When I began to fish—and I don’t mean fly fish, just good old-fashioned pond, bobber, shiner-for-bait fishing—there were few if any girls or women fishing. At least I didn’t …
When I began to fish—and I don’t mean fly fish, just good old-fashioned pond, bobber, shiner-for-bait fishing—there were few if any girls or women fishing. At least I didn’t see or hear about any.
Years later, when Joan and Lee Wulff opened their fly fishing school on the upper Beaver Kill, women became a big part of the Wulffs’ clientele. Then in 1996, with the release of “A River Runs Through It,” women entered the fly fishing world in very significant numbers.
Long before that, my friend Frank Mele, through his teaching of the violin and viola, met a local woman through her daughter, who was taking violin lessons. Her name was Hideko, from the Japanese. We called her “Heidi.”
Once Heidi learned that Frank was a fly fisher, a friendship developed, and at some point, Frank introduced Heidi to the sport.
I’m not sure when that relationship began; it was likely sometime during the late ’60s or early ’70s. I met Frank formally in 1973, so it had to be well before then. By the time I met Heidi, she was a well established fly fisher.
In 1989, Frank and I, along with our friend Bill (Willie) Dorato, purchased a travel trailer which we parked at the Oxbow Campground along the lower East Branch of the Delaware River. We spent almost every weekend there, and Heidi frequently joined us.
A few years later, we moved the unit up to the Peaceful Valley Campground, where the fishing was better and access easier. In 1996, after Frank passed away, Heidi became a partner in the ownership of the trailer with Bill and me, in accordance with the terms of Frank’s will.
When Bill died in 2000, Heidi became my partner, and we continued to keep the trailer at Peaceful Valley. We spent a lot of time fishing that section of the East Branch, with excellent results. Unfortunately for us, the proprietor of Peaceful Valley decided to rent our space to another individual. So we moved the unit upriver to another campground, where it remains today.
After Frank and Bill passed, Heidi, our friend Roger and I spent a lot of time fishing the East Branch.
From a pure fishing standpoint, I can tell you without hesitation that Heidi more than held her own with the people she fished with, men included. Frank taught her to cast and she became very proficient and competent with a fly rod. A few years later, Bill taught her to tie flies and learn the sequence of the major Catskill mayfly and caddis hatches that we fished each year.
So over time, Heidi became a very accomplished fly fisher. She used a 5-weight Winston graphite fly rod with a Hardy LRH fly reel. Made her own perfectly acceptable vest, and had a large number of flies that Bill, Frank and I contributed to her fly boxes.
When it came to fishing, no one in our circle of anglers was more dedicated to fly fishing and fished harder and stayed on the river longer than Heidi. She hated to leave the water, especially if there were still trout rising. In fact, we frequently had to drag her off a favorite pool long after the sun was well behind the mountain, the night descending.
During the many years we fished together, I saw Heidi land several large trout in the 18- to 20-inch range. She handled those very large fish as well as any angler that I know, bringing them to net quickly, then releasing them unharmed.
In addition to fly fishing, which I believe was her favorite pastime, Heidi arranged flowers to the degree that she attended shows and seminars, and competed against others in that activity. She also performed formal Japanese tea ceremonies, which were beautiful to watch, but very difficult to participate in. Later in life, she entered into a partnership with a local woman. They tie-dyed a variety of shirts in the Woodstock tradition and sold them through several outlets. She was also an excellent cook, in the Japanese tradition, and frequently treated us to some of her special dishes.
So our friend Heidi was a multitalented person, who loved to fly fish in rivers, especially the East Branch of the Delaware, where she fished with Frank, Willie and me for almost 20 years. Most folks who have been around for a while, and know and understand the history of fly fishing in the United States, consider Joan Wulff “The Grand Lady of Fly Fishing.” Based on what I know, of the women who fly fished the Catskills, I consider Heidi the “Grand Lady” of all Catskill women fly fishers.
Of the four of us—Bill, Frank and I—Heidi seemed the healthiest. I truly believed that she would live to be at least 90.
Sadly, Heidi passed away after a short but very lethal illness in 2006. We released her ashes to the waters of her beloved East Branch at Shinhopple sometime later, where they joined those of her mentor among the river stones.
Now, I’m the last of the four and I miss them all, but see their ghosts when the mist rises from the East Branch as the night closes.
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