To serious fly-fishing enthusiasts, the waters of the Willowemoc and Beaverkill in Sullivan County are what Cooperstown is to baseball, or Cleveland is for rock 'n' roll music.
"We have our rock stars, too," according to Jim Krul, Executive Director of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, found today along the banks of the Willowemoc Creek in Livingston Manor. "You'll often see visitors saying to others, 'Hey isn't that ...,' and it'll soon be a fly-fishing celebrity posing with those fans for pictures."
Krul gave the example of Joan Wulff of nearby Lew Beach. Wulff was a U.S. fly-fishing cast champion during the 1940s, and is a frequent visitor to the museum, also serving on their board of directors. Her husband, the late Lee Wulff, is known as the "Father of Catch and Release" fly fishing back in the 1920s. Mr. Wulff was a frequent guest of Curt Gowdy on the Saturday afternoon TV show, "American Sportsman" that aired on ABC from the 1960s through '80s.
The idea of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum (CFFCM) dates back to 1978, and can be credited to Elsie Darbee. She and her husband, Harry, had a shop in Livingston Manor where they'd make flies and sell them to local and visiting anglers.
One day, Elsie gathered about 15 local people in Roscoe and said, "This is what the future should be," regarding the heritage of fly fishing in the area. The original museum was a storefront in Roscoe in the former movie theater building. The organization was incorporated in 1981.
This area of the Catskills became a magnet for pioneering trout anglers near the end of the 19th century. On the weekends, many took the O&W Railroad out of Greater New York on Friday and came upstate to fish. This procession of fishermen, rodmakers, fly tyers, entomologists, riverkeepers and outdoor writers, through their innovations, gave rise to one of the richest traditions in fly-fishing history "" a tradition that established the Catskills as the "Birthplace of American Fly Fishing."
Theodore Gordon, Herman Christian, Roy Steenrod, Reuben Cross, George LaBranche, Edward Hewitt, Art Flick, Winnie and Walt Dette and Elsie and Harry Darbee are legendary names in fly fishing, and are featured in the "Charm Circle of the Catskills" exhibit at the museum.
In 1982. the CFFCM board of directors bought a 35-acre farmland site along the banks of the Willowemoc Creek in Livingston Manor. By 1986, the organization had enhanced the resources and facilities on the site, and opened the present museum on the grounds in 1995 to honor the heroes of the sport and express both the lore and lure of fly fishing.
Visitors to the museum can try some angling in what has been named Wulff Run, walk the nature trail and enjoy the many programs offered at the center.
A couple of noted visitors who've fly fished the Willowemoc in recent years have included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1984 and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2007.
Just as Cooperstown has its Baseball Hall of Fame inductions each July, the CFFCM hosts its Hall of Fame inductions every October.
This weekend, an Oneonta family of builders.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.