Cover Stories

Cover Stories

30 Years of shaping the image of Fly Rod & Reel

  • By: Joe Healy
FRR 0304 1979.jpg

The front cover is the face of a magazine. The façade. The entryway. Done well, through the image chosen and the cover lines written, it’s the summation of not only the pages to follow; but the feeling of the magazine. The cover strikes a nerve, triggers an impulse and arrests our attention. It causes the reader to pause after shaking the magazine free from the mail pile—or, to the enduring satisfaction of we editors and art directors who create these canvases, convinces a customer to buy this magazine from a retailer. More than a mere cloak, a cover is the magazine’s personality. Here, we went back to our beginnings, March/April 1979, marched through the decades and selected some of the most engaging of the past 178 FR&R front covers.

March/April 1979— And we’re off…. Here’s how this whole shebang started, Issue Number One. John Merwin lays down the thesis that Rod & Reel will be a tell-it-like-it-is fishing magazine, and by fishing he means all types of fishing. Bob Stearns writes about bonefish, Charlie Fox about muskies and the nascent magazine manages to eke out a couple of advertising pages—except for the back cover, which remains blank.

July/August 1979—Otherwise known as Number Three, this issue wears a cover photo by Bob Stearns of Capt. Jim Paddock and contains features on the Jitterbug (the lure, not the dance—whoa, we are dating ourselves!), invertebrate behavior by Gary Borger and a look at drag systems by Lefty Kreh. Scientific Anglers/3M touts its high-visibility line on the back cover.

September/October 1980—What a doozy this “all-tackle” R&R cover is. This Don Gray shot is of a bunch of muskie lures—what is it about muskie lures that captivate the angling mind? Oh yeah, the names: Paw Paw Wotta Frog, Rush Tango, Outings Du Gettum, Heddon Crazy Crawler, Al Foss Pork Rind Shiner, Pflueger Pal-O-Mine…. Rene Harrop writes about cold-weather caddis; John Merwin speaks with reel-maker S. E. Bogdan.

July/October 1986—The name is still Rod & Reel, but the coverage has a definite fly-fishing tropism. Darrel Martin reviews waxed-cotton fabrics, Steve Rajeff (a youngish casting phenom) is interviewed and Gary LaFontaine shares his knowledge of grasshoppers. Cover story: Lee Wulff posits a theory on new stages of fly-tying; cover photo of Lee by Charley Freiberg; back cover is Orvis Super Strong Tippet Material.


May/June 1987—Doctor Strange Rod, I presume? This cover corresponds to the magazine’s feature on the rebirth of two-handed sticks, written by Ehor Boyanowsky; the photo is by Joe Devenney, a studio photographer from Maine. Also in the issue, Rex Gerlach talks about strike indicators and Ralph Cutter quizzes on fly-fishing facts. The back cover is occupied by an Orvis ad on its Small Stream Special rod.

April 1988—“O say can you see….” R&R gets patriotic with a celebratory look at trout fishing in America, with a focus on 10 great streams from the Beaverkill (New York) to the Agulopak (Alaska); Tim England shares deer-hair fly-tying secrets and Ted Leeson weighs in on fish scales (the measuring kind). The front cover illustration is by Arthur Taylor, Orvis advertises its 25-year rod guarantee on the back cover.

April 1994—Look familiar? As a nod to this coverage on covers, we re-published Tom Montgomery’s golden-trout photo as the face of this issue! Tom caught the fish in Wyoming’s Wind River range on a Renegade tied by Al Troth. The back cover went to G. Loomis’ IMX and GL3 rods. Inside the magazine, Ted Leeson tested fly vests and a special 15 page section examined the state of the angler’s environment in the early Clinton years.

March 2002—A distinct change of personalty is underway, as the magazine declares itself “The Excitement of Fly-Fishing” in the cover tag line. We started as “The Journal of American Angling” which changed to “The Journal of American Fly-Fishing” which changed again to “The Magazine of American Fly-Fishing” which then became “The Excitement….” Nowadays, we go without a tag line. Jeffrey Cardenas holds a bluefin tuna; photo is by Sam Talarico; back cover is an ad for St. Croix Legend Ultra rods.

July/October 2008—Simply the best—that is, the best newsstand-selling cover since we’ve been keeping records, judged by the percentage of issues sold versus the number sent out for sale (a k a sell-through). Our 2009 Traver Award second-place finisher RC Hooker wrote the cover story on Glacier National Park, while John Gierach’s 100th “Sporting Life” column provided the issue’s keynote feature (no doubt a big contributor to the popular sales). Photo, Brian Grossenbacher; back cover Redington shirts.