Innovation / Achievement Kudos

Innovation / Achievement Kudos

Gehrke's Gink

  • By: Greg Thomas
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IT WAS SPRING ON MONTANA’S Big Hole River and my bushy Improved Sofa Pillow sank like a stone. I was about to snap a Sage rod over a knee when my father said, “Tie on a fresh fly and try some of this.” In midair that tiny item looked like another airline bottle, which my father was prone to offer at any time, morning or night, on our fishing trips. When that plastic bottle landed in my hand I said, “What the heck.” About five minutes later, with a fresh fly dressed with Gehrke’s Gink, I was fast to a solid brown and my dry-fly life changed forever.

Perhaps no product, aside from rods and fly lines of course, changed the path of dry-fly fishing like Gehrke’s Gink, which was first offered for sale in 1973 and came with this unique guarantee: If for any reason you don’t agree that Gink is the best dry-fly dressing in the world, return the empty bottle for a full refund. In its first 26 years anglers bought eight million bottles and only one angler asked for a refund.

To this day Gink, founded by the eccentric George Eugene Gehrke, who passed in 2004, is the ardent angler’s standby dry-fly dressing, found in almost every fly shop across America and beyond. And why wouldn’t it be? Gink floats a bare, size-8 light-wire dry-fly hook in water. Gink turns to clear liquid at skin temperature and carries a specific gravity of .77 percent, which means it’s lighter than water. When Gink contacts the water it becomes an invisible gel, forming an impenetrable wall between an angler’s dry fly and the water.

Gehrke began work on his product in 1970 because he couldn’t keep a fly afloat to catch the three-pound trout cruising in a lake near his home in Blackhawk, Colorado. He secured a $200 loan, which allowed him to convert part of his home into a chemistry lab. He spent three years developing the product, “testing” daily on Clear Creek with a Royal Coachman fly. When the product was ready for release he inspected the 2,517-page 1897 version of The Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia and stopped on the word ginkin, an Irish term meaning young salmon. Later, he found the word gink defined as good fellow. He combined the definitions to mean good fisherman and, in the process, he created one of the most recognizable and enduring brands in contemporary fly-fishing history. And his product continues to prosper. According to Rose Tafoya, George’s daughter, who now runs Gehrke’s Gink from the banks of the Snake River in Asotin, Washington, the product is more popular than ever and she can’t accurately estimate how many bottles go out the door each year. At least three or four to this angler, I can guarantee you that. The only shame in Gehrke’s story is this: the man and his groundbreaking product have yet to be inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. —Greg Thomas