Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Old friends

Posted 4/5/23

I met Frank Mele one late April day along the East Branch of the Delaware. He was standing at the guardrail along Route 30, looking at the river as I approached. It was Hendrickson time in the …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Old friends


I met Frank Mele one late April day along the East Branch of the Delaware. He was standing at the guardrail along Route 30, looking at the river as I approached. It was Hendrickson time in the Catskills and he was checking the water for hatching flies.

I introduced myself and learned that in effect, we were neighbors—Frank from Woodstock, I from Hurley.

The Hendricksons never appeared, so we exchanged pleasantries before going our separate ways.

A few years later, probably sometime in 1973, Frank called and asked if I would address a group he had organized, and provide an update on the state’s efforts to increase the water releases from several Catskill reservoirs. At the time, I was a fisheries biologist employed by the DEC, and was working on the water-releases issue.

The state became involved when Ed Van Put, a fisheries technician, made the staff aware that water temperatures in the main-stem Delaware River reached the mid-80s during July of 1972. Those high temperatures caused hundreds of brown and rainbow trout to seek refuge off the cooler tributary mouths.

I agreed to Frank’s request and spoke to this group a short time later.

Shortly thereafter, Frank established Catskill Waters, where a number of interested anglers were organized to lobby in support of the DEC’s efforts. Thanks to Frank’s leadership, the water releases legislation was signed into law by Gov. Carey in 1976.

Frank was not a lobbyist by profession. By training, he was a musician and attended the Eastman School in Rochester, NY. Upon graduation, he became a world-class violinist, enjoying work with the Rochester Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Despite his prowess as a professional musician, Frank’s true passions were trout fishing and writing about it. So at some point, he left central New York and moved to the Catskills, to be close to all the famous trout rivers flowing through the region. There he taught private violin and viola lessons. Over time, he became a celebrated writer, authoring several short stories, some of which were published in high-end magazines, like Gray’s Sporting Journal. He also wrote two books: “Polpetto” and “Small in the Eye of a River.”

I don’t know when I met Bill Dorato, other than to say that he showed up at our camp on the East Branch sometime in the mid-1980s. At the time he was driving a very old Ford Econoline van. I’m guessing it was of late 1950s vintage. Bill, whom we called “Wille,” had that van outfitted for sleeping and eating—a small home on wheels.

As a result, Willie was able to fish the AuSable in the Adirondacks one week and the Beaver Kill in the Catskills the next, without the need to return home.

I believe that Willie was a founding member of the Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited.

As far I know, Willie had no formal training after high school. However, he did serve in the Pacific Theater during the great war. Nevertheless, he could fix everything, so he worked as an appliance repair man for many years.

While I don’t know for sure, I believe that Frank and Willie knew each other long before I met them. I think their friendship dated back to the ’60s, perhaps before. Both were members of a small community of fly fishers at the time—Willie from Albany, Frank from Woodstock. Over time, they became fast friends, despite their very different backgrounds and personalities: Frank, the ultimate professional, the musician, writer and bon vivant; Willie, the repairman, the handyman, a man with no formal training other than that provided by the United States Army.

Yet these two bonded for several reasons. Both were second-generation Italian, from parents who came to this country through Ellis Island. They spoke the Italian language fluently, loved good food, and both had a critical eye for the ladies.

But what really caused them to become life-long friends was their deep love of fly fishing.

Many bowls of pasta were served at Frank’s table in Woodstock during the off-season. That’s where plans for the coming season were made, strong coffee served.

I knew Frank for 23 years, before he passed in 1996; Willie for 15 years, until his death in 2000. Frank was unpredictable, a rascal, a man with a sometimes-short fuse. For example, the fur would fly if one were 10 minutes late for dinner.

Willie, on the other, was laid-back, soft-spoken, a true gentleman. I never heard him curse! There was always a cigarette between his fingers; a cup of coffee in the other hand. Bill was never too far away to help.

Neither of these two had a great deal of money. Yet both knew how to survive, having gone through the Great Depression. I spent a lot of time with Frank and Willie. Many nights on the river, many nights over a meal. While they were different as can be in terms of background and personality, they were loyal and dedicated friends, both to each other and me.

Every time I think back about the summers we spent at Shinhopple, at the River Edge, I see the two of them, rods in hand waiting for the evening rise on the Burnt House Pool. The smell of tobacco smoke on the breeze. Good and dear friends, long gone but not forgotten.

friendship, fisheries, Catskill Waters, fly fishing


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