Pennsylvania has always enjoyed a rich heritage in the sport of fly-fishing. Our state is blessed with many miles of world-class trout water, and over the past 100 years or more, these legendary streams have produced a small army of legendary fly-fishermen, fly tiers and angling authors. In 1998, a small group of volunteers formed the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association with their mission to "preserve and promote the history and heritage of fly fishing in Pennsylvania." Over the past 15 years, the organization has acquired collections of angling artifacts and fishing memorabilia to create worthwhile exhibits of those historical items.
Two weeks ago, PFFMA unveiled its most impressive set of exhibits to date. Housed at the Allenberry Resort Inn near Boiling Springs in Cumberland County, those exhibits honor ten Pennsylvania fly-fishermen who made substantial contributions to the sport. As I moved from one showcase to another, each revealed a new set of fly boxes, books, vests, rods or other personal treasures that belonged to one of those men and represented his influence to fly-fishing. When I reached the end of the display, I looked back over the names above each case and found myself smiling as I realized I had met each of them over the past 30 years and had become friends with at least half of them.
I met Vince Marinaro at a Trout Unlimited conference in the late 1970s. Marinaro was a skilled fly tier, rod builder and author of two classic books, "A Modern Dry Fly Code" and "In the Ring of the Rise." I first met Charlie Fox at that same event when we sat next to each other at one meeting, and I was able to chat for about a half hour. Fox wrote two of my favorite fishing books, "Rising Trout" and "This Wonderful World of Trout," and he signed then for me at a fly-fishing show a few years later.
Ed Koch was another angling author from the Cumberland Valley who gained recognition for his book "Fishing the Midge," which introduced many anglers to the fine art of tying and fishing tiny flies for fussy trout. I first met Koch at a fly show in the late 1980s, where I was tying Muddler Minnows at my booth. That operation entailed rapping a brass hair stacker on the table several times for each fly.
Koch happened to be tying flies across the aisle from me and after a few minutes marched up to my booth and said, "What the heck are you tying over here? You sound like a danged woodpecker?" We both had a good laugh over it, and that introduction marked the start of our friendship.
Through Koch, I later met Norm Shires, a talented photographer from the Cumberland Valley whose work was showcased in books by Koch and others.
Jim Bashline had been one of my favorite outdoor writers since I was a teenager, so I was thrilled to finally meet him when he moved to Spruce Creek in the mid-1980s. I soon become friends with him and his wife. Sylvia, and both were very encouraging to me when I started my own writing career a few years later.
That was also about the time I started working at a fly shop in State College where I got to know George Harvey quite well. Harvey started the renowned Penn State angling program back in the 1930s and probably introduced more folks to fly-fishing and fly tying than anyone who ever lived. I also had the privilege of visiting his famous "tying room" several times, where letters from presidents and other dignitaries Harvey had fished with during his long career adorned the walls among the shelves stacked high with all sorts of tying materials.
Sadly, all six of those great anglers have passed on, but four others of the group are certainly still with us. Ed Shenk is known for some of the fly patterns he developed for targeting big trout. I first met him when he was one of the judges the first time I won the Pennsylvania state fly-tying championship. I fished the Susquehanna River with Bob Clouser about 20 years ago. He is best known for his Clouser Minnow, which he designed to catch smallmouth bass, but that fly proved so incredibly effective that it has probably taken more species of fish in both fresh and saltwater that any other fly pattern.
When George Harvey retired fom Penn State, Joe Humphreys replaced his longtime mentor as head of the angling program. A few years later, he made history by catching a state-record brown trout on fly tackle. During the years I worked in State College, I also became friends with Humphreys and had the chance to see that huge trout hanging on the wall of his den.
I first met Charlie Meck in the mid-1970s while he was working on his first book, "Meeting and Fishing the Hatches." Meck would pen 14 more fly-fishing books in the decades to follow, making him one of Pennsylvania's most prolific angling authors and a nationally recognized expert on mayflies and other aquatic insects. Having known Charlie for more than 35 years, I was delighted to accompany him to Allenberry for the unveiling of his PFFMA exhibit.
For more information about the PFFMA and its fundraising events, visit their website at paflyfishing.org.