No person is more closely associated with streamer fly-fishing than Joseph D. Bates, Jr. Between 1950 and 1986, Bates established himself as one of the world’s leading authorities on tying streamers and using them to catch everything from Atlantic salmon to striped bass.
At a time when most American fly-fishing was devoted to understanding the life cycles of aquatic insects and employing flies that suggested them on the stream, Bates chose to specialize in flies that imitated forage fish. His insights offered practical information for catching fish, often very large ones. But Bates also introduced countless readers to the elegant artistry of salmon flies, and the thrilling pursuit of the “king of game fish.”
His friend H.G. Tapply, the long-time writer for Field & Stream, noted Bates fished “from the Canadian wilderness to the Florida Keys, from the coast of Maine to the steelhead rivers of the West,” and in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. His daughter and biographer, Pamela Bates Richards, said her father “wrote for anglers of every ilk, from neophyte to expert.”
A native of West Springfield, Massachusetts, Bates graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1926. During World War II, he served on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines, and was awarded the Philippine Liberation Medal with three battle stars. After the war, he remained an officer in the Army Reserve, from which retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1968. But when he was released from active duty, Bates went back to work in his father’s advertising firm, which had been contracted to publicize the spinning tackle recently introduced to the American market.
Bates was the first American to write extensively on the advent of spinning tackle; the first of his 16 books was Spinning for American Game Fish, and two more on the subject would follow over the next seven years. Even so, fly-fishing was Col. Bates’s “first and final love.” He had begun collecting flies before World War II, and associated with the leading lights of the feather-wing streamer scene in Maine, including Carrie Stevens (who devised a Capt. Bates fly in his honor, only to promote it to the Col. Bates as its namesake rose in rank.)
Joe Bates’s books, including Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing, The Art of the Atlantic Salmon Fly, and Streamers and Bucktails: The Big Fish Flies, constitute one of the beloved bodies of work in the literature of fly-fishing. They have informed, instructed and inspired generations of anglers.