I spotted a post on the Classic Flyrod Forum the other day wondering who might fish The Patriot dry fly. I logged in to read through the various replies and added my own remembrance of a friend who introduced that red, white and blue attractor to the rank and file of fly fishers, the late Charlie Meck.
I met Charlie originally through his books. I can recall one particular early spring when I was fighting through the lingering effects of cabin fever, desperate for some dry fly fishing. I had been reading through “Pennsylvania Trout Streams and their Hatches” and came across the story of Clark Creek north of Harrisburg and the Great Olive Speckled Dun, Siphloplecton basale.
I tied some Catskill style dry flies to match the color of the size 12 mayfly Charlie described, and headed to Clark Creek on a Monday morning. I had the stream virtually to myself and, come afternoon, the hatch appeared and trout began to rise. I caught quite a few browns and rainbows that day, thoroughly lifting the veil of winter from my spirit. I owed Charlie Meck a debt of gratitude.
During my fly shop years, Charlie would stop in whenever his writings and travels brought him to Chambersburg. We became friends and Charlie even got me on television. He was working on his limestone stream book and was to be interviewed by the Harrisburg ABC affiliate. He set it up down along the Falling Spring and had me on camera fishing and talking about the stream as an addition to his interview. It was a lot of fun and great to watch myself on the news.
I talked with Charlie about the current state of the stream for the book, and Mike Saylor and I suggested he take a look at Beaver Creek down near Mike’s home in Hagerstown, Maryland. Beaver Creek was once a well known limestoner, written about by Charlie Fox, Joe Brooks and Lefty Kreh. Mike was a leader of the Beaver Creek Watershed Association that had been working successfully to restore the stream.
Charlie accompanied us to Beaver Creek for a little fishing trip and a tour, and Mike updated him on the restoration work and the players that cooperated to make it happen. Charlie recounted the stream’s recovery in “Fishing Limestone Streams” (The Lyons Press, 2005).
That summer he insisted we join him on some of the legendary private water on Pennsylvania’s Spruce Creek. The stream is known as the water of Presidents and angling sages, and Charlie hosted us at the hallowed Spruce Creek Rod & Gun Club. We had two great days of fishing for some trophy sized trout. I had the biggest laugh of the weekend when a mammoth rainbow I hooked screamed off downstream and pulled the braided loop connector right off the end of my fly line, keeping my entire leader and fly! Mike and Charlie had some fun razzing me that evening over dinner.
A highlight of the evening was sitting with Charlie as he tied some flies for the next day’s fishing, entertaining us in his quiet way with stories of his fishing travels. The same quiet, gentlemanly personality has always characterized his writing.
Reading that forum post on the Patriot brought back a lot of nice memories. I wanted to add my thoughts in tribute to my friend, and clarify the question raised as to the origins of the Patriot. The pattern and idea was indeed Charlie’s own, spawned by a scientific article he once read about the rainbow trout’s attraction to the color blue. He experimented with materials as most fly tyers do, finally settling on the Smolt Blue Krystal Flash that adorns the published pattern. It is a fish catcher!
I sat down this morning and tied half a dozen size 14 Patriots I will fish this spring in homage to a fine gentleman angler whose company I enjoyed. I’ll put a few in my boat box so I have some handy when I’m floating, and the rest in one of my dry fly boxes that never leave my vest.
It was a sad day when I learned of Charlie’s passing, one that began with a strange occurrence. I was sorting through various fishing memorabilia that morning and came across Charlie’s business card. I wondered how he was doing. A couple of hours later I got a call from Mike Saylor telling me that Charlie had died the day before. I am convinced that my finding that card that morning was his quiet way of saying goodbye.