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The Complete Tangler by Clem Fullerton

Jim Deren and the Angler’s Roost

In my last column, I briefly mentioned a now defunct tackle shop known as the Angler’s Roost. From 1952 through 1958 it was my good fortune to spend my lunch hour, or longer, in the magical confines of Jim Deren’s establishment.

In the February issue of Field & Stream, John Merwin, the initial editor of Fly Rod & Reel magazine, states that, “in the mid 1950’s Abercrombie & Fitch, at Madison Avenue and 45th Street, was the center of the American sporting universe.” Perhaps for those who were hunters, but as for fishermen, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Merwin. A & F was a great store. I dropped some nickels there myself. However, for those who fished, the center of the universe was located in the basement of the Chrysler Building at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. Albeit that the management of the building insisted on referring to the basement as the “lower arcade.”

The proprietor of this fishing tackle shop was a larger-than-life character named Jim Deren. The Anglers Roost was such a successful shop that its name was known from Canada to Florida and beyond to Chile and Argentina. All types of fishermen, those who were famous and those who were unknown, were drawn to the Roost as if sucked by the power of a black hole. Titans of the business world, heroes from the fields of sport, angling authors, newspaper journalists, famous musicians, all passed through the door of Deren’s emporium.

All this, despite the fact that Jim ran the place in a manner that broke every rule of successful retailing. Business hours from nine to five? Not at the Angler’s Roost. Deren was rarely open for business before 11:30 am. He closed the door any darn time he pleased. Many a time I heard a customer complain that he had been there yesterday only to find the shop closed. Jim would laugh and jovially tell the law, “Well, I’m here now.” The customer would invariably smile and make his purchase. It was hard to be angry with Jimmy Deren.

On two occasions when Jim and I were momentarily alone in the shop, he had the opportunity to introduce me to a couple of well-known customers. The first time, a tall, very solid looking, well-dressed gentleman had come into the shop. He and Jim greeted each other with a string of profanities and a series of rib-cracking bear hugs. When the cussing and wrestling were finally over Jim introduced me to a Mr. Smith. It was not until Mr. Smith had exited the door that I learned that I had just shaken hands with the president of American Airlines.

Shortly thereafter, a slender fellow dressed in sport clothes came into the Roost. He looked vaguely familiar to me but I did not recognize him.

Jim made a big fuss over this guy, calling him Teddy. I gathered from their conversation that he was one of Deren’s salmon fishing buddies. With a big smile on his face, Jim turned to me and said, “Hey kid, c’mon and shake hands with Ted Williams.” Unbelievable! As we shook hands, Ted Williams said how pleased he was to meet me. I cannot begin to remember what it was that I stammered in reply.

There was a small group in the shop known as the Cracker Barrel Crew. These fellows were in the Roost nearly every weekday. Since Deren usually had no other sales help, the members of the crew were allowed to wait on customers when the shop became unusually busy. Jim had apparently read Tom Sawyer. Over the years a great many fishermen hung out at the Angler’s Roost. It was extremely rare for Deren to indicate that any of them had become members of the Cracker Barrel Crew. There were three essentials for anyone to become a recognized member of this tightly knit group.

First, it was imperative for Deren to take a liking to you. Deren was friendly to everyone; however, he very rarely added new members to the crew. Secondly, the crew clearly had to have no objection to your presence in the shop. Third, if Jim began to call you by your first name or tagged you with a nickname, you had made the cut. To the regret of many, it did not happen often. Since I was far younger than any of the crew members, I had resigned myself to simply playing the part of a fly on the wall. I was happy just to listen to these fellows debate the finer points of fly fishing. It was like taking a Ph.D course in fishing for trout.

One day late in April, the shop was overrun by customers and visitors. Several Cracker Barrel Crew members were already waiting on people. Deren was at the rear of the shop showing a fellow an expensive bamboo rod when another customer interrupted to ask about flies. Unexpectedly, Deren turned to me and barked, “For Chrissakes kid, will you show this guy what flies he needs for the Beaver Kill this weekend?” Though I could not believe my ears, I quickly scurried behind the counter and proceeded to sell the gentleman some Red Quills, Hendricksons and small Blue Quills. The fellow paid cash. Now I was stuck. I had never worked a cash register.

Deren glanced over at me, holding the money in my hand and growled, “Well are you going to put that in your pocket or in the cash register?”

Luckily for me Ray Church was standing at the register. He gave me a wink of congratulation and showed me the sequence of keys to hit. From that day forward I was a member of the Cracker Barrel Crew. I never did learn what I had done or did not do that earned me Jim Deren’s stamp of approval. I could hardly wait to get home to tell Barb the great news. My little lady was not all that impressed. Sic Transit Gloria.

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