in the United Mayflies of America series?”
At first, that’s what I thought Jerry had reached out about: a simple fly diagram he’d like to see on a shirt. As Jerry began to tell me more about the backstory behind this fly, however, I realized we had a unique opportunity to not only create a design that people would be excited about, but also the chance to be involved with memorializing someone who was clearly beloved by many, including his friends and clients. How could we not be excited–and, on a much deeper level, honored–to be involved with this project?
It was Jerry’s excitement for and kind words about the design that inspired me to write about this experience, as this collaboration was wholly unexpected and turned out to be such a personally fulfilling experience and a reminder that fly anglers who have never met are, indeed, connected. Here we are, two strangers, separated by hundreds of miles, working together on something with depth, with a touching story, with heart.
At the risk of sounding too much like that book with its famous movie adaptation, there is a river running through this sport that connects us all, and when we wade in, we might find a gift drifting down to us from upstream: a chance to make a new connection, an unexpected insight into some secret fold of ourselves, or the treasured memory of a dear friend.
To purchase Softshoe apparel, see our Flyagram collection.
To submit a request for your own custom design, contact us.
To purchase the Softshoe fly and others from Jerry Shillcock, go here.