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Our fly-fishing heritage


May 18, 2016

Somehow it seems strange to me that it was a movie that triggered the amazing growth of fly fishing interest. The movie was, of course, “A River Runs Through It.” Norman Maclean’s novel, on which it is based, is a must read.

Our own Delaware River fly-fishing culture is anchored on both sides of the river. Penn State was the first university to offer courses in fly fishing in the 1930s. A thank you to George Harvey for making that program a fly-fishing treasure.

Our New York fly-fishing roots are even deeper, beginning with Theodore Gordon (b.1854, d.1915), universally recognized as the father of American dry-fly fishing.

Gordon innovated the Catskill style of fly-tying, which has lived on through the 20th century up to today. He created the Quill Gordon fly, and his style of high-floating dry flies has been passed down through the decades. It has found its latest iteration at the Dette Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY in Joe Fox, great-grandson of Walt and Winnie Dette. The Dettes and the Darbees were two of the great contributors in the development of the Catskill fly-tying tradition.

Joe Fox will be one of those fly fishers who will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum (CFFCM) at a gala event on May 28.

Elsie Darbee is acknowledged as the first to promote the idea of establishing a museum. She was the leader and first president (1978) of what grew into CFFCM. Elsie Darbee’s dream and vision turned out to be amazing.

Today, the center operates not only a museum and gift shop, but also a 4,000- square-foot facility containing the Wulff Gallery, Catskill Rodmakers’ Workshop and Heritage Craft Center. The 35-acre campus is open daily to the public, and all are invited to “cross the bridge.” It is located on Old Route 17 between Roscoe and Livingston Manor along the Willowemoc River.

Even surpassing the marvelous physical plants and structures are the programs. The center operates a contemporary museum and education center. Right here in our backyard you can learn to tie flies, or cast, or even fly fish. You can even craft your own split-cane fly rod in the tradition of legendary rodmaker Hiram L. Leonard (a one time resident of Honesdale, PA).