It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the founder of Umpqua Feather Merchants, Dennis Black, passed away this morning. An avid angler and gifted fly designer and tyer, Dennis had a profound impact on many of us here at Umpqua, as well as on the entire fly-fishing industry as a whole.
Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's, Dennis realized a unique opportunity to alleviate the shortage of quality hand-tied flies created by an increased national interest in fly-fishing. He knew that the growing demand for high quality flies would soon outstrip the abilities of independent tyers to produce them.
A well-traveled and knowledgeable young man, Dennis knew the high quality and precise detail of the arts and crafts being produced in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. He came up with the idea to develop a fly tying factory in India that would use highly skilled and specially trained young Indian women to tie the designs of American designers. He entered into a partnership with A. Joga Rao of Madras, India, and personally trained him - and his tyers - in the art of fly-tying.
Fully aware of the negative stigma of non-domestic fly quality, Dennis persuaded expert tyers - like Dave Whitlock, Mike Lawson and Randall Kaufmann - to give him exclusive rights to tie their flies commercially and enlisted their skills to establish extremely high standards of excellence - standards on which he refused to compromise. Orders for flies quickly outgrew the production capability of the factory, so Dennis expanded production capabilities of the factory and created new, dedicated factories and the foundation of what Umpqua Feather Merchants is today.
But the most important development that Dennis can be credited for was the creation of a royalty payment system to reward the imagination and skill of professional tyers, and to encourage emerging new talents to foster their creativity in the realm of fly design. As a commercial tyer himself, Dennis considered this to be paramount to the success of Umpqua Feather Merchants. Dave Whitlock writes in the introduction of Randall Kaufmann's Fly Patterns of Umpqua Feather Merchants, "Without Umpqua Feather Merchants, many talented amateur and professional fly tyers would never have been encouraged, recognized, or paid for their contributions and creativity. Creativity that seldom would have progressed past the fly tying bench or local angling waters now flows into the international arena of fly fishing that Dennis helped create."
Today, Umpqua has well over 150 royalty tyers who profit, both financially and creatively, from Dennis™ innovative ideas. Even those designers contracting with other fly companies owe Dennis their gratitude for his foresight.
We here at Umpqua, and those throughout the entire world of fly fishing, have lost a true visionary this day, and are deeply saddened by his passing. We wish his wife Maew and those surviving Dennis our heartfelt condolences, and express our eternal gratitude, respect and admiration to such an incredible, innovative and ingenious man. We will miss you Dennis...