Not long ago I watched a TV documentary entitled “Finding Joe Brooks.” It provided a wonderful insight into who was perhaps the greatest fly fishing personality of our time. Today I doubt many of the modern fly anglers who wade the pristine waters of the Henry’s Fork have ever heard of him. He died in 1972. I don’t know if the program will be available again on TV but you can rent or purchase it at https://joebrooksfoundationdocumentary.vhx.tv/.
He had tremendous influence on most of the best known fly fishing personalities of our time including Lefty Kreh who we lost in March of this year. He was a frequent contributor for Outdoor Life Magazine where he became the fishing editor in 1968. Like many in my generation, his article was the first place I went to whenever I received the latest edition of the magazine. Through Joe I fished the waters of New Zealand, the bocas of Argentina, the salmon rivers of Iceland, and the saltwater flats of the Florida Keys. Perhaps most important of all was that I learned the river that I had fished my entire life was actually the Henry’s Fork of the Snake rather than the North Fork.
I didn’t meet Joe in the flesh until June of 1972. Will Godfrey, who had previously helped us organize the Upper Snake River Fly Fishers in Rexburg, made us aware that Joe Brooks was scheduled to fish the Henry’s Fork. Through Will we were able to organize a fly fishing event at Mack’s Inn in Island Park with Joe Brooks as our featured speaker. The room was packed and all of us hung on every word when he shared his presentation on fishing the Pichi Traful and the Rio Chimehuin in Argentina. Little did I know at that time that I would one day fish most of the places Joe wrote about.
At that time my new bride Sheralee and I had started a part time fly tying business to supplement my meager school teaching income. Will Godfrey was one of our accounts. Will explained that Joe Brooks liked my Pale Morning Dun Nohackles I had tied but he didn’t like the hooks because he kept straightening them out. I told Will I thought I could fix the problem by doubling the duck quill segments which could float a heavier hook. I arranged to meet Joe at Will’s shop to deliver the flies. I also brought my copy of his latest book which he signed. I felt like I was the most important guy on the planet.
Joe Brooks put the Henry’s Fork on the fly fishing planet. He wrote about it in the magazine and featured it in his books. He introduced us to Doug Swisher and Carl Richards who used the Henry’s Fork as their base for study of our western mayfly hatches. Within a few years it was rare to find a fishing publication that didn’t have something about the Henry’s Fork. If not for all of this new found fame and attention for the river we would not have taken the gamble to start our fly fishing business in 1976.
I was enriched by learning many things about Joe Brooks from watching the documentary. For me, more importantly, it resurrected a lot of wonderful memories of the past. Many of the individuals who were influenced by Joe were mentors for me. The dry fly fishing of the Railroad Ranch brought other great fly fishing personalities, writers and anglers like Ernest Schwiebert, Andy Puyans, Thomas McGuane, Lee and Joan Wulff, Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, John Gierach, A K Best, Ed Zern, Charlie Brooks, Nick Lyons, Mel Krieger, Lefty Kreh, Dave Whitlock, Stu Apte, Art Lee, James Babb, John Randolph, Dan Callaghan, Jack Hemingway, Al Troth and many others. I met them all and fished with almost all of them.
Virtually all of us in my generation including Rene Harrop, Jack Dennis, Gary LaFontaine, Bob Jacklin, Jack Gartside, Craig Mathews, George Anderson, and John Bailey were influenced in one way or another by these mentors.
Jack Hemingway and Dan Callaghan, along with their fishing buddies, are also the source of many wonderful memories from the early days on the Henry’s Fork. I first met Jack while fishing our spring Baetis hatches with Rene Harrop. Jack often drove over from his home in Sun Valley along with Jim Barnett. We actually named one of our popular dry flies, the Hemingway Caddis, after Jack. Dan Callaghan was a gifted author and photographer from Salem, Oregon. The hours I spent on the water and in the shop with Hemingway, Schwiebert, Callaghan, and Jim Barnett are priceless.
These special friends who have all passed on provided the final inspiration to start Henry’s Fork Anglers. They wanted us to succeed and made it clear they would do everything in their power to make it happen. Not long after we opened our doors Dan Callaghan walked in with his arms loaded full of exquisite black and white photographs of Ernest Schwiebert, Jack Hemingway, himself and early scenes of the Henry’s Fork, Madison River and the Firehole. They are mounted on strong 3/8” particle board.
Dan Callaghan would be proud today to see his photographs displayed prominently throughout our shop. They aren’t as noticeable as they were in the old shop which was much smaller but to me they connect who we are today to what we were in the beginnings. I hope we never change.