Don and Bubba

by dal-

Don Martinez was a California real estate professional who opened a fly shop in West Yellowstone in 1932. Wisely, Don spent his winters in California but when spring hit the rivers in the Rocky Mountains and the trout began searching for new hatch to feed upon, Don headed east and unlocked the door of his one room shop on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.

Don spent a lot of his time fishing and guiding in addition to running the shop and folks who knew him claim he had a fondness for alcohol. So he wasn’t always at his small shop and generally hired a couple local boys to fill in for him.


Inside Don’s shop. Don is in the middle.

His shop was stocked with a few good lines of fly-fishing gear and he tied and sold his own flies. In-fact, Don is credited with originating the now famous Woolly Worm and also with introducing dry fly fishing to that part of the country.

Unlike many retail shops, if you work in a fly shop you don’t just stand behind the counter all day waiting for customers to stroll in the door and hand you money. You spend your non-customer time tying flies… a lot of flies… because that’s what fisherman buy. No self-respecting fly fisher is going to walk out of a shop without a pocket full of hand-tied, local flies guaranteed to catch fish. It would be impolite and disrespectful.


If you are ever so blessed as to walk into a good fly shop you’ll see the usual…sleek, long poles…lightweight reels…a variety of green or brown waders and all kinds of “gadgets” to help you catch a big trout. But what generally jumps out at you are the neatly stacked rows and rows of compartmentalized bins holding hundreds of different kinds of fishing flies.

Bins of trout flies

Bins of trout flies

You’ll see streamers and buggers and dry flies and spinners with fascinating names like Zonkers and Old Adams, Royal Coachman, Bunyan Bug, Elk Hair Caddis and Sparkle Dunn, They are colorful and attractive like containers of tiny gemstones, shiny and glittering and begging to be picked up and examined…and that’s what you do in a fly shop.

A fisher is attracted to these bins of alluring flies no less so than the fish they hope to land. First you look to see what’s new…then you look to see how well they are tied. Then you begin looking to see how the local flies might be slightly different from the ones back home. Most of the flies are tied by the folks who work in the shop. A good fly tier can knock out a dozen or more flies in a single hour.

Back at Don Martinez’s fly shop, the local help Don hired in the 1940s included a tall, lanky kid known to his friends as Bubba. The kid was long on fishing skills even though he was barely in his teens, and was a good fit for the fly shop.

On one particular day Don strolled in about closing time, Bubba recalled. “I had just tied my 144th Woolly Worm of the day. I was shooting for a gross. Don looked at them and said he didn’t want them because I didn’t put silver tinsel on the bodies. He said, ‘you can have them’. So I kept every one of them and coaxed a lot of fish to the edge of disaster with those things.”

A Woolly Worm by Bubba

A Woolly Worm by Bubba. No tinsel needed.

Bubba also remembers using some of those Woolly Worms to his advantage when he was guiding. “The clients all had their fancy flies, but I always caught more fish on my Woolly Worm. Sometimes I was the only one who caught any fish at all. My other fly was the Squirrel Tail. I caught a lot of fish on it too, especially in the lakes. So I decided to make a Woolly Worm Squirrel Tail fly, which was nothing more than a Woolly Worm with some squirrel hair tied on the front. It became a famous fly and everyone called it the ‘Bubba Special’. I was a hero.”


By the time WWII was finished Don had sold his shop and retreated back to California permanently. He died in 1955 at the very young age of 52. His old shop is still in West Yellowstone. It’s Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop these days. If you wander in there be sure to gaze longingly at the fly bins and admire the Woolly Worms. Look around for a Bubba Special.


Forrest generously sent some pics and corrected what I wrote about the location of Don’s shop.

It turns out that Wikipedia (where I got the info about the location of Don’s shop) is incorrect. The Bud Lilly shop shown above is the NEW Bud Lilly shop. The old one did take over Don’s old shop but Bud outgrew Don’s small space and they moved three and a half blocks away to where the shop above is now located.


Don’s shop was probably located around here on Yellowstone Ave. (from Google Earth Street View)


A young June Fenn standing out in front of Don’s shop on Yellowstone Ave. That’s Don in the doorway. (from the Forrest Fenn collection)


Inside Don’s shop. That’s Skippy over in the corner. (from the Forrest Fenn collection)

Don’s shop (and the original Bud Lilly shop) was located on Yellowstone Ave. about half a block east of where Eagles is today.


You won’t find Bubba over in the corner tying flies anymore. He grew up, did a few pretty cool things, and I heard he moved out to Santa Fe.

I wonder if he still has any of those Woolly Worms left?

Click the link below to:
Watch Bubba tie a Woolly Worm


68 thoughts on “Don and Bubba

  1. Great story Dal! Yea, for some reason real estate sales (contract cancellations that is) and alcohol go hand and hand!

  2. Nice story. Forrest you’ve lived a very interesting life. Your next chapter may be even more amazing than all the previous!

  3. Thank you for the post, Dal. Looking at the flies in the bins, is like a kid in a candy store. Which one to pick? The Woolly Worm is a must have. Glad to see you made what you set out to do, Mr. Fenn.

  4. Sweet story…thanks for sharing. I watched the video again for the umpteenth time. I’m always amazed how steady ff’s hands are when he ties those little buggers. Great dexterity…maybe he learned this from being a fighter pilot.

  5. Fun story Dal thanks for posting…

    “A good fly tier can knock out a dozen or more flies in a single hour.”
    “Don strolled in about closing time, Bubba recalled. “I had just tied my 144th Woolly Worm of the day. I was shooting for a gross…

    Assuming an 8 hour day you were pushing 18 flies per hour… That’s pretty impressive!

  6. Great story Dal. Has Forrest ever sent you photos of him guiding?
    As a youngster I enjoyed watching my dad tie flies at a special desk. In a different scrapbook Forrest mentions tying flies along the river bank after determining what hatch was swarming. How do you tie flies without a clamp, etc?

    • Hello 42. It’s possible he may have used a pair of pliers or hook remover. If one is that good, one could use their skilled hands. Materials kept in a small case. This is an opinion, offered as a thought.

    • 42-
      I have never seen photos of Forrest guiding. However, he is going to send me a photo that will correct an error in that story and the same error in Wikipedia about Don’s shop.
      I’ll post it…and the correction…when I get the photo..
      Forrest has to scan it..
      So it might be awhile..

      • Thanks Forrest and Dal, I love the picture of June standing in front of the shop. Was June an avid fisherman too?

    • That’s what he says..I have no reason to doubt him…watch the video of him tying a Woolly long does it take him?

      • Thanks Dal, I enjoy watching Forrest tie the Wooly Worm, and you are right it doesnt take him long and he is talking and teaching while he does it,.

  7. Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing Dal. I will learn how to tie a fly one day but don’t see getting a gross in a day. Mad skills lol. ☺

  8. Woolly Bully… Hully Gully. Seems like this is hear me now and listen good as well as effort will be worth the cold. I was stuck on this one thinking it was related somehow to the Fins or HHJ’s old home foundation remnants, like an ice house or something. I wonder if Strawberry Hill will have some clues.

    Very timely for this post. Strawberry Fields is in the midst of a controversial landswap dele with Broadmoor. Property rights would become complex, assuming it’s somehow specified in the contract (in my opinion).

  9. Amazing how the simplest of things, with imagination, can be turned into things of beauty.

  10. Thanks Dal… good down to earth story that inspires the reader. Fly fishing and tying your own flies completes the journey…for the aspiring fisherman.

  11. I added some new info to the story. Forrest provided a couple of interesting photos…
    Is June wearing cowgirl boots? She looks very fashionable 🙂

    • Very cool story, thanks Dal and Forrest. I love the photos of Yellowstone,,,I have not yet been there except in my imagination.

      Indeed, those are cowgirl boots on June. I wore my own cowgirl boots just this morning while feeding cattle. Is this a clue? Perhaps I should wear them and search again in June 🙂

  12. Sweet picture of his sister.


    The trout above the left window in that picture looks like a Brown trout.


  13. Hello Dal. Thank you for the update. I love these old photos. Trying to imagine going back in time and seeing the Fenn kids hanging around the shop. I wonder if Don had an old-fashioned soda machine in one of the corners in his store? The kind you put a coin in, open the door, lift the latch and grab a bottle. Thank you for sharing these photos, Mr. Fenn. They’re great. 🙂

  14. It is fun to look at old photos and imagine what that particular time meant for the people in the photos…June looks as gleeful as could be. Skippy kind of looks like he might have been right in the middle of cookin’ up some kind of somethin’…
    Thanks for sharing Forrest and thanks for posting Dal. It’s always great to get info from and about Forrest.

  15. Nice riches, new & old.
    Glad Peggy didn’t throw any pics out while you were away.

    “Today I looked up in the sky
    And saw that I shall never die.
    Forget the pain and harm you see,
    My loving wife looks after me.”

    My eye’s & mind must be playing tricks on me.
    I’d swear I see the 5th clue in one of the pics.

  16. “woolly worm squirrel hair tail” sounds like a good name for a stiff drink to me.

  17. Seems as if any promotion of Red Snapper would be out of place in Yellowstone.

    Brown, Cutthroat. Rainbow or Brook trout….yes.


  18. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a afternoon.
    Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifestyle.

    – Thou Fool

  19. I guess the store that Marvin is standing in front of with his string of fish in TFTW in the trophy hat story was Don’s tackle shop. I had noticed it said Martinez in the window early on after buying the book. I never could read the word in front of it. Kinda thought it said Carl Martinez. A string of trout in front of Martinez’place. Hmmmm……… Don Martinez instead of Carl Martinez. I like that better.

  20. I think I need some wooly worms here in Tasmania. I moved to Tassie because of it’s wild and natural beauty and trout, yep trout in the rivers which I can’t catch oh and I have a river beside my house and did I mention the TROUT which I can’t catch.
    Plus a sweet friend left me his hand made rods he made…about 50 (I have given some away and people just love them)…so beautiful… .time for fly fishing lessons and perhaps having a go at my own wooly worms.
    I’m sure the HOB is just down a wee bit from my place…

    Cheers to y’all.

  21. Just noticed June is standing below the letters ART in Don’s name. I’d like to hear more stories about her since she lived for 70 years she must have done some interesting things too?

  22. Forrest never seemed like a Bubba to me…he apparently grew out of that nickname pretty quick.

    Bud Lillies was my hoB for one of my solves(the grate one)… I learn it wasn’t the original location….jeez.

  23. Forrest, your ‘work ethic’ is showing!

    And….smart to challenge yourself (a gross?) and/or set daily goals….the work day goes so much quicker!

  24. I have been lucky enough to catch Brown Trout in two places on this planet, Tasmania and Montana. In Tasmania it was off normal season so we fished with lures set up similar to this
    In Montana it has been on a variety of things but I have watched a big Brown part a school of indifferent Brook Trout to nail my Woolley Bugger in a clear river hole. I was surprised at how much Tasmania was like Montana, then I realized they are similar distance to the equator. If I ever lived in the southern hemisphere I would want to live in New Zealand or Tasmania.

  25. What a great snap shot of Forrest’s boyhood in West YS. Loved the old photos, but where’s the photo of Bubba?

  26. I really enjoy these snapshots into the Fenns’ lives. But 144…that’s a gross amount of flies! 🙂 After a long day like that, I hope he sat down by a stream, put one of those woolly worms on the line & coaxed in a nice brookie.

  27. Like.

    (I would simply want to be a fly on the wall… as the saying goes, simply taking it all in.)

  28. I wonder if Mr. Fenn still has a Woolly Worm Squirrel Tail fly in his collection of flies. Would love to see what one looks like. I’ve made Wooly Worm flies, but would like to know how this one is made.

    • With winter upon us, warm weather has been on my mind and the thought of fly fishing along with it. Fished Slough Creek this year and lost the Woolly Worm I made and was so proud of since my previous post on July 1. Going to watch the video again to freshen my steps to making them. I hope others will consider trying to tie a fly. It’s so much fun.

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