Sara Jane McBride (1844 - ?)
First professional woman fly tyer in America and first to publish an original paper on field study of aquatic insects.
About one half of insect life feed, breathe, and sport in the water. In the grace of their movements, in the quick adaptation to circumstances, they show a joyful feeling of pleasure in their existence….The essential elements of a rich fauna are sunlight, healthy vegetation, and uniform temperature. These, Caledonia Creek possesses in a wonderful degree. - McBride, Sara J., “Entomology for Fly Fisherman” pub. Rochester Express, March 3, 1877.
Sara Jane McBride grew up along the banks of Caledonia Creek, now known as Spring Creek. From the early 1800s, the natural springs in Caledonia were well known for the abundance of trout and aquatic insects. The waterway runs north through the village and into the hamlet of Mumford, Monroe County, where Sara’s father established a business making and selling lures for fly fishermen.
She was one of seven children of John and Mary McBride, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. John McBride excelled at his craft and quickly built up a reputation among fishermen throughout the region and across the northeast. After his death in 1875, his daughter Sara succeeded her father as the sole proprietor of the business. Within a year she published several important essays on the subject of aquatic insects geared to angler’s interests, launching her to into the public sphere as a respected (albeit amateur) entomologist.
From 1876 to about 1879, Sara Jane McBride found her voice through popular sporting magazines such as Outing and Forest and Stream. From a business sense, the magazine’s male editors realized the “lure” of promoting women such as McBride in order to expand readership to Victorian women and they responded enthusiastically. Shortly after publication of her first two articles on “The Metaphysics of Fly Fishing,” McBride ran national advertisements directed at anglers and headlined “McBride Flies,” emphasizing her competence and experience in the science of creating original flies.
Sara Jane McBride’s innovative flies led to world recognition at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World’s Fair in the United States, held at Philadelphia. Here she was awarded a bronze medal in the fly tying category. She continued to publish more of her studies and decided to move the tackle business from Mumford to New York City. The venture lasted less than a year, however, before McBride advertised that she was moving back to the Caledonia area.
Given that John McBride and his family lived and worked within a short distance of the Caledonia Fish Hatchery, there is a high likelihood that Sara interacted on some level with Seth Green, the “Father of Fish Culture,” and the most famous person linked to Spring Creek. But the two never combined forces in their scientific studies. Green, who was primarily focused on pisciculture and not fly fishing, may have discounted or simply ignored Sara Jane McBride’s work. She was not without doubters, particularly from the emerging male scientists who ridiculed her lack of academic credentials.
Sara Jane McBride’s disappearance from the limelight was as expeditious as her rise in notoriety. In fact, she seemed to vanish entirely. Historians have searched for over a century for any mention of her whereabouts after 1879 and have come up empty-handed. Yet in the present day, her work is considered foundational in the field of fly fishing and often cited among experts. Sara Jane McBride’s place among trailblazing women persists.
For more information:
American Museum of Fly Fishing - https://www.amff.org/
“A Rod of her Own”: women and angling in Victorian North America. Thesis by McMurray, David; University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science, 2007.