I have had a tendency in my life to focus intently on one or two topics and research them in depth through reading technical papers or books dedicated to the subjects each night before I go to bed. Much of the reading has revolved around topics for my work. I’ve read hundreds of technical papers on page-turning topics such as engineered log jams, suspended sediment transport and dispersion, step pool morphology, riparian tree health, water temperature, and the enthralling velocity reversal hypothesis. Partly this was an obsession with succeeding in my work, partly it was the desire to be innovative, and a big part of it was trying to prove to myself that I was valuable. While I learned a great deal reading those papers, they did not provide me with a human connection.
Over the past two years, I have been on a quest to read more about fly fishing, filling my nightly ritual with books by Hemingway, Maclean, Brooks, LaFontaine, Schweibert, Gierach, Humphreys, Traver, and many others. I’ve been learning about the history of fly fishing and fly tying and stories about the characters who inspired the telling of those stories. The stories draw me into appreciating fly fishing and the community even more. Sharing a story with others is much more fun than listing off facts about sediment transport.
I have been fly fishing long enough that my friends and family think of me as a fly fisherman, and they often include that description when I’m introduced to people. It’s slightly odd to hear yourself referred to that way, but it also has cool side effects such as being introduced to other anglers and discovering people you knew but had no idea were fly fishers. It’s been my experience that meeting a fellow fly angler results in sharing stories of catching big fish, finding favorite places to fish, selecting preferred flies to use. It brings me closer to the person that is describing their passion for fly fishing.
I was recently reminded of my favorite moment of discovering a fellow fly angler. Unfortunately, the reminder was due to his passing. Skip Wiedeman was my brother-in-law Greg’s father. The Wiedeman family had suffered the loss of their mother, Mary Ellen, just 25 days prior to losing Skip. They were each in ailing health and were called home together.
Skip had a bright smile and a warmth that he brought to each conversation I had with him. I looked forward to each time I saw him. I was grateful to be able to see him just two weeks before he passed. Even though he was in failing health, he took the moment to tell me that I better spend lots of time on the river. I promised him that I would.
Several years ago, one Christmas Eve, I sat at the kitchen table of Pam Wiedeman and Dave Weaver and enjoyed some Irish whiskey and traded fishing stories with Skip. He loved to fish Clarks Creek, a tributary to the Susquehanna River, just minutes north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived. He told me of the famed inchworm hatch and the different versions of flies that could be used to replicate the insect. At one point, Skip said, “Clarks Creek is a one cigarette stream.” Before I could ask what he meant, he read the inquisitive look on my face and explained with a chuckle, “When you see a pod of rising fish or one particularly good fish, you need to tie on your fly, wade as carefully as possible into a good position, and then wait as long as it takes one cigarette to burn through, then you can cast to the fish.” Skip beamed a smile and laughed through his stories, like he was recalling a funny moment from his fishing memories.
It would have been fun to fish with Skip, I’m sure he created great stories on each fishing trip he took. He joined an outdoor club and had fishing buddies to share his time on the river, and he helped bring people together. Skip also helped build up many others through coaching, mentoring, and storytelling. He loved being able to introduce his granddaughters to fishing, and he had an infectious enthusiasm for being active and outdoors.
Each time I stumble or move too quickly and spook fish while fishing, I can hear Skip’s voice and laughter, see his big smile reminding me that still, slow water requires a slow, careful approach.
By the time I met and discovered that Skip was a fly angler, his mobility was limited and he chose not to wade and fish anymore. A little while after our first conversation, I received a package from Greg. Inside the package were three fly boxes. Skip had asked that I keep fishing the flies and put them to use. In the boxes were a variety of dry flies, nymphs, streamers, and two of the famous inchworm flies. I was honored.
Next summer, I will take a trip to Clarks Creek, tie on an inchworm, wade into a good spot, wait about 5 minutes, and catch one for Skip. Then I’ll make sure to share the story.