Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Norman Schwarzkopf graduated from West Point in 1956. He then embarked on a distinguished military career that included two
- By: Stephen Camelio
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Norman Schwarzkopf graduated from West Point in 1956. He then embarked on a distinguished military career that included two combat tours in Vietnam and the command of all Allied forces during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. His military awards include two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, the Congressional Gold Medal and the President's Medal of Freedom. Since retiring from the service in 1991, Schwarzkopf has kept busy by writing books and using his celebrity to raise awareness about causes including prostate cancer, paralysis and children with chronic illnesses.He is also an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, and currently serves on The Nature Conservancy's President's Conservation Council. Schwarzkopf resides in Florida but summers in Colorado, and despite his busy schedule he finds the time to go fly-fishing every now and again. How did you start fishing? I can remember a couple of times my dad took me bait fishing as a very, very small child in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I remember catching little sunfish and catfish on a rudimentary rod and reel with bread as bait. But my real interest in fishing came about when I was much older while I was stationed in Alaska. I didn't do a lot of fly-fishing, but I was using a casting rod or spinning rod to fish for salmon and that sort of thing. When did you get interested in fly-fishing? I had always really wanted to get into fly-fishing but I never really had the time to do so. I was subsequently assigned to Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, and figured that that area of the United States really was the beginning of the fly-fishing world, at least as far as I was concerned. I took a couple of days and went to a fly-fishing school in Oregon on the Deschutes River. That was my introduction to the sport. Since then I've acquired countless rods and reels and have done a lot of fly-fishing in a lot of locations. Out of all those locations, which is your favorite spot to fly fish? My favorite by far is Alaska. I go up to Alaska just about every other year to go fly-fishing for all the different species they have up there. Which species is your favorite to fish for? I love them all. The salmon are great. They put up a great fight, especially the kings. It's like hooking a battleship and trying to pull it in. But then the rainbows are always a great challenge. In Alaska there is outstanding rainbow fishing because they grow to huge proportions. I once got a 33-incher with 16-inch girth. That kind of fish you can only find in Alaska because they suck up all the salmon eggs as they are going upstream. And you are also quite the Dolly Varden fisherman, I've heard. I had the Dolly Varden world record on a fly rod and two-pound test. The world record was way down around three or four pounds at that time and we deliberately went out to break the world record. I'm not hung up on world records, but we did it just for the hell of it. We went to a place called the Ugashik Narrows and we were catching big Dollies all day long and measuring them. You have to keep the fish to apply for a world record so we'd put them back and catch another that was bigger and so forth. And literally as the float plane was warming up to take off to fly to the lodge, I caught this big Dolly; it was seven pounds or something like that. We shattered the world record. Since that time some smart-alecky guy came up to me at the Safari Club and said, "You know that world record you have? Well you don't have it anymore. You know who broke it?" Obviously, he did. Who do you usually go to Alaska with? One of the things my son Christian and I get to do together is go to Alaska and spend a week up there fishing. I took him up to Alaska one time one when he was young and he caught a 60-pound salmon. I have a great picture of him as a little boy, I think he was 10 or 11, trying to hold up this big fish with both arms. He was one proud little kid and it was one of the better days of my life, too. Now that you live in Florida do you saltwater fly-fish? I really love to fly fish on the flats. I've hooked a couple tarpon but never landed one. I lost them pretty quickly. But I've caught a good number of bonefish and that's a real challenge, too. The bonefish is just a terrific fish and they are a great fish to fly fish for. Your delivery has to be almost perfect or you are going to scare them away. It's all sight-fishing and I enjoy that kind of fly-fishing. You are the Honorary Chairman of the World Sailfish Championships. How did that come about? There was no World Sailfish Championship when they approached me to be the chairman and to help them put it together. They said the proceeds would go to The Boggy Creek Gang, this camp I've established for chronically ill children. They wanted to do it on an annual basis, but I said let's do it once and see how it goes. In its first year it raised a significant amount of money, around $180,000 for the camp. And the kids at The Boggy Creek Gang learn to fish? I insist on it. I told the kids that when you catch the fish you have to kiss it because then when you release it, it tells the other fish that if they get caught they get kissed, so then all the fish come to your hook. And you've also taught fly-fishing to kids from the Boys&Girls Club. How do kids from the city take to fly-fishing? It's something that they can get hooked on. Fishing can be an expensive proposition, but it can also be an inexpensive proposition. You don't have to be filthy rich to go fishing. I had a wonderful experience with a boy from the inner city that I was fishing with. We were up in mountains and he was fly-fishing and I looked over at the mountains and said, "Aren't those some of the prettiest mountains you've ever seen?" He looked at me and he said, "Those are the only mountains I've ever seen." He had a great day. We hadn't caught anything when I had to leave, but when I came back he said he'd caught four fish. He was holding up his hands to show how big the fish were so I figure in one day I had a made fisherman out of him,-a fly fisherman that is. After teaching fly-fishing have you realized that you have more to learn? Yeah. I would love to be one of those people who can match the hatch or know exactly which fly to apply in any given circumstance. I more or less use the seek-and-ye-shall-find method; put a fly on and if nothing happens, try another one. When I go to the local fly shop and say, "What's hot these days?" they always give me something that I don't have, so I have to buy it. Also, I have all the equipment for fly-tying but my flies come out looking disgraceful. No self-respecting fly would look like that. It would be wonderful to tie my own flies and from there go the water and know exactly which fly to choose. After returning from Desert Storm you went fishing for Atlantic salmon in Canada to relax. Is fishing how you dealt with the pressures of your job? To me fly-fishing is almost Zen. I know that it is a weak comparison, but when I get out in the middle of a stream I just enjoy being there and working on my presentation. When you make that perfect cast, even if you don't catch anything, it just feels good. To my mind, just standing in the middle of a rushing stream in a wilderness setting is just about the best way I know to completely and totally relax. Is there any comparison between the strategy used in fly-fishing and your background in military strategy? I wouldn't call it grand strategy when I'm out there, but it is a thinking person's sport. You have to figure out where the fish are, what the fish are doing and then the presentation has to be pretty good. Once you get into the fight that's another thing. Frankly, I always feel good when I release a fish. I feel great when you catch it and bring it in and release it as soon as possible. Makes me feel pretty good when I do that. Well that makes sense since you are a strong proponent of environmental conservation. How did you get involved with conservation? I think my real interest started when I was living in Alaska. They call themselves 'the last frontier' and that's really what they are. There are so many magnificent things that are there and aren't anywhere else because of over-development and that sort of thing. I think it would be a shame to lose that wonderful, wonderful wilderness that is there. I'm also the national spokesman for the Recovery of the Grizzly Bear in the United States. To me the grizzly is the last vestige of wilderness in the lower 48 states. I think it would terrible if we disturbed them all. But it was really Alaska that got me started. It's a magnificent place. It would be terrible if it all became developed and there was no longer the wilderness there is today. Coming from a military background is there anything that fly-fishing has taught you? I think patience is certainly something it has taught me. I can stand in the middle of a stream practicing my presentation all day. Like I said, the most relaxing thing in the world is to stand in a stream and fly fish. When you go places where there are no noises and it is so silent that it's loud it teaches you how to relax. I learned the sound of silence when I fish.