On Monday, July 9, I was outside tending morning chores, when the phone rang and the answering machine picked up. I didn’t think much about the call at the time, but when I checked the caller ID, I knew. Lisa had left the message. Roger had passed.
Roger Menard was a man I met at one of Frank Mele’s opening day of trout season’s annual get-togethers. Over the years, we shared summers at the River’s Edge Motel at Shinhopple with Frank and other characters affiliated with the fly fishing community. As the years passed, we became good friends and fished the East Branch together, almost every week throughout the trout season. Roger loved and talked about the Hendrickson hatch a great deal. He called it the “Gentlemen’s Hatch” because, as he often explained, “It’s the first great hatch of the year, the trout are hungry, haven’t been fished over, and I can be home in time for dinner.”
A few years ago, I took Roger to a favorite pool, where the landowner provided permission for me to park and fish. It was Hendrickson time in the Catskills, and we hoped to find the hatch when we reached the river. I put Roger at the head of the pool, and it wasn’t long before the first little dun-colored sailboats appeared, and the trout began to feed. I had moved down stream about 150 feet, when I heard “Rog” shout, looked up river and saw a very big trout leave the water.
“Rog,” I yelled, “that’s a huge fish.” He just grunted, too busy with his bent Orvis and screaming Hardy Princess to respond. I knew that the net was going to be needed to land this fish, so I slowly began wading toward the fight. Roger finally got the trout’s head up and began to slide it toward my waiting net. In one swift swoop, the fish was in the mesh and lifted from the water. Only then did we realize its size. When measured, the trout exceeded 24 inches and weighed over four pounds. That trout was the largest that either of us had ever seen taken from a Catskill river.
Roger was a founding member of the Theodore Gordon Fly Fishers along with Lee Wullf, Ed Zern and Ted Rogowski. He was also a member of the Ashokan/Pepacton Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild. He was a prolific fly tier, collected cane fly rods and all kinds of other fishing paraphernalia. He loved to fish Catskill brook trout streams for the little jewels that lived in the pristine headwaters.
In 2002, Black Dome Press released “My Side of the River,” the book that Roger wrote about his fly-fishing escapades throughout the Catskills. It’s a beautiful little book, should be reprinted and is a volume all fly fishers should read, if they can find a copy. Roger lived in the eastern Catskills with his wonderful wife Lisa. She was his fishing buddy, constant companion, and caregiver in later years. Each spring and fall, until this year, they had the opportunity to visit friends in Maine, where they fished for large brook trout and landlocked salmon. I think Maine, is where Roger’s heart was, and believe that both he and Lisa would have loved to live there.
Everyone loved this thoughtful, knowledgeable, and gentle man. He was the last of the “Old School” of Catskill fly fishers and fly tyers like the Darbees, Dettes and Art Flick. We all will miss him, I will miss him, and our thoughts are with Lisa, at this sad and difficult time.