Gary’s Early Fishing Bio

gb_with_brookieFishing has always been a part of my life. At age 4, I fished in the mud puddles in front of the house. By age 6 my older brother, Val, and I were fishing the waters of the Appalachian Plateau country around Cooperstown, PA. We were serious about catching anything that would bite, including an occasional hellbender, plenty of chubs, suckers, bullheads, and panfish. But the greatest lure for me was the elusive and beautiful, trout. They were magical. Shy to the point of painfulness, delicate in their feeding, and colored like the mottled farmlands of western Pennsylvania or the skies of heaven itself, they were the true trophy of my heart. And it has always been such. I sought them with unrelenting, youthful desire, and by the time I was in third grade, I was catching them with regularity, using the new spinning rod (with side bail, Johnson reel) that my father had so lovingly provided for his possessed child.

Fly fishing entered my life at age 10, when I found stories on the sport in “Field and Stream,” “True,” “Outdoor Life,” “Sports Afield,” and other magazines of the era. Writers like Ted Trueblood, Al McClane, Joe Brooks, and the young Ernie Schwiebert haunted my imagination with stories of big trout taken on delicate dries or carefully fished nymphs and wet flies. And I was hooked. I asked for a fly tying kit for Christmas the next year, and began tying and fishing the most awful looking flies that ever came off a tyer’s bench. But they were my flies, and they caught fish. No, not trout. But there were plenty of cooperative chubs and panfish that kept me busy tying and perfecting my skills, trying to make my flies look like those so skillfully displayed in the Family Circle’s Guide to Trout Flies that had come with the kit.

The first trout on a fly came in the spring of my 12th year. It fell to a Leadwing Coachman swung through the fish’s rise point. Though only 10 inches long—and probably stocked the week before—that rainbow has always been my biggest trophy. Not only because it was my first trout on a fly, but because a fishing neighbor witnessed the entire cast, hook, and land sequence and profusely complimented me on my skill. By age 16, when I could hit the highways to more distant waters, my tying and fishing skills were sufficient to fool enough trout to keep me coming back at every possible moment.

At Penn State,working on my BS in Forest Technology, I found not only fantastic fishing at Fisherman’s Paradise on Spring Creek, but I found a wonderful angling library built and sustained by its many fly fishing faculty, past and present. It was a wonderful time of developing knowledge in all areas of interest, and I’ll always be grateful for those faculty who had requested that so many great angling books be housed in the library.

nancyNear the end of my junior year at Penn State, I met Nancy. There was instant and permanent chemistry. She was not just cute and funny, but she hunted, fly fished, tied flies, and played guitar. We got married in September after our senior year. I was in grad school working on my MS in Silviculture and Nancy worked as a research technician at Dairy Breeding Research Center. One of my courting presents had been a fly rod that I built just for Nancy—a 7 1/2 foot glass rod for a 6-weight line. I built one just like it for myself, and we caught many, many fish on them at Fisherman’s Paradise and others waters in the State College region.

ant_fly_2When we arrived at the University of Wisconsin in 1968, where I was to begin work on my Ph.D. in Tree Physiology, I quickly discovered a wonderful collection of aquatic entomology texts housed in the Birge Hall library. And nearby we located Black Earth Creek and Mount Vernon Creek. They were great laboratories for developing fly design concepts, and their abundant hatches and excellent terrestrial offerings provided plenty of opportunities to experiment. It was there that the Para Ant and loop-wing concept for dries were first developed and tested.

witte-brownAnd it was on the banks of Black Earth Creek that we went for a picnic in August of 1971. A Pseudocloeon hatch was in progress, and I caught a good number of small browns in the bright morning sun. I stuck the rod in Jason’s hand and showed him how to reel, and at 21 months of age, Jason reeled in his first fish. At first he didn’t realize the significance of holding the rod and reeling, but suddenly he saw the fish splashing and made the connection. The fish was hooked for only a few moments before being released, but Jason was hooked for life.

The next spring I sold my very first magazine article—to “Field and Stream Magazine.” A month later I became the Midwest Director for the Fenwick Fly Fishing Schools, the first national fly fishing schools ever offered. That summer, we made our first trip to Montana, where Nancy saw the mountains for the first time in her life, and Jason caught his first trout all by himself from Squaw Creek, just south of Bozeman. It was a wonderful summer, and a wonderful beginning to our life-long involvement in fly fishing schools, articles, videos, books, seminars, club talks, sports shows, travel, and so much more.