Au Sable River Scene
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Bob Smock Snr. at his famous tying bench
A  Fly-Tying Legend, Bob Smock, Sr.

Life-long Grayling resident, Bob Smock, Sr., started fly-fishing over sixty years ago. A few years ago,
while I was video taping Bob for a fly-fishing historical documentary, Bob related how he started fly-
fishing and tying flies under the tutelage of the famous Michigan game warden and fishing guide, his
Clarence Roberts. Bob said that around age eleven, he and a friend were drowning worms on the
Au Sable River one day, when they saw Clarence net a large, beautiful brown trout on one of his famous
flies. Noticing the youngsters admiring his catch, Clarence called Bob over, and after removing the fly
from the huge fishes jaw, and cutting the fly from his leader, he handed it to Bob and told him, “son, now
go home and tie some like this and then come back and catch some trout.” That kind gesture started
Bob Smock, Sr. on a lifetime of fly tying, fly-fishing and guiding. As Bob put it, he ‘then bugged Clarence
and a few others in Grayling to teach him how to tie and fish.” Bob would pass that same courtesy on
himself a few thousand times to other upcoming fly fishers through out his own lifetime.

Bob Smock, Sn. - Sixty Years of Fly Tying - A Legend Amongst Legends
Over his sixty-year fly-tying/fishing career, Bob would come to rub elbows with some of the most famous
fly-fishers and fly-tiers of Michigan. He could count people like
Fred Bear, whom he worked for at Fred’s
famous bow factory, Clarence Roberts,
George Mason, one of the founding fathers of Trout Unlimited,
Ernie Borchers, and many others, as his personal friends. His little shop, called Bob’s Fly & Hackle,
tucked into a section of his garage behind his house in Grayling, ended up being a ‘must stop’
destination for thousands of fly fishers over the years on their trips to the Au Sable, Manistee and the
other northern rivers. The walls of his shop are covered with a treasure trove of his personal pictures
of some of the most famous and well-known fly fishers in Michigan. It is practically a museum. One of my
favorites is a close-up portrait of Fred Bear threading a fly onto his leader, while fishing the Au Sable
with Bob. Bob relates, “That if Fred were to be asked for the truth, he would most likely admit that he
loved to fly-fish more than he loved to bow hunt.” Bob told of how he and another Bear Archery
employee snuck out early one day during the Hendrickson hatch to fish their favorite section of the Holy
Waters. While they were on the river, Fred appeared around the bend with his fly rod in hand casting to
trout. They asked him ‘what the heck he was doing there?’ Fred answered with a smile, “As far as I know,
I still own Bear Archery, what the heck are you two guys doing here?”

Each year Bob tied over 600 dozen flies in that now famous shop, sending them to lucky fly shops and
individual customers all over the State of Michigan and the country. Bob is known for having the special
knack to be able to tie flies that so closely resembled the actual insect, that they were rarely shunned by
Au Sable Rivers finicky trout. His flies are treasured by knowing fly fishers. Many of those fishers
closely guard and cherish the ‘Smock’ creations in their fly boxes. Visitors to Bob’s shop were always
welcome to ask questions and to watch Bob tie flies. He was always quick with friendly conversation, his
easy good humor, and his down-home banter. He freely shared his sixty-odd years of fly-fishing and fly-
tying knowledge with any visitors. Over the decades, Bob has been responsible for directing many
newbie’s down the right path when they began their tying careers. During our taping session, which
lasted about three hours, Bob showed Todd Fuller and I many of his techniques, and he shared many of
his fly patterns and stories with us. Starting around 1999, Bob started putting together a shadow box of
the most famous flies of the historically rich North-Central Michigan Rivers. He was famous for tying
these flies as their creators had tied them, and for continuing the legacy of those fly originators. Some
of the flies featured in that shadow box collection, all of them beautifully tied by Bob, are the Clarence
Roberts Mayfly, the Ernie Borchers Special, Earl Madsen’s Skunk, and
Bob’s own Sulphur Dun and Deer
, among others. On my copy, which holds a special place on the wall of my Hemlock Hills cabin near
Fairview, Bob signed his name for me next to his Sulphur Dun. I am very proud to own that wonderful
collection of Michigan Fly Tying artwork, because not only is Bob Smock to be credited with helping to
perpetuate the rich lore and history of Michigan’s fly tying icons, but, he himself is well cemented in this
State’s fly tying and fly fishing legacy. Bob has been, and always will be, one of the pre-eminent people
of this astute heritage.

Bob Will Be Missed Dearly

Bob Smock, Sr. passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 24, 2005. He left behind his wife Barbara,
seven children, 21 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and thousands of friends and admirers. The
whole Michigan fly-fishing community will miss the good-natured chuckle of the man from the ‘Big’ little
fly-shop in Grayling. Many of us will remember his stories of fishing the river with George Mason, Fred
Bear, Sailor Bill, Earl Madsen, and Clarence Roberts. Many more will remember, albeit with a tear in their
eye, the man who perhaps started them in fly tying. Bob Smock, Sr. may have left our temporal world, but
his legacy will live on in the memories of many of us who have crossed paths with him, either in his
famous fly shop, or perchance, while wading the waters of his beloved Au Sable.

The Bob Smock Collection

The picture below is of one of Bob’s aforementioned ‘Shadow Boxes’. This one has a home in my place
up north near Fairview called Hemlock Hills. It is admired often by the many friends and clients who
come through the doors to enjoy a stay at hemlock Hills. Two of the flies on this board are of Bob’s own
creation, the Deer Fly and Bob’s Sulphur Dun. Both of these beautiful flies, pictured on this page,
regularly elicit savage takes by the Au Sable trout. Another famous fly on this board, Jerry McClain’s
Drake, is one of the most productive flies for trout. The McClain’s Drake on the board is a fly that has
been actually tied by Jerry. His signature is visible under the fly. If you fly fish the Au Sable, you cannot
look at this board without wonder in your eyes. It is truly something to behold. It is actually fly-fishing
history. The Smock shadow box hanging in Hemlock Hills is one of the last few that Bob made before his
passing. It will most definitely be passed on to my heirs when I leave this world. I consider it to be one of
my favorite possessions.

Jerry Kunnath  
A True Michigan
Fly Tying Legend

   The Late
Bob Smock, Sr.
    By: Jerry Kunnath
Bob at his famous tying bench in Grayling, Michigan
Bob Smock Sn.'s Deer Fly
Bob's Deer Fly - Actual fly
Tied by Bob Smock, Sn.
Bob Smock, Sn. in his shop telling stories
Bob Smock, Sn. with kids in his shop
Bob Smock, Sn.'s Shadow Box Collection
Bob Smock's deer Fly
Bob Smock's Sulphur Dunn
Bob Smock's Ernie Borcher's Special
Bob Smocks' Earl Madsen's Skunk
Bob Smock's Robert's Yellow Drake
Bob Smock's Marion Burchers Yellow Stone
Bob Smock's Lady Beaverkill
Bob's Friend Fred Bear
Bob's friend Ernie Borcher
Bob tellin' stories in his shop
Bob Smock instructing kids in his shop
My Bob Smock, Sn. 'Shadow Box' of famous Au Sable River Historical Flies
Bob Smock's famous 'Deer Fly'
As Bob said..'the ones that bite cha'
Bob Smock's Sulphur Dunn
Bob Smock's Ernie Borchers Special
Bob Smock's Lady Beaverkill
Bob Smock's Robert's Yellow Drake
Bob Smock's Earl Madsen's Skunk
Bob Smock's Marion Burchers
       Yellow Stone
Bob Smock's friend Fred Bear
Bob said that Fred, if he had his choice,
  Would rather fish than hunt
Bob Smock's friend - Ernie Borcher
Bob Smock tying Earl Madsen's Skunk
Bob Smock, Sn. Tying Earl Madsen's Skunk