12 Dec 2005

Ernest Schwiebert

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Ernest Schwiebert

Internationally renowned angling author Ernest George Schwiebert Jr. passed away Saturday morning, Dick Talleur reported on the Michigan Sportsman web-site. He was 74 years of age. Newspaper obituaries have not yet appeared.

Schwiebert graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from Ohio State University in 1956, cum laude. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts in 1960, and a Ph. D. in Architecture in 1966, from Princeton University . He wrote his doctoral dissertation on The Primitive Roots of Architecture. He resided in Princeton, New Jersey, and practiced for many years successfully as an architect in New York City and in Princeton.

While still an undergraduate, Schwiebert wrote his first book, Matching the Hatch (1955), which astonished the American angling community by realizing American angling’s most avidly desired, yet most unattainable, theoretical goal: reconciling traditional artificial fly patterns and their use in actual practice with Science. The book’s title became a by-word for the preferred methodology of serious dry fly fishermen everywhere.

Efforts at codifying a list of the most effective traditional fly patterns, and identifying scientifically the specific natural insects they imitated, thus reconciling angling with entomology, had been underway since the turn of the century, when Theodore Gordon’s articles in the English Fishing Gazette, reprinted domestically in Forest & Stream, began popularizing the ethos of Frederick Halford’s dry fly purism in North America. Previous authors, most notably including Louis Rhead, author of American Trout Stream Insects (1916), and Preston Jennings, whose A Book of Trout Flies appeared in a luxury edition published by the illustrious Derrydale Press (1935), had tried and failed. The goal of establishing the scientific identity of the most traditionally important mayfly hatches, determining what fly patterns constituted their most effective imitations, and which versions of these patterns were most correct, had represented the perennially sought for, never achieved, goal, the Unified Field Theory, of American angling for half a century. The sporting establishment was shocked to find that the for so long seemingly-impossible had been accomplished deftly and with unanswerable precision by an angler so young.

In a single step, the youthful Schwiebert vaulted to the supreme heights of angling authority; and, over the years, other publications appropriate to his sporting stature followed. Architectural training had taught him draftsmanship, and he subsequently became a skilled illustrator and water-colorist. This latter talent was placed on display in Salmon of the World (1970), an opulent portfolio of portraits of all the species of the King of Gamefish, produced in a small edition, and much coveted by collectors. With Nymphs (1973), Schwiebert proceeded so far into entomology that he passed beyond nearly all of his readers’ ability to follow. The boxed two-volume Trout (1978) at some 1800 pages length was intentionally monumental, and simply overwhelming, covering angling history, species biology, techniques, and featuring a rhapsodic and passionately detailed survey of high end tackle. Schwiebert wrote regularly for angling, and other sporting, serials, and published three collections of stories and memoirs: Remembrances of Rivers Past (1973), Death of a Riverkeeper (1980), and A River for Christmas (1988).

In the course of a long and illustrious career, he fished, and wrote about, the finest rivers all over the world. He was a regular habituée of the choicest waters and the most exclusive clubs, and was renowned for his enthusiasm for the best of everything. As the years went on, Schwiebert’s elitist perspective and idiosyncratic writing style came in for a certain amount of criticism. He was reported to be a colorful personality, and intensely competitive, by those who travelled in the same circles. Criticisms of Schwiebert’s latest book and anecdotes of conflicts in the field and at events became staples of gossip in the sporting community. One envious scribbler went so far as to caricature the great man in an anonymously published, pretentious and ridiculously overpriced, lampoon.

Real achievement of the scale of Ernest Schwiebert’s will always find detractors and provoke envy. It probably also true that, that like many of angling’s other greats, Schwiebert possessed a full consciousness of his own worth, and could at times be difficult. The roll of major angling writers is thickly populated with egotists and curmudgeons. His passing, however, is bound to silence criticism. Even those who did not like Ernest G. Schwiebert will be forced to acknowledge that we have lost probably the single most important angling theorist of the last century, the most important figure in North America this side of Theodore Gordon.


12/13 Press reports are beginning to appear:

Field & Stream

NY Times

8 Feedbacks on "Ernest Schwiebert"

Dave Norling

Absolutely wonderful testimony to a great man.


While I doubt that this will be the last word on Schwiebert, it is entirely fitting to so serve. Your piece captures the scale and significance of his contributions while doing justice to his complexity as a man. Very, very well done.

Jack Haines

Gracious and loving tribute to a prodigious talent who occupies a unique place in angling literature.

Re: hatch matching. Ronalds did pioneering work in England. And while Jennings was not complete, he didn’t fail. He needs to be respected for the first American scientific effort.


If I ever expand this for appearance in a different format offering greater scope for discussion, I will say more in favor of both Jennings and Rhead.

Alaska Joes Fishing Trips

This is a good looking site!

Dennis Bishop

Mr. Schwiebert has left us a huge body of work with which we should be thankful. Sure he seemed elitist, but what giant does not seem so? We are envious because most of us never achieve this kind of stature. But the fact that Ernest put his life down in print is a gift to us all should we choose to appreciate it. I, for one, am greatful beyond measure. Would one rather live in a world without Ernest Schwiebert’s work or with it?

Thanks for everything, Ernest.

George Fraley

The larger than life aspects of Ernest were part of what made him interesting to me. One of my favorite articles about his fishing escapades appeared in American Way regarding a trip to New Zealand (I believe, during 1995). After about 4 days of miserable fishing due to excessive runoff his fishing group was revitalized at news of a distant river that reported good fishing. Schwiebert wrote that they were so elated that they “mounted a champagne and lobster breakfast” and then helicoptered to the new site. Perhaps this was elitist but it was classic Ernie, having achieved the means and knowledge to enjoy himself after another successful life as an architect. At the time I read this I was working a lot and not fishing enough. His writing’s were a way to fish vicariously and I gladly did so. I still get a big grin each time I think about the champagne and lobsters. Few will ever take the time to fully enjoy fishing to the extent that he did, but we can still get some fun out of reading about it. His writing, especially about tackle, had a way of weaving in a bit of emotion about the materials, workmanship, and artisan, that allowed one to more fully enjoy owning similar pieces. Fortunately his legacy will allow him a boat load of immortality.

Stewart Brady

Ernest Schweibert was an inspirational writer who shared his eclectic fishing adventures with us all and made our lives a little richer.
Too bad he didn’t write much about British columbia.

Thank you Ernie.


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