Memories of a Catskill Legend

My 100-Year Dun in the Yellow May pattern; the first fly I tied with the late Dave Brandt’s wood duck feathers.

After sixteen months, the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild held a live, in person meeting yesterday at the Wulff Gallery of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. This was a small celebration, an open tying session meant to allow all who were able to attend to shake hands and tell tales, sharing some favorite sulfur patterns we all hope will catch some trout over the summer. There was a solemn note to the afternoon as well.

The Guild, and in a larger sense, all of Catskill fly fishing lost one of it’s giants last year: a well loved gentleman angler and fly tyer by the name of Dave Brandt. As per his wishes, members of the Guild had the honor of distributing Dave’s substantial collection of fly tying materials. The last pieces of that collection were made available to Guild members on Saturday.

I was fortunate to attend one of the last Guild meetings before the pandemic threw our world into chaos. On December 19, 2019 Dave Brandt offered an interesting and historic presentation on the history and tying methods for the late Walt Dette’s Riffle Dun. Brandt was known far and wide as one of the masters of the classic Catskill style dry fly, and everyone gathered enjoyed watching and listening to the master at work. I wanted to have a chance to meet the man after the presentation, but he was immediately surrounded by old friends and admirers, long time Guild members, and others, as might be expected of a Catskill Legend. I realized the rest of his afternoon would be quite full and headed home, confident I would have a chance to say hello the next time our group met. Sadly, that next time would never come for Dave Brandt.

With the opportunity to connect in some small way, I acquired a bag of Dave Brandt’s wood duck flank feathers on Saturday afternoon. These are the quintessential ingredient in the classic Catskill dry fly that Brandt loved. I was tying some little stuff this morning, tiny Flick olives that I’ll be fishing soon enough as summer blossoms. When I took that bag of Brandt’s wood duck out of my travel bag, a single loose feather wafted through the air. I caught it, and knew that I needed to tie a Catskill fly with it at that moment.

I decided to tie my own special Catskill dry fly, the 100-Year Dun. Inspired by the original Catskill dry flies, Theodore Gordon’s own ties, I hoped the legendary gentleman angler I never got to meet would approve. From what I have read and heard of the man, I trust that he would have. I will keep this fly in my own little collection. It won’t be fished. I tied two others that I’ll introduce to my own favorite runs and pools when I spot a sulfur dun fluttering on the surface.

One of the hardest things to come to terms with as life continues past a certain age is the loss of friends, family, and the people who have meant something in our lives, even the friends we never quite had the chance to know.

Footnote: The video of Dave Brandt’s tying demonstration of Dette’s Riffle Dun can be viewed by a visit to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s website at cffcm.com. Among the new and refurbished exhibits at the Museum in 2021 is an exhibit of Brandt’s legacy.

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