At 81, David Footer does fewer of the animal and fish mounts he has created over a 66-year career. But the Lewiston artist remains a living reminder of a rich and storied fishing heritage that reaches back more than a century.
“He is one of the last living legends. David learned from Herb Welch, and is a tie to the Rangeley Lakes Region history. Herb Welch created the ‘black ghost’ fly pattern and around 27 others in that golden age in the ’20s,” said renown fly tyer Don Bastian of Cogan Station, Pa.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famous “Footer Special,” the vibrant and unconventional streamer pattern Footer created. Respected fly tyers across the Northeast say the fly pattern is a link to the heyday of trout and salmon fishing in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes region.
Friday, Footer’s fly pattern will be the subject of a fly fishing class taught by Bastian at L.L. Bean in Freeport. The celebration will lure other notable fishing legends who simply want to tip their hat to Footer and his deep connection to Maine’s fishing history.
“He is one of the last from that generation. And he’s still working. It’s a nice opportunity to honor him,” said Massachusetts fly tyer Peggy Brenner, whose work has been featured in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt.
In 1903, Herb Welch, the famous Rangeley taxidermist and painter, opened his fly shop in Oquossoc. A half-century later, he met Footer and became his mentor.
Welch was colleagues with the famous fly tyer Carrie Stevens and sold her flies in his shop. Stevens’ Grey Ghost fly pattern and Welch’s Black Ghost streamer fly helped to put Rangeley on the world map of fly fishing, establishing it as a hotbed of wild trout and salmon fishing.
Footer carried their tradition forward.
Footer got his taxidermist license in 1946 and began specializing in fish mounts and paintings in 1964. When the fishing community embraced the catch-and-release ethic 20 years later, Footer made his fish mounts from photographs, and the orders started pouring in from around the world.
His works have been commissioned by fishermen in New Zealand, Argentina and Japan, his daughter, Julie, said.
“At this point, he may have served all 50 states,” Julie Footer said.
Footer celebrated Maine’s fishing and hunting heritage in his work, and the fact he learned from Welch and carried his teaching forward into this century is a concrete example to many that Maine’s outdoor heritage continues.
“David is truly a Maine treasure. He’s had the most profound impact on Maine’s outdoor sporting landscape in a number of different ways, from his taxidermy skills, his exquisite fly design, his masterful paintings, and also his benevolence is something to highlight. He has supported several Maine outdoor organizations,” said Mac McKeever, a spokesman at L.L. Bean, where 10 Footer mounts are on display.
Ironically, the Footer Special is the only fly pattern that Footer created, and was an unconventional approach to the streamer fly with its dazzling array of yellow, dark blue and green displayed on top of the fly.
But experts say Footer’s fly does the job.
“Just the fact it was a singular sensation, it’s very well known. And it has been featured in a couple of books,” said Chris Del Plato, a prominent fly tyer in Long Valley, N.J.
“It’s an excellent brook trout fly. I’ve done well on it in the Northeast.”
And 50 years later, the Footer Special is more than a famous fly pattern. It is a link to Maine’s beloved fly fishing heritage, and a reminder that the artist who created it continues that tradition today.
“He is the bridge to that first generation of fly tyers. He was part of that generation. And he embodies what Maine fishing and preserving that tradition is all about,” said Maine fly tyer Selene Dumaine, whose work is in the American Museum of Fly Fishing.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: