It’s early March, soft snow falling, a fire in the wood stove. Molly is snoring at the hearth. It’s been an abnormally cold winter here in the Catskills, with below zero nights and brisk, windy days. There is a lot of snow too, much more than normal. Although the snow is a nuisance, the runoff will be welcome; it will fill the rivers and restore the reservoirs, which had been unusually low earlier in the year. A few days ago, I was speaking with a man who works in the sugar bush who claimed that sap flow is at least a week away. My own poorly kept records show that the crocus are usually in bloom by now, with the grackles assaulting the feeders. The first signs of spring—not this year.
I’ve been reading “Grays” and thumbing through fly fishing catalogs. Then Rog stopped in to pick up a few hooks, and we visited about the long winter. Just before he left, we talked about all the old timers we knew when we began fly fishing and how important they were toward our development as fishermen. After he left, I reminisced about a few of the men we discussed and where I might be without their friendship and guidance.
I didn’t come from a family of fishers. My father and uncles were too busy making a living to take us fishing. So it was through the men I met as a teenager that I found my way to the trout streams of New York. Bob was a painter by profession, and I met him through my dad’s work at a private estate. We went to visit, and Bob gave me several boxes of Ray Bergman hooks, along with a jungle cock cape that I have to this day. About a week later, he picked me up and off we drove, to a fishing shop where I found my first really good vise. It was a Thompson Model B and cost exactly $3.50. As I progressed as a fly tier, Bob invited me to go along with him to the annual sportsmen’s show at the New York Coliseum. There we tied and sold flies. The proceeds were used to send kids to the De Bruce Conservation Camp.
My friend Tony’s father was named Tony, too. Every weekend he took us fishing. On Sundays, it was after 5:30 Mass. Early in the season we fished the local streams, but as the weather warmed, it was off to the Catskills and the famous rivers there. Watching him fish at the “falls” on the Amawalk Outlet, I saw my first trout: two 14-inch browns, which he caught and promptly gave to me. Tony senior was probably the most humble, generous man I ever met and showed me—among other things—what it meant to be a sportsman.
Ted lived up the road. I don’t remember how we met. But once I saw the catch of large rainbows he made from the Delaware, I asked if he would take me along. He did, but I never caught any. Eventually, through his kindness, we established a youth sportsmen’s club in the basement of his home. The club met every month and made annual fishing trips to the Catskills.
So on this snowy day, as I look back over the years, I realize how fortunate I was to have had these men as friends and mentors. They are all long gone now, but I remember them fondly. They were kind and good men who had a profound influence on my life.