Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

Evolution of a fly fisher

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 2/26/20

In his book, “Small in the Eye of a River,” my old friend Frank Mele wrote: “On having turned his 75th year in reasonably good health, any fly-fisher must feel immense gratitude for …

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Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

Evolution of a fly fisher

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In his book, “Small in the Eye of a River,” my old friend Frank Mele wrote: “On having turned his 75th year in reasonably good health, any fly-fisher must feel immense gratitude for having been granted the privilege of rivers and streams over the years.” On beginning my 78th year in good health, I cannot disagree with Frank’s sentiments. When one reaches this age, in good spirts and in good health, he or she begins to reflect on a life lived with a certain gratitude, especially if still wading rivers. 

When I was a very young lad, I was drawn to the brook across from our house in Ossining. Kill Brook has its origins near Mary Knoll Seminary before meeting the Hudson Estuary miles away. I don’t know why I was drawn to the brook; perhaps it was by an underlying force? Or maybe because I was born under the water sign of Aquarius?

Whatever the reason, I was fascinated by all things associated with flowing water. First, it was catching minnows and crawdads. It wasn’t long before I was tagging along with dad to fish the small lake where he worked. As I grew older, I met a fellow student and we became good friends. Soon I was invited to go fishing. Every weekend his father took us fishing all over southeastern New York, first to the local streams in Westchester and Putnam Counties. As the season progressed, it was off to the Catskills and the Esopus, Willowemoc and Beaverkill. I have to wonder how many kids of that era had the opportunity to fish all those famous rivers. 

In those days, our fishing was strictly worm based. But as I progressed as a fisherman, I began to hear about fly fishing. My father had a friend that was a renowned fly fisher and fly tier. One day, Dad took me to meet Mr. Robert Zigsby. “Bob” took me to buy my first vice, a Thompson Model B, which I have to this day. I kept it for the sentimental value associated with his memory. Pretty soon I gave up worms and took up fly fishing full time.

By the time I was a senior, I knew I wanted to work in a field related to fishing. Then, during Christmas of 1960, a high school friend stopped by. He was attending the University of Montana and suggested I apply because “the fishing is really great in Montana.” I did apply and was accepted, probably because of what he said about the fishing. I left four years later with a degree in aquatic biology. In 1967, I was hired by the then NYS Conservation Department (DEC) as a fisheries biologist. 

Years later, because of my degree and experience as a biologist, I was hired by the Wulff School of Fly Fishing to teach aquatic entomology. Later, I went on to teach fly fishing at the Frost Valley YMCA. Looking back all these years later, and thinking about the first years: collecting minnows and crawdads, brook trout and worms and finally on to the wonderful world of fly fishing. 

Fly fishing has provided me with the background to write this column and publish my little book: “What’s Wrong With My Fly.” During my travels through the fly-fishing world, I had the good fortune to meet the Darbee’s, Flicks and Wullfs: giants in the sport. Over the years, I had the opportunity to fish the Maddison, Yellowstone and Bitterroot Rivers and Rock Creek in Montana in addition to all the famous rivers of the Catskills. 

Fly fishing has provided all of that for me and has shaped my life. Who could ask for more than that? Now I need to decide whether to buy my last pair of waders! 

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