Tag Archives: fishing

Remembering John Merwin

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, February 28, 2013
See HTML Version of article
By Morgan Lyle

John Merwin

John Merwin, founder of Fly Rod & Reel magazine and author of “The Battenkill,” was remembered as a consummate writer and editor. He died Feb. 20 at age 66. (Photo courtesy the Merwin family)


John Merwin was a private guy. You didn’t see him on TV, or hosting seminars at fly-fishing shows, or liking and commenting on Facebook.

But he had friends and fans, and in the week since his death, they have remembered him as an expert angler, a curmudgeon with a heart of gold and one of the most important fishing writers and editors of his time.

Merwin — founder of Fly Rod and Reel magazine, longtime fishing editor at Field & Stream and author of 15 books, including the definitive history of the Battenkill River — died Feb. 20 at age 66 after a brief illness.

“Gruff, erudite, opinionated, tireless, and constitutionally candid, he was a force on the angling scene, pulling the levers of the industry from a lawn chair in rural Vermont,” wrote Merwin’s friend Dave Hurteau of Saratoga Springs, dep­uty editor and columnist at Field & Stream, who wrote an obituary on behalf of Merwin’s family.

Merwin’s “The New American Trout Fishing,” published in 1994, is a superb book — “the best modern book on trout fishing, period,” in the words of Merwin’s Field & Stream colleague, Kirk Deeter.

You could read nothing else on the subject and live a happy life as a trout fisherman.

It’s an ambitious, literary how-to book that treats readers to history, science and commentary along with instruction.

But for Capital Region anglers, Merwin’s most important book was “The Battenkill: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Trout River — Its History, People and Fishing Possibilities.”

There’s never been anything remotely like it written about the Battenkill, or most trout rivers, for that matter. It’s a richly detailed history of the river, and to an extent of trout fishing itself in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As one might expect, Merwin writes about the Battenkill’s most famous fisherman, the legendary Lee Wulff. But “The Battenkill” also covers Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses and “the half-mythical (Ethan) Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, who were in fact a handful of arrogant tavern drunks, bullying New York settlers along the border both before and shortly after the American Revolution.”

It’s not a how-to book, but anyone who reads it will learn how to fish the Battenkill. Merwin will warn them he sometimes takes an hour to wade 100 feet, which drives some of his friends nuts but avoids frightening the big trout. And you can almost see him wag his finger when you read, “use a three- to four-foot-long tippet of 6X [or lighter with ultra-small flies] for everything except streamers, even if the book you’ve read says to use 4X with your size-14 Hendrickson dries.”

Hurteau, who fished with Merwin often, heard lots of stuff like that.

“I met John in 1995,” he recalled in an interview. “I was a young, new punk editor from the wilderness at Field and Stream. John was already a legend. I had no idea who he was. The first words John ever spoke to me in person were, ‘You talk too much.’ ”

But under the grumpy New England veneer, Merwin was a softie. “He showed you in no uncertain way that he cared about you,” Hurteau said. “He went way out of his way to take a lot of us young editors under his wing and take care of us. It’s something that has been lost a little bit in editing circles these days — people are just too busy.”

And Merwin, a Connecticut nat­ive who began his career as a newspaperman after attending the University of Michigan, “was the standard bearer for integrity in fishing writing,” Hurteau said. “We really looked to John for the right way to do things, and he was just adamant about that. He insisted that things be done the right way.”

Hence the great books, and the many great articles and blog posts, and the overall quality of the mag­azines he led.

Merwin wasn’t afraid to show his sentimental side in his writing, at least when he was writing about the Battenkill.

“After about 40 years of chasing trout from Maine to California and beyond, I know that the Battenkill is my favorite place,” he wrote. “The Battenkill is more like Bach; with green hills, covered bridges and white-clapboard villages forming the gently repeating steps of a sweetly insistent fugue in which rising trout play an occasional part. Perhaps you’ll develop a taste for it. As I have.”

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at morganlyle@gmail.com.


An Awesome Montauk Surfcasting Video Needs Our Support

If you’re a fly-fisher on Long Island, chances are you’ve found yourself in the fishing department of Camp-Site Sport Shop in Huntington Station, N.Y., which has a great selection of fly-fishing and fly-tying stuff.
The manager of the Camp-Site fishing department, Richard Siberry, is a very knowledgeable angler — but he’s also a brilliant photographer and, now, video producer. His nearly finished documentary, “Montauk Rocks,” captures the fun of hardcore surfcasting — and the spirit of the characters who are devoted to the game — better than anything I’ve seen.
We all have a chance to help get this doc finished and onto the screen, by contributing to it through Kickstarter — a “crowd-funding” service that helps creative types with grassroots fundraising. I chipped in a few bucks and I hope you will, too. Check out the trailer.
No, this isn’t strictly speaking a fly-fishing video, although there is fly-fishing in it. But I have to believe anybody who likes any kind of fishing — or anyone who enjoys first-class outdoor recreation journalism — will love “Montauk Rocks.” Seriously. Check out the trailer.

Montauk Rocks Kickstarter page & trailer


Acres of Dying Stripers

Video of thousands of dead and dying stripers in the Atlantic Ocean off Oregon Inlet, N.C. Why these fish are in the water is not fully clear, but observers agree they’re being tossed there by trawlers harvesting stripers. The commercials appear to be throwing back smaller ones in order to keep the biggest ones.

This should boil the blood of anyone saving their vacation days to go striper fishing next season.

Here’s some discussion on the situation.

Connecticut Comes to its Senses

On the very same day I made up my mind that I would not pay $80 — double the 2009 fee — for an out-of-state Connecticut fishing license, the Connecticut Legislature voted to repeal the reviled 100 percent increase. A non-resident season fishing license will now be $55, a more reasonable 35 percent increase over last year, and I may go for it after all.

The fee for a resident fishing license was reduced from $40 to $28.

The Legislature’s action was no comfort, however, to a buddy of mine from upstate New York who crosses the state line to fish the Housatonic every chance he gets. He already paid the 80 bucks — and the rollback is not retroactive.

I’m starting to love the Housy too. But I already have a license that covers the Delaware, the Beaverkill, the Esopus, the West Canada, the Ausable and other big rivers (a license, by the way, that costs nonresidents of New York $70, up from $40 last year.) Shelling out for a license for the state next door is getting harder and harder to justify.