On November 24, 2022, the recreational angling community lost legendary fly angler, author, artist, conservationist, and recently inducted IGFA Fishing Hall of Famer, Dave Whitlock.
Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, US, in 1934, Dave always had an appreciation for fishing and hunting. However, growing up during the Great Depression, most of Dave’s fishing focused on providing food for his family. His childhood was further impacted when he contracted polio and rheumatic fever, but he always found relief and an escape in the outdoors.
Dave’s interest in fly fishing began when he was eight years old while looking through his grandfather’s L.L. Bean catalog. When he saw a picture of a fly rod, he asked his grandfather what kind of rod it was. His grandfather’s response was, “fly fishing is only for rich people.” Nevertheless, his father bought him a used fly rod and three panfish flies for his ninth birthday. Whitlock taught himself how to fly fish and admits that he was pretty bad at it early on. However, according to Dave, “I knew I was born to fly fish. It was predestined.”
When Dave set out to go to college, he wanted to become an outdoor writer. His parents quickly dismissed this as a non-viable career path, so he majored in physics, chemistry, and biology. After college, he was hired as a research chemist, but the position didn’t sit well with him. At the age of 35, he quit his job and started a new career fly tying, teaching, and writing. By the second year of his new venture, Dave was spending over 60% of his time giving lectures at fly fishing clubs and teaching people to fish. When asked what the transition from being a research chemist to making a living in the fly fishing industry, Dave said, “I felt like a bird that had been let out of a cage.”
Whitlock was also fortunate to have mentors along the way that included other IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame Inductees such as Joe Brooks, Al McClane, and Lee Wulff. In short order, his career took off, and in 1980 he became the head of L.L. Bean’s fly fishing schools. Dave was well-known as an innovative fly tyer and developed 250 fly patterns. He fished in all 50 US states and traveled extensively internationally to fish and lecture. He also appeared in a number of television series, including Flip Pallot’s Walker’s Cay Chronicles and John Barrett’s Fly Fishing the World.
A prolific writer, Whitlock authored five definitive books on fly fishing, contributed to many others, and wrote countless articles for premier fly fishing publications. However, Dave’s art was his favorite passion. He found tremendous satisfaction in recreating scenes from fly fishing and most of his art stemmed from his own personal fishing experiences. All of Dave’s work, especially his art, reflected the realism of nature and related fly-fishing subjects through the eyes of a true sportsman.
Dave was also known for his work in wild trout management. He fulfilled a lifelong dream of creating a wild trout stream in his native state of Oklahoma, which he did by stocking the stream with eggs rather than fish to create a self-sustaining trout stream. He was credited with developing the Whitlock-Vibert Box System, which is a unique and efficient in-stream egg incubator and nursery device. Today, the Whitlock-Vibert Box program is used throughout the world for introduction or enhancement of wild trout, char, and salmon stocks.
Dave’s work in literary, art, and conservation fields earned him numerous accolades from the angling community. Some of his most notable achievements included induction into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, Trout Hall of Fame, Arkansas Game and Fish Hall of Fame, Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum Hall of Fame.
When asked what fishing has given him, Dave said, “It’s given me a purpose, a reason to live and 87-years of happiness. What more could I want?”
The IGFA extends our condolences to the Whitlock family.