Aiken started out as a professional horticulturalist from Putney who cherished Vermont, its people, and the beauty of its mountains. During Aiken’s early political career, he published two books, Pioneering with Wildflowers,10 which remains in print, and Pioneering with Fruits and Berries.11
Politically, Aiken was a progressive Republican and a Vermonter who believed that “freedom of thought and action is logical and inherent.”12 He served in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1931 to 1935 and as governor from 1937 to 1941. In 1941, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served through 1974. As governor and senator, Aiken was a champion of people facing hard times during the Depression. He took on land and flood control issues, and supported food stamps, public works projects, rural electrification, and crop insurance. As senator, he was an early proponent of a more efficient and universal health-care system.13
Throughout his career, Aiken sought cooperation at the local, state, and national levels in an effort to establish a more bipartisan system. Aiken’s many accomplishments, as well as his posture during the Vietnam conflict, stand today as his lasting legacy to the state of Vermont.
During winter 2012, I drafted a “modest proposal” to establish the Governor Aiken Bucktail as the official Vermont State fishing fly and forwarded it to Pat Berry, then commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. He supported the idea and suggested that it be passed on as a formal proposal to Vermont State Representative David Deen, chair of the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, for consideration by the House. I didn’t hear anything about the status of the proposal until late in the 2013–2014 legislative session. Toward the end of February 2014, Deen e-mailed me that Bill H. 589 had passed the House and was now in committee in the Senate. The dream of a state fishing fly was becoming a reality. I passed the news on to friends and colleagues, urging them to contact their senators to support the bill.
Late in April 2014, Representative Deen sent the message that the Senate had passed the bill and that there would be an imminent signing ceremony in the governor’s office. A framed fly and the story of the Governor Aiken Bucktail were delivered to Governor Shumlin’s office in time for the signing ceremony on Monday, May 5. The governor signed the bill into law and said that the framing and story would share space in his office next to the portrait of Governor George Aiken.
Up to this point, as far as I knew, no one had been in touch with Mrs. Aiken to tell her about the new state fishing fly. At the urging of a friend and with the help of Maida Townsend, our local legislator, and Lisa Kunin, executive assistant to the governor, we were able to contact Mrs. Aiken’s family. Timing is everything. Doug Robie, Mrs. Aiken’s nephew, speaking on behalf of the family, informed us that there would be a party for Mrs. Aiken on June 24 to celebrate her 102nd birthday. We were able to have another fly framed in time for the celebration, at which Louis Porter, commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, presented the commemorative framing to Mrs. Aiken.
And that’s pretty much the story. Having lived in Vermont for almost forty-five years and having fished its rivers and streams for the better part of my life, I am proud to know that a simple fly, the Governor Aiken Bucktail, has joined the ranks of the brook trout, the hermit thrush, red clover, the Morgan horse, and the taste of maple as symbols of this great state.14 You can—and should—view Vermont’s official state fishing fly for yourself at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, and at the South Hero Bicentennial Museum in the Champlain Islands.