Cornelia Thurza Crosby (1854-1946)

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, one of New England’s most celebrated names in fly fishing was Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby. Crosby was born in Phillips, Maine, a small town just south of the Rangeley Lakes region. Her father died when she was very young, and she was raised by her mother. By 1868, tuberculosis had hit the family; her brother died from the illness, and the toll on Crosby was a lifetime of compromised health that periodically kept her bedridden for weeks.

As an adult, Crosby worked a variety of jobs, including ones for the local banks and regional railroads. Having received her first bamboo fly rod by 1878 from nearby Farmington rod maker Charles E. Wheeler (1847–1916), Crosby became a Rangeley fixture during the fishing seasons and had a reputation as a successful angler. Her nickname, Fly Rod, was in common use by 1886. The local newspaper, the Phillips Phonograph, often included comments about Crosby and her fishing trips. The editor of the newspaper soon approached her about writing a regular column, and in July 1889 Crosby submitted features under the name of Fly Rod to the Phonograph. She wrote about the fishing, the people, the places, and the happenings that she saw; her coverage of these topics continued throughout her entire writing career, including in her column, “Fly Rod’s Note Book.”

In 1895 Crosby convinced the Maine Central Railroad to sponsor an exhibition at the first annual Sportsmen’s Exposition in New York City. She and two Rangeley guides manned a Maine booth displaying taxidermy and a log cabin. This modest display brought great visibility to the state and helped to increase tourism. Crosby organized and presented expanded displays again in 1896, 1897, and 1898, as well as at similar expositions in Boston. She published articles about these events, discussing her short-skirted sporting outfit by Spaulding Brothers and her meeting the famed shooter Annie Oakley.

While attending the 1897 Sportsmen’s Exposition, Crosby was informed about the passage of an important bill in Maine. For years, through the Maine Sportsmen’s Fish and Game Association, she had lobbied for the licensing of guides as a way to generate funds for fish and game protection. In appreciation of her efforts, and despite the fact that Crosby was never a guide, the state of Maine ceremonially awarded Fly Rod Crosby license number 1 in 1898.

The following year, Crosby suffered a tremendous injury to her knee. Some accounts claimed that she fell while disembarking a train; some believe her skirt became caught and she was dragged by a train; and Crosby herself recounted that she slipped on a piece of coal. However it happened, Crosby was physically and, for the most part, emotionally crippled by this unfortunate accident. Her days of fly fishing and hunting decreased greatly, and her newspaper articles diminished while she was in and out of hospitals. For the last twenty years of her life, Fly Rod Crosby devoted her time to her church and community causes.

Cornelia Crosby will be remembered as someone who devoted her adult life to the improvement and preservation of Maine’s fish and game. Besides ushering in the licensing of guides, Crosby promoted catch and release, supported the need to license hunters and the use of red hats to make hunters safe, advanced the idea of catch limits for all fish and game, coined Maine’s promotional phrase “the Playground of the Nation,” proposed a game park for moose, and helped establish the Maine State Museum.

From the collection of the Phillips Historical Society.

While marketing the state of Maine, Crosby also marketed herself through posed photo opportunities.