My father was a passionate fly fisherman. By passionate, I mean obsessed, often having to use various ruses to deflect his interest, which was, unfortunately for him, very thinly veiled. On family trips or drives, he would often point out some appealing aspect of the surrounding landscape, to which my mother would immediately comment "NO. We are not going fishing. Forget it." She had mastered these preemptive strikes long ago, having put in her time as a fisherman's widow as a young wife. She now knew all to well that in every natural setting, there is likely a stream with fish - fish who catch husbands.
I never went fishing - the trips were too early and infrequent. Always curious about this obsession, I later learned the reason for the fly fisherman's passion. My father is a quiet man and it took someone more verbal to explain it to me. Catching fish is a challenge. In some cases, there are specific fish in a lake which are legendary - so clever that they can not be caught and even go by name. In fly fishing there are skills to master, insects to study, knowing the type of fish to fish for, different conditions, flies to select and tailor to the situation and a myriad of other nuances to consider.
Fly tying of artificial flies is art and science. There is a selection of feathers, both common and exotic, other materials and tools. Some tiers invent their own fly designs. These are often coveted and shrouded in secrecy - fish can become acquainted with flies and a new or lesser used design can provide a decided edge over other fishermen. To share that design means to dilute its effectiveness. My father once invented an effective fly which he shared with a friend only to later find that it was becoming known miles away throughout Pennsylvania. Rather than see this as a personal compliment, he was furious
Then there is where to fish. A fly fisherman is forever on a quest for that secret place where wild fish run rampant. Of course every other fly fisherman is on the same quest. Some will travel to locations so remote that they are inaccessible except by private plane. My father tells tales of the fishing in the back woods of Maine, using a vehicle with winches to pull themselves through particularly difficult dirt roads to some particular fishing mecca. But the end result - perhaps native or wild brook trout is ample reward for the fish lover.
In the 1980s, I decided that it was time for my father to own a high quality rod and reel, so I consulted with an old college friend who was an avid outdoors man. At the time, graphite rods were coming on to the market - these were the latest and greatest thing. To see this kind of performance had previously meant a bamboo fly rod, a very expensive proposition. I was surprised to learn that my shopping needs for fly fishing could be met in midtown Manhattan at the Urban Angler, a shop renowned amongst fishing enthusiasts and aficionados worldwide.
I recently visited the Urban Angler at 206 Fifth Avenue which I had wanted to do for this website for some time. The shop was founded in 1988 by Steve and his son Jon Fisher. The staff was accommodating to my photography needs. Tony, a native from Argentina and avid fly fisherman, guided me through the shop and answered questions. The shop is quite beautiful, situated in a third floor office building, overlooking Madison Square Park.
This story, however, really has little to do with fishing. I went to Urban Angler for a very different reason. In Part 2, you will learn some secrets about an unusual and unexpected connection between people of different worlds. If you promise to keep it secret, I will show you why there are many different Birds of a Feather Tied Together :)