Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stan Bogdan - In Memoriam

The angling world recently lost one of its icons, an individual so steeped in the sport's traditions that his work will be spoken of for decades to come. I once met Stan Bogdan, but I did not know him. I have handled many of his reels, and while I've envied each of them I haven't had the pleasure of calling one my own. Marc Aroner, a rod builder and craftsman of both considerable talent and reputation, did know Mr. Bogdan. He has owned a Bogdan reel. What follows is Mr. Aroner's tribute to a man who was both legend and friend.

I got a phone call at the house on Sunday evening with some surprising news: “It’s Stan,” a rodmaker friend told me, “he just passed away.”

If you live long enough you start to receive too many of these sorts of calls but I had to admit to being surprised by this and of course deeply saddened. As I posted a few months ago here on the site, Junior and I had run into him at the Marlborough show and he seemed pretty spry for 92, regaling us with some good fishing stories and, as Junior gleefully pointed out later, giving me more than my fair share of needling. In short, he seemed to be doing rather well.

I was told that his health deteriorated rapidly after recently returning home from Florida and he passed away in Nashua on Sunday with his son Steve Bogdan and his daughter-in-law Sandy at his side. A memorial service is planned for Tuesday April 5th at 10:00 am at St. Patricks church in Nashua with a luncheon to follow.

To many of us in the fly fishing world, of course, Bogdan was a legendary craftsman. Born in 1918 in Nashua, NH to a father who was a machinist, the younger Bogdan went to work for the Rollins Engine Company after graduating from high school in the mid 1930′s. As a fisherman and natural tinkerer, he soon began thinking about making his own fly reels and started experimenting with their construction on nights and weekends, producing his first reel in 1940. In what would become a Bogdan trademark, he developed an innovative and highly effective double-disc brake system capable of stopping the strongest fish while maintaining incredible smoothness, a combination which would go on to become the hallmark of fine fly reels.

Marc Aroner on the left and Stan Bogdan on the right
So good were his creations, especially compared to many others of the era, that Bogdans soon became must-have equipment for serious fisherman. Much of his client list read like a who’s who of famous anglers: Ted Williams, Bing Crosby, Paul Volcker, and numerous British royalty and other celebrities, but there were also many others who would pinch pennies and wait years before finally acquiring one (I know because I was one of them).

Many other rodmakers and fisherman knew him better than I, but he was always especially kind to me when I first started out building rods (at which point Bogdan had been building reels for 30 years). I remember a friend taking me up to his shop many years ago – a modest but crowded affair not unlike my own – and marvelling at the simplicity of his machine tools: a lathe that was from the early 20th century, a milling machine not much newer, and of course boxes and boxes of materials from which his reels were made. To the very end of his life Bogdan relied solely on reputation, eschewing booths at fishing shows, catalogs, websites, and other marketing devices that everyone else needed out of necessity. If you wanted a Bogdan reel you had to call up the shop and get on his waiting list. That was how it worked.

A yankee through and through, Bogdan also had a mischievous side. Many years ago I recall Stan helping me play a rather complicated prank on another fishing friend Joe Garman (also departed, sadly) involving a “secret salmon fly” that I had tied and which, through a complicated series of maneuvers, we managed to have crop up “serendipitously” wherever Garman appeared that season. It was exactly the kind of thing that Stan seemed to get a real kick out of, a break from the serious work of crafting the serious reels that bore his name.

Bogdan was also quick with a story, and one in particular – which I suspect was well-worn from retelling – involved fishing Lower Murdoch pool on the Grand Cascapedia, a pool that is notoriously difficult because of a tricky backcast where one’s line had to zip out over a section of nearby road. Well Stan was fishing there one morning and was apparently reaching back for a little extra oomph on a backcast when he ended up hooking a tree on the far side of the road. Turning around to see what had happened Bogdan was trying to figure out how to unhook the fly, when, much to his horror, he looked up the road and saw a Winnebago barreling down it and heading straight for his line. “It wouldn’t come free,” the diminutive Bogdan would say, “so what was I to do? I scrambled up the rip-rap and jammed the rod as high in the air as it would go. Sure enough the Winnebago just barely squeaked under it. When I turned around again, my guide calmly said: ‘Well, Stan, looks like you almost had the catch of a lifetime there.’ Did I ever!”

Above all of course Bogdan was also a superb craftsman and one who maintained his humble approach despite his worldwide fame. “I never wanted to grow my shop any bigger,” he once told me, “because I’m too damned particular about how to do things. Can you imagine the poor guy who would have to work for someone like me?” His devotion to the craft remained to the very end of course, and in his advanced age, when most would be embracing a life of relaxation, he still worked in the shop several days a week.

In fact when it was erroneously reported earlier this year (on this site among others) that he was quitting reelmaking altogether, Bogdan was emphatic about his plans. He had been a reelmaker his whole life, he pointed out, and he would continue to do it until the day he died. I don’t know about you, but I admire him all the more for doing exactly that.

Rest in peace Stan.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Circles of Hell, Volume #1 : Limbo

In his seminal work The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri paints a picture of hell that is, in many ways, quite contrary to our own contemporary vision. We imagine hell as a lake of fire where horned and fork-tailed demons torment the souls of the world's sinners, but Dante's vision isn't quite so all encompassing. The poet offers us a hell that is tailored to the perversions of each individual soul, a hell where Satan is not master, but rather a prisoner. Dante's hell exists within nine concentric circles, each representing a crime against man or God. I've spent just enough time beating bush along the river to know that such a place must exist for bug chuckers.

Dante's journey through Hell begins at the outermost of the concentric rings, Limbo. Limbo houses the uninitiated and unbaptized souls who have yet to accept Christ as their savior and redeemer. So it is for us fly flingers. We have to start somewhere, and relatively few of us start with the satisfaction that comes from tying a diminutive dry fly, and casting it to large, spinner-sipping brown trout. Instead, we start with bluegills, worms and a bobber. Many of us only ever come to fly fishing after we've had an epiphany, a realization that there must be more than bluegills, worms, and bobbers.

Some of us wander aimlessly through Limbo for half a lifetime before we discover the redemption of bug chucking. We move from worms to minnows and then from minnows to artificials. We buy spinnerbaits and plugs, crankbaits and soft plastics. We study the Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops catalogs. We commit ourselves to a monthly boat payment and weekly bass tournaments. The whole time we feel as if there must be more, and that if there isn't more then certainly there mnust be something else.

Then it happens. We're on vacation with the wife and kids, rolling across the country in the family truckster, and as we follow I-90 where it parallels the Yellowstone River we see a solitary angler wading knee deep in the pounding current. We recognize that it's a fly rod he holds in his hands; we've seen its cousins in our catalogs. What we do not recognize is the angler's expression. Even at a distance we can tell that he is positively beatific. He smiles, but his is not a tournament angler's smile. His knowing grin - not quite ear to ear, but ebullient just the same - suggests something else, something untold. We're intrigued.

Or maybe we're not on vacation at all. Maybe we're sitting comfortably at home. We've settled into our favorite chair after a long day at work, and we're paging vacantly through 700 channels of high definition mindlessness. The wife and kids have been asleep for hours, but tonight we're restless. We cannot close our eyes. We surf channel after endless channel, and then we see it, the image of an angler silhouetted against a backdrop of pine. He stands tall atop a boulder, which is just off-center in what must be a glacial river. His fly line dances through the air, and paints golden script across a verdant canvas. We've heard of this film. People who know we fish have suggested that we watch it. What's it called? A River Running, or something like that. It doesn't matter; we place the remote on an end-table, and watch until the film's conclusion.

I suppose it's possible that we didn't come to fly fishing after a road trip or having watched a movie. Maybe we had a grandfather who taught us how to tie, or a father who taught us how to cast. Maybe we read about it in Field and Stream, or saw an episode of The American Sportsman with Curt Gowdy. However our enlightenment happened, the result is the same.

We came to realize our ignorance, and we discovered our place in Limbo. We understood that there could be more to fishing than the fish. We came to know that in the hours we spend riverside we might just find our redemption. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pike on the Fly Podcast

Just wanted to take a moment to make my readers aware of a Podcast presented by Tom Rosenbauer of the Orvis company and Drew Price of Master Class Angling. Drew and Tom take some time to discuss the rudiments of chasing pike on the fly. The Podcast is the latest in a series, which appears on the OrvisNews.com blog. Each Podcast is extraordinarily well done, and this - the latest - is especially interesting.

Tom and Drew ... Thank you both for giving us something to listen to other than the droning monotony of our spouses and bosses.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man: Redux

This evening I find myself reminiscing about my introduction to fly fishing, and those formative first years spent wading the shallower runs of the Battenkill. I find myself thinking about hendricksons and covered bridges, train tracks and swallows, a canvas vest and rubber waders, my father and my uncle Elmer. Dad introduced me to the long rod, but it was Elmer who showed me what was possible. Tonight I'd like to honor Elmer's memory by revisiting an essay I wrote a year or so ago.

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

The covered bridge (now a museum) that still stands a half mile upstream of what was once Elmer's home.
Elmer was my great-uncle. He lived in Shushan, New York, and his home stood on an eastern bank of the Battenkill. In the water that cut a swath through his backyard, I caught my first trout on a fly. Elmer was my great-aunt Aggie's second husband; her first drowned in the river as had her only son. It's a tragic story, and an indelible reminder of the lower river's deceptive power. I digress.

Out of the necessity born of poverty, Elmer was a fisherman. In fact, he was a superlative fisherman. No, he never wrote any magazine articles; I'm fairly certain he never read any either. Hunger, family and the vows of marriage were his only motivators. He didn't own a pair of waders; he kept only a single flybox in his wicker creel. Elmer fished a steel rod because Elmer had always fished a steel rod, and his silk fly line was wound onto an old nickel-silver baitcaster.

Elmer's nose looked to have been broken a dozen times; his hands showed the scars and calluses of a lifetime of manual labor. I imagine him as a prizefighter in boxing's heyday, but more likely he had been on the bad end of more than a few bar fights. Elmer would never have made the cover of Flyfishermanalthough he may have appeared on a timeworn Field and Stream.

Elmer caught trout - bushels of trout - every season. I remember once marveling at the contents of his chest freezer. Hundreds of browns and a few dozen brookies, were lined up and packed like cord wood in the cavernous, frozen vacuum. If he and my aunt subsisted on fish, as I must assume they did, then they ate well and often. Elmer may have heard the arguments in favor of catch and release, but the freezer left little doubt that he dismissed those discussions as so much romantic drivel. When Elmer took a trophy fish - and he often did - that fish ended up on the dinner plate, not on the wall.

Elmer died years ago, and Aggie followed shortly thereafter. Their house - or what remained of it anyway - was sold to a gentleman angler from New York City, who thought it quaint to own a home on the Battenkill. I drive by occasionally, and when I do I invariably lament the loss of the place and the man. Elmer's home and Elmer's water occupy a sanctified place in my memory.

And as I revisit that memory, I find it tinged with a hint of sadness at the realization that my children will never know Uncle Elmer. They'll never know anyone like Uncle Elmer. The world has changed.

The world has changed, indeed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Biomass on Hold?

What follows is the transcript of a podcast, which can be found on the Vermont Public Radio website. For anyone following the tale of the proposed Pownal, Vermont biomass power plant this could spell hope for both the Hoosic River and those folks who live in the river valley. At the very least, it seems the people of Pownal have been granted a one-year reprieve.

Pownal Biomass Project May Be On Hold

Thursday, 03/10/11 7:34am
Susan Keese
Bennington, VT
(Host)  A panel of experts met at Bennington College last night to consider how a 30 megawatt biomass plant might impact the region's forests, air, water and communities. Two such plants are proposed for Vermont - one in Pownal and one in Fair Haven.  But as VPR's Susan Keese reports, the Pownal project may be temporarily on hold.

(Keese) A recent study says the potential for sustainably producing power from New England's forests is likely to be smaller than some earlier projections. That study is done by the Cary Institute  of Milbrook, New York. Bennington College Ecology Professor Kerry Woods says it's the best reesarch he's seen.
(Woods) "Biomass driven  power generation yes probably has an appropriate place in the mix for the northeast. But it's important to realize that the potential there is probably considerably less than people have come to think. They say the figure was replacing five percent of the coal burnt, a relatively small proportion."

(Keese) The study says unrealistic growth in biomass could lead to serious degradation of the forest.
And it says that while biomass isn't carbon neutral, it may be preferable, carbon-wise, to fossil fuels. That's because carbon released from trees returns eventually to the forest, while carbon from fossil fuels has nowhere to return to. Dick Valentinetti, Vermont's director of air pollution control, says his department has received an air quality permit application from Beaverwood Energy, that's the company behind the two proposals. "It's a good application but I still have some questions about some technical aspects,    have they really pushed the envelope as far as they should be on some of these pollution controls"

(Keese) Valentinetti says monitoring the two biomass generating plants already in the state - including the 30 year old McNeil Plant in Burlington - keeps regulators current on anti- pollution technology. Beaverwood partner Bill Bousquet was in the audience. He says the company only plans to file for permits for the Fair Haven project this year. Says Bousquet, "Because the people in Fair Haven are one hundred percent towards this plant, and the people of Pownal have mixed feelings about the plant. So it's much easier to go ahead with Fair Haven this year and then we'll have to see what the legislation does with the energy plan for next year or the year after."

(Keese) Bousquet says lawmakers have been going back and forth on whether, or to what extent, to include biomass in state incentive programs for renewable energy projects.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


While perusing the Rise Form Studio site, I came across a link to The Rusty Spinner. The accompanying description reads, "The Rusty Spinner isn't particularly informative. Readers won't learn much about equipment, casting, tying or conservation. Just GOOD WRITING!" The first two sentences are quoted from this blog; I wrote them, and reading what I've written has me to thinking. If The Rusty Spinner isn't about all those things that are so distinctive to fly fishing - spey rods, large arbor reels, the double-haul, nymphs, duns, emergers -  what then is this blog about?

Looking back on the years since TRS's inception, I realize that The Rusty Spinner doesn't provide its readers with the singular focus of so many other blogs. For example, Pike Adventures with Ken Capsey, A Matter of Life, Death and Fluffchucking, and Pike Fly Fishing Articles are (I think rather obviously) geared toward an audience of pike hunters - they're predators feeding on predators. Although increasingly global in its coverage, The Fiberglass Manifesto continues to maintain a keen eye on issues of importance to the fiberglass flyrodder. The most successful bloggers - if we are to measure success through followers, advertising, and page hits - have discovered and exploited their niche.

The Rusty Spinner lacks such singularity. I imagine that this blog and its purveyor must at times appear scatterbrained. One day I'll write about a recent steelhead trip. In the same breath, I'll post photos of a buddy's favorite hendrickson patterns, speak of my admiration for really big trees, and then use Fight Club as a metaphor. I suppose this is why, when compared to other better established blogs, I've such a small readership. I haven't a niche. I am fortunate, however, as the few readers I do have seem to come back time and again. The question is, "Why?"

And in this case I suppose the question may very well be the answer. I like to think that TRS offers its readers something that many other blogs may not. No, I do not write about how we fish. Too many other writers already do that, and many do it much better than I could ever hope. Instead, I like to think that I spend most of my time here writing about why we fish.

Why do we spend six hours behind the wheel to wet a line in a semi frozen river? Why do we need - absolutely and positively need - four different hendrickson patterns in three different sizes? Why might a nondescript tree that we've walked past a dozen times suddenly command our most rapt attention? Why do we so yearn to find kindred spirits, men and women who enjoy the sport as we do, but at the same time simply refuse to speak directly with them about the places in which we fish?

That is the question. Isn't it? Why do we do this thing we do?

Do we fish for the fish?

Do we fish for the places fishing takes us, and the sights we see when we're there?

Do we fish for the friendship, the camaraderie?

Do we fish for family - for a chance to be our fathers' sons?

We fish because we could not bear not to fish. Fly fishing is sustenance; each trip to the river or lake is just enough to see us through until the next trip to the river or lake. No, we're not tournament casters. We're not particularly accomplished tyers. We don't even wade particularly well, but every year we do the job just a little better than we did the previous year. 

I suppose we fish not because we must master the fish or the river. We fish to master ourselves.