A gunshot rang out on the shores of the River Blythe, shattering the silence of the idyllic English countryside. Some minutes later, the shotgun blast was soon followed by another, from the second barrel. Three gentlemen were busy at their craft, but this was no wing shooting party. Passersby would have been startled to see two gentlemen (one, a man of the cloth) in an eccentric-looking octagonal hut built over the waters of the river, staring through the windows at their quarry as the gunshots went off.

The beast being tracked was a trout, some six inches beneath the surface of the water. The gentlemen in the hut were Rev. Brown and the ringleader who built the hut, Alfred Ronalds.

Blythe Valley. Looking north along the River Blythe. Accessed via Wikipedia.

Ronalds (1802-1860) was conducting comprehensive studies on the habits of trout and grayling, and the shotgun blasts were part of an experiment to determine if fish could hear conversational noises above the water. The experimenters were careful not to be seen by the fish, and many loud noises were tried before finding that the fish showed no signs of distress from the noise.

The location of Ronalds’ fishing hut. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Ronalds was not a scientist by trade, instead making his living as an etcher and lithographer in 1830s England. His primary source of leisure was in fly fishing, and in his quest to unlock the secrets of the successful catch, he’d gone as far as the construction of a special shack from which to observe the fishes of the Blythe. From this headquarters, he carefully noted fish habits and diets, studied their vision, hearing, and even taste (offering foods to fish coated in cayenne pepper and mustard, he found the fish enjoyed the spicy food).

Findings on the vision of the trout, detailing differences in vision through water and air. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The result of Ronalds’ experimentation was his 1836 book, The Fly-fisher’s Entomology. Drawing on his talents as an engraver and his scientific observations, Ronalds developed an illustrated list of artificial flies and the times of year they should be used.

Flies for April: Golden Dun Midge, Sand Fly, Stone Fly. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The real key to Ronalds’ book was combining awareness of the insect life-cycle to a clearer understanding of the feeding habits of fish. If you want to catch a fish, imitate the bugs they eat at the correct time of season. Though this maxim might seem simple today, the book was a wildly-successful turning point in the literature of fly fishing, and Ronald is widely credited with launching modern fly-fishing writing. The Fly-fisher’s Entomology would go through 11 editions between 1836 and 1913 and be extensively reprinted in the 20th Century.

Flies for April: Iron Blue Dun, Jenny Spinner, Hawthorn Fly. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Ronalds went on to relocate to Wales in 1844, and after his first wife died in 1847 he moved his family to Australia. He set up his own engraving business in Melbourne, then in Ballarat after the Australian gold rushes in the 1850s. He died of a stroke in 1860. The Fly-fisher’s Entomology was the only book he ever produced. But considering its massive influence on the sport Ronalds loved, we can safely say that it was a great one.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

People often ask how exhibitions are developed. Sometimes it starts with a book, in this case – Peter Corbin: An Artist’s Creel. Peter Corbin presented the hardbound volume by Tom Davis and foreword by John Merwin to the National Sporting Library & Museum a few years ago. This sounds a lot more formal than it was. Peter was on his way back to Millbrook, NY, from the 2013 Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival in Thomasville, GA, where he’d been the featured artist. He popped into the Museum, introduced himself, and dropped off the hardbound volume published by Hudson Hill Press in 2005. The exchange was brief, but the cover of the book captured my imagination. It sat on my desk for weeks reminding me of how much I love Wyoming.

corbin artists creel cover
The 24 x 40-inch painting, Partners, 2004,  reproduced on the front cover was loaned by Mr. & Mrs. William C. Egan, III to the current NSLM exhibition.

I was already familiar with Peter’s work and only now feel marginally better admitting that we had strongly considered one of his paintings from the American Museum of Fly Fishing collection for the 2012 NSLM Angling in the Western World exhibition. We had a lot of tough choices to make in the twentieth-century section for the broad survey of the topic spanning over 300 years and ended up not including his painting.

We try to touch on a variety of NSLM’s core mission topics as often as possible which, other than equestrian pursuits, includes field sports such as freshwater fly fishing and wingshooting. As I thumbed through An Artist’s Creel, I was reminded that a member of the NSLM had suggested that the recognized sporting and wildlife artist, who is also an avid wingshooter and angler himself, would be a good candidate to consider for a fly fishing exhibit.

Power and Grace, 2001, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches, Collection of the Treiber Family, © Peter Corbin, 2001

The emerald green water and the energy of the leaping tarpon in Power and Grace caught my eye. Although Peter has also painted many freshwater scenes, this was the opposite of a depiction of a serene, contemplative moment. There’s been debate in fly fishing circles about whether fresh and saltwater fly fishing can even be considered the same sport. The NSLM’s collections focus on freshwater. With the addition of the George “Chappie” and Mary Chapman book collection in 2012, the Library became one of the most comprehensive research centers on twentieth-century freshwater fly fishing in the United States.

The diversity of the angling compositions in Peter’s book intrigued me. All captured the essence of some of the finest fly fishing waters in North America.

Near the Net, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 19 x 32 inches, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Walter C. Teagle, III, © Peter Corbin, 1980

Near the Net, 1980, an acrylic painting of salmon fishing on the Restigouche River, Silas Beach, Quebec, Canada, won Peter the American Salmon Federation’s Artist of the Year in  1981. I learned that he came from a family of fly fisherman; his father taught him to cast his first fly by the age of seven. His great-grandfather started a hunting and fishing club in the Catskills, and Peter spent much time over the years trout fishing in the region, like the fly fisherman in the painting, The Sound of the Falls, 2002.

The Sound of the Falls, 2002, oil on canvas, 24 x 40 inches, Private Collection, ©Peter Corbin, 2002

Peter’s lifetime love for sport and art are reflected in each of his paintings. All of the works on view through July 3rd in Line Dance: The Art of Fly Fishing by Peter Corbin were selected to show the variety of compositions for which he has become known during his almost forty year career.

To gain a bit more insight into Peter’s quiet passion, motivations, and philosophy on art, we invite you to join him for a Gallery Talk on March 19th at 10:00 am and to take a moment to watch the 10-minute narrated slideshow below which he created to accompany the exhibition. A catalog is also available if you’d like to learn more about Peter Corbin’s sporting art career and fly fishing adventures. We look forward to seeing you in the galleries.

…and to think it all started with a book.