The beautiful rivers of the Catskills will never be the same, as late last month we lost one of the masters of those waters. Oneonta native and my friend Dave Brandt passed away, but he’ll never be forgotten.
The cool waters of the Delaware, the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc will never again grip the legs of his chest-high waders. He’ll never lightly drop another dry fly on those tranquil waters or release another brown trout back into its lair, deep in the cold river water, but his memory will always linger along those rocky streams. He has joined others who were the founders of his craft.
You see, Dave was a world-renowned tyer of the classic Catskill dry flies. Fly fishing in America began in the Catskills where he learned his skill from the very best. Harry and Elsie Darbee, Art Flick and the Dentes were his mentors and very close friends. They were the originators and developers of many of the great fly patterns that are so commonly used by fly fishermen today.
For Dave, fly fishing was not just a sport or a hobby - it was a way of life. It took him around the world, not only to fish, but to demonstrate his skill as a tyer. He waded the waters of Montana and Labrador, as well as Argentina and England.
While Dave and I shot pool one day in his den, I asked him, “Where’s your favorite place to fish?”
“The Minipi River in Labrador – Lake Anne Marie,” he replied.
Labrador is the home of giant brook trout. Dave caught his biggest brookie there, tipping the scale at 8.75 pounds. I always wished I had taken the time to go with him and fish those waters. It’s the only place where three- and four-pound brookies are still common today.
As he banked the eight ball across the green felt and into the corner pocket, I asked him, “So, what about around here?”
Dave grinned and pretended to cough into his hand. “The u-r-r-r-p-h of the Delaware.”
No one tells their secret spots, and Dave was the same. It didn’t make any difference though. Either branch of that wonderful fishery holds great fish. I told him of my favorite section of the West Branch below Delhi. “I caught a three-pound brown beneath those hemlocks one day not long ago.” That’s how well he knew that river.
“What’s your favorite fly?” I continued.
“Art Flick’s Red Quill. Not only did my good friend Art create it, it catches fish.”
I’ve stood in his den and watched him tie many times. If you gave him a piece of muskrat or red fox fur, some wood duck flank feathers and a couple rooster neck feathers, he’d create a masterpiece while hardly looking down. Besides that, I could go out on any stream in the area, and it would catch fish.
Dave and I went to the East Branch of the Delaware one day a few years ago. We waded out into the river and stood there waiting. Within a few minutes the hatch began, and fish were rising. “It’s time,” he whispered. I watched him cast to a fish, dropping the fly a few feet upstream from the feeding trout. Moments later, he released a 15-inch brown trout back into the water.
When I return to those waters this spring, it will not be the same, but I will cherish those memories forever.
I’ve often said that I see my Dad in the shadows of our woods and hear his whispers in the wind when I hunt. Dave’s spirit will forever be along those Catskill streams and will dwell in the hearts of all those he touched over the years.