LaFontaine, Gary 1945-2002

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LaFONTAINE, Gary 1945-2002

PERSONAL: Born May 12, 1945, in Hartford, CT; died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis January 4, 2002, in Missoula, MT; children: one daughter. Education: University of Montana, master's degree. Hobbies and other interests: Fly-fishing.

CAREER: Professional flyfisherman.

AWARDS, HONORS: United Fly Tyers Fly Fishing Book of the Year Award, 1981, for Caddisflies, 1990, for The Dry Fly: New Angles, and 2001, for Trout Flies: Proven Patterns.


Challenge of the Trout, Mountain Press Publishing (Missoula, MT), 1976.

Caddisflies, Winchester Press (Tulsa, OK), 1981.

The Dry Fly: New Angles: Choosing the Right Fly for the Moment, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 1990.

Trout Flies: Proven Patterns, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 1993.

Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 1998.

(With Ron Cordes) The Cordes/LaFontaine PocketGuide to Emergency Bicycle Repair, R. A. Cordes, 1999.

(With Eric Peper) Fly Fishing the Beaverkill, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 1999.

(With Mike Lawson) Fly Fishing the Henry's Fork, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 2000.

(With Bob Jacklin) Fly Fishing the Yellowstone in thePark, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 2001.

(With Craig Matthews) Fly Fishing the Madison, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including Angling Report, Fly Rod & Reel, and Trout.

ADAPTATIONS: Fly-Fishing the Margate was recorded on audiocassette, Greycliff Publishing (Helena, MT), 1989.

SIDELIGHTS: Gary LaFontaine was an avid fly-fisher and writer who turned his passion for his sport into his avocation by writing a number of highly regarded books on fly-fishing. He also tied flies, sold fly patterns, taught classes, and appeared in instructional videos. According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, his books are considered "classics about the sport."

LaFontaine grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, where his interest in fishing began at an early age. His stepfather, John Gaudreau, was a tropical fish enthusiast and gave LaFontaine aquariums to use. LaFontaine collected small bass, pickerel, and trout, and observed their behavior. Using what he learned, he trained them to do tricks, such as jump through hoops.

Although many of the creeks in his Connecticut neighborhood were on private land, LaFontaine sneaked onto the premises of a private golf course to fish. However, through reading fishing periodicals, he learned that Montana was a haven of world-class trout fishing, and he dreamed of going there. In 1963 he moved to Montana to attend the University of Montana and live his dream.

In an article on the Nat Greene Flyfishers Web site, LaFontaine commented that he could have gone to college in a large city, but when he realized that the University of Montana had the Clark's Fork River flowing past the campus, the choice was easy. He earned a master's degree in behavioral psychology and wrote his thesis on trout feeding, but never took a class between one and four o'clock because that was when the best fishing was. After fishing, he said, "we'd go to the four-o-clock class, take our waders off and lean our rods in the corner and the instructor would take the first ten minutes of the class asking us about the fishing."

After graduating, LaFontaine remained in Montana, where he fly-fished between 150 and 200 days a year. In order to make a living, he worked as a night-shift guard at the Montana State prison, but he kept his days free for fishing. He also worked as a fishing guide. He was known for experimenting with new fly patterns, and was a great innovator in the field. His patterns were particularly effective because they were based on his meticulous observations of fish in the wild, as well as scientific experiments. He assembled a team of avid fishers who tested his patterns and rigorously evaluated how effective they were. As one team member fished, another scuba-dived nearby, observing the reactions of fish to the fly. Thus, he could clearly see which patterns attracted fish and which did not. LaFontaine and his team devised dozens of new fly designs, and also described the principles of fish behavior that made them work.

LaFontaine was also noted for being able to predict accurately which of his many patterns would work most effectively in particular water and weather conditions. Again, this ability was based on his extensive fishing experience and keen observation.

LaFontaine's first book, Caddisflies presents a detailed discussion of these insects, which provide up to forty-five percent of a trout's diet and are thus of great interest to fly-fishing enthusiasts. LaFontaine based the book on ten years of study of these insects and their role in fish ecology, as well as his knowledge of fly-tying. It presents patterns for tying flies that realistically imitate the live insect in larval, pupal, and adult stages. In Library Journal, David J. Panciera noted that this is only the second book ever written on this topic, and that it would be useful both to fly-fishers and to entomologists.

In Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes, LaFontaine alternates chapters telling often-humorous stories about mountain fishing adventures with chapters offering practical advice and fishing lessons. The chapters are presented according to season, beginning with spring ice-out and moving through the year, with fly-fishing tactics specific to each season and to various weather conditions. The book also presents information on equipment, mountain lake ecology, proper clothing, the use of pack animals to carry gear to remote areas, and British fly-fishing methods. LaFontaine also included fly-tying methods.

"Nobody can identify, analyze, isolate, and solve flyfishing problems better than LaFontaine," Ed Engle wrote in Fly Fisherman, praising the book as better than "all the other books you've read on the subject combined." In Martin Joergensen wrote, "This is one of the funniest books I have read for quite a while," and noted that it provides "an entertaining and educating journey" through the flyfishing year.

Fly-Fishing the Henry's Fork shares the knowledge LaFontaine and coauthor Mike Lawson gained through many years of fly-fishing and guiding on this river. The book tells readers where the fish are, how to fish for them, and what flies to use.

Trout Flies: Proven Patterns presents patterns for sixty-two of LaFontaine's carefully tested flies. It also includes detailed information on fish and insect habitat and fishing methods, advice on which type of fly to use in various kinds of water, and excerpts from LaFontaine's personal fishing logbook describing how he devised and experimented with these patterns.

LaFontaine died in January of 2002 of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was fifty-six years old.



Fly Fisherman, September, 1999, Ed Engle, review of Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes, p. 24.

Library Journal, October, 1981, David J. Panciera, review of Caddisflies, p. 1942; December, 1998, Will Hepfer, review of Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes, p. 116.


American Fly Fishing Web site, (July 24, 2002)., (July 24, 2002).

Nat Greene Flyfishers, (July 24, 2002), profile of LaFontaine.



Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2002, p. B15.

Washington Post, January 12, 2002, p. B7.*