I suspect the average fly fisher finds it difficult to figure out why a few of us delight in fishing classic vintage tackle. I mean, in a world where everyone is bombarded by advertising claims for something that is new and better, shouldn’t a guy have the best he can angle with? Funny how easily we allow ourselves to be lead sometimes.
Fly rods have been getting lighter since they hit three ounces some thirty years ago. By that standard and, taking the claims at face value, the average nine-foot trout rod should have been weightless by the beginning of the new century. Of course they are faster too (read that stiffer). Fly fishing isn’t about speed though, is it? Certainly not in these environs. Fly fishing is about grace, and stealth, and reaching for a oneness with the natural world. Is it becoming clear why a rod crafted from natural material belongs in this picture?
In my case perhaps, my fascination with vintage tackle has something to do with my advancing age. I like fishing with a rod and reel that is my age. Older? All the better. A big part of my own situation has to do with my immersion in the Catskills. As a dry fly fisherman, I was drawn here because these mountains are the cradle of dry fly fishing in America. It was here on rivers like the Neversink, the Beaver Kill and others, where anglers first met the challenge of trout rising to emerging mayflies by fashioning imitative flies designed to float. The Catskill school of fly tying became a tradition and craft known and respected worldwide. I love that history, as I love these rivers and streams.
As the dry fly began to interest more anglers, the crafting of new, dry fly rods took hold in and around the Catskills. Hiram Leonard, one of the greatest bamboo fly rod makers in the world, moved his rod shop from Maine to Central Valley, New York in 1881, and assembled a group of craftsmen that would become legends in that regard: Ed Payne, Fred Thomas, Eustis Edwards, Hiram Hawes and Loman Hawes and George Varney. These men would later make rods under their own names, teach and inspire other makers, thus the Leonard shop proved to be the fountainhead of the Catskill rodmaking tradition.
How can one not be inspired by all that this region has been to fly fishing?
We are still graced by mountain rivers with astounding natural beauty, and the conservation ethic of the great anglers who have called the Catskills home has ensured that beautiful wild trout still inhabit those rivers, luring fly anglers from across the globe to make a pilgrimage here.
Each time I wade into a Catskill stream with a vintage rod and reel in my hand, I am graced to touch that history, to become a part of the magic that was wrought here.