I learned late last night of the passing of a fly fishing legend and a friend, the great Ed Shenk.
I met Ed in September of 1991 when my passion for learning all I could about fly fishing led me to the fly fishing school he taught with Joe Humphreys and the late Norm Shires at Allenberry on the Yellow Breeches. His warmth and down to earth manner made it easy to get aquainted, and I was mesmerized watching him work his Shenk Sculpin with his trademark short fly rod, and pull some of the larger browns from the heavily fished waters of the Yellow Breeches.
Ed was the acknowledged Master of the Letort, and his stories of fishing those hallowed waters for more than 50 years enthralled me. I was to learn a great deal from him at the fishing school and for years thereafter.
Not long ago I shared a memory of my first day fishing on the Letort with The Master, and the letter he sent to me later that summer, when he had caught the 7 1/2 pound brown that had come for my Shenk Sculpin that bright May morning. Ed became the Master because he loved small streams and the Letort most of all. His passion for the stream and her trout led him to learn, experiment and innovate, and ultimately to share the expertise he aquired with all of us.
The opening lines of his wonderful book, “Ed Shenk’s Fly Rod Trouting” tells everything: “My love affair with little trout streams began over fifty years ago in the Cumberland Valley, and the fair Letort was my first love”.
From the beginning Ed Shenk was a friend and mentor in my quest to solve the exquisite puzzles of trout and the fly. When I took the plunge and opened a small fly shop in the Cumberland Valley, Ed was supportive and helpful, doing an in-store program for me to put me on the map. Ed only tied flies for one shop at that point, as he had tied commercially for Harry Murray’s Fly Shop in Virginia for decades, but he tied flies for me to sell at Falling Spring Outfitters.
Though he was entranced with the beauty of the Valley’s little limestone streams, he ventured West to bring his skills and passion to the finest rivers of the American West, and success followed him. Later in life he wandered north for several summers to angle for Atlantic Salmon, taking fish even when the waters were low and the salmon dour. I remember teasing him, asking if he fished them with his favorite 6 foot Thomas & Thomas bamboo flyrod. He gruffly answered that he had deferred somewhat to the size of the rivers, fishing an eight footer.
He always wrote and spoke with greatest excitement when he recounted his fishing trips to Argentina. He was a friend and guest of the great Argentine angler Bebe Anchorena, for whom he had long tied the Hewitt Skater Spiders that Bebe used to great effect upon Patagonia’s monster browns and rainbows. Ed caught many trophy browns and rainbows on these South American adventures, recounting that his best fly was a size 14 Letort Cricket.
Shenk innovated the Cumberland Valley’s most enduring fly patterns, solving the challenge of the largest Letort browns’ fondness for terrestrials with the Letort Hopper and Letort Cricket. Recognizing the importance of movement in fly patterns he popularized the fur dubbing loop technique for fly bodies, innovating by trimming the fur to shape to form the Shenk Cressbug, White Minnow and the legendary Shenk Skulpin. He authored articles for the popular flyfishing and sporting magazines for decades, sharing his knowledge with anglers everywhere.
On October 6, 2012 Ed Shenk was honored for his lifetime achievements in the sport of fly fishing, fly tying and educating fellow anglers by beong inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame by the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, New York. I was privaledged to be there and honor my friend and mentor in person.
Angling has lost a true legend, but one who leaves a legacy among the thousands of fly fishers and tiers whom he touched and enriched.
I take heart, knowing that once again he may gather with the other greats among the Letort Regulars and angle his first love, the fair Letort forever. I can picture them: Shenk, Fox, Marinaro, Koch and Schwiebert, sitting in the shade by Fox’s old fishing hut, discussing the trials presented by the huge trout sipping minutia amid the weed-filled pools.
Farewell Master, we will never forget you.