A Fly Fisherman Named Red

A special Father's Day tribute from one fly-fisherman to his mentor, his teacher... his father.

  • By: Anthony F. Genovese
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Red was a first-generation Italian American, and the only male child of five children. His eyes were bright blue and at times when his mood was right, and the light hit his face just right, they actually sparkled. Red was full of life and at times to me and others he was bigger than life. The hair on his head was a vibrant red and he was known to have a temper to match. Hence, his nickname from childhood was "Red." Red was a black-and-white person, there was no middle ground with him. At times Red's friends may have feared him as much if not more than his enemies. You either loved or you hated Red, but you never crossed him because he was tough and everyone knew it! Red was a tile-setter by trade, which helped to make him strong and powerful for his 5-foot, 10 1/2-inch inch frame. Red could literally do anything with his hands and he was nothing less than a master craftsman. The strength in his arms, wrists and hands was deceptive. Later in life he walked with a permanent limp, which was caused by a freak accident leaving one of his trout-fishing clubs. He was exiting his car to open a gate when the emergency brake failed on his vehicle and he was pinned between the open car door and a tree.

Red was a self-taught sportsman, who learned by experience. He loved being in the woods or streamside. Red hunted, he fly- fished for trout (catch and release) and he trained dogs. Red was great with dogs. In fact, on more than one occasion Red told me he liked dogs more than people. He trusted dogs and dogs trusted him, that's why he was damn good at training them.

In every sense of the word Red was a true sportsman. He practiced and taught catch and release long before the term became vogue and popular. Red had zero tolerance for anyone who did poach game or killed more fish than the legal limit. In all of the years that I knew Red, he never poached any game and or broke any gaming laws. He was courteous streamside and always willing to share information or a few flies with a newcomer. He was always super safety conscious and cautious around firearms.

Red and I did some hunting together for a short period of time in my early teens. Although I liked working dogs with Red, hunting just did not appeal to me. I enjoyed the challenge associated with hitting a moving target in flight with my 20-gauge silver snipe over-under Beretta shot gun. This gun was actually a Christmas gift from Red.

Red tied trout flies for a local sporting-goods store to pay for the shotgun. He actually planned to purchase the gun for himself to grouse hunt with in the northwestern part of New Jersey. I never got excited about the killing of a living thing. So naturally the aspect of hunting was pretty much out of the picture for me, but Red and I were enjoying nature and being in the out of doors.Red taught me how to fly-fish for trout. Red showed me how to read the water, how to rollcast and later how to dry-fly cast. He patiently showed me how to catch and land trout in a net or to safely beach, revive and release a really large fish unharmed. Red and I could experience friendly competition on the stream and through that competition we learned how to communicate effectively with each other. We were able to create and to share many special moments streamside. We would discuss the tactics we used to catch a particularly difficult trout.

At other times Red and I would exchange fly patterns or simply stop and talk with other fisherman, many of whom were his friends. Men like Kingie and Henry he taught to fly fish; others like Jerry and Johnny as well as the two brothers George and Lee taught Red how to fly fish and tie flies. Even today I still have the opportunity to fish with George, Lee and George's oldest son Barry, who in those early years was my closest streamside fishing buddy.

When I was 12 years old, I hooked and landed my first trout on a fly! When I finally brought that beautiful little seven-inch brook trout to net its colors were vibrant, its spots seemed to be perfectly located to enhance its natural beauty as it shined in the bright morning sun. Suddenly, I was the one that was hooked. I would enjoy being streamside eating packed lunches as I discussed the morning events on stream with Red. It was a magical time for me and today fly-fishing still produces that same magic for me. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of fly-fishing and the opportunity it afforded Red and me to learn about nature and each other.

Yes, fly-fishing became my sport and I pursued it with a passion. Basically, from the time I was 12 until 16, Red and I went fly-fishing for trout every Saturday and most Sundays. We would fly-fish together from opening day of trout season, which in New Jersey starts in early April, until the last weekend in October. Sometimes Red would bring another guest to join us at his fly-fishing club, but it never interfered with our fly-fishing plans.

When I was younger every New Jersey stream had great insect hatches. At the beginning of every trout season, we usually fished streamers, nymphs and wet flies. Once the water warmed and the hatches started it was time to start dressing your fly lines and fishing for trout with light leaders and tippets and small dry flies. It was not unusual to fish 6X tippets (2-pound test tippet material) with a size 20 dry fly. Back in the day you also fished shorter rods that did not cast as far or as accurate as today's graphite rods. The action was much slower and far less forgiving than today's modern rods. You also fished shorter roads, because fiberglass rods were a lot heavier than today's new rods.

Although you could see your prey in the water ,you had to wade much closer or stalk each and every trout. Once you saw your target your target could also see you. So you patiently stalked each fish wading slowly and cautiously into the proper position before you would even attempt a false cast. In fact, Red taught me to let the fish feed (rise to natural insects) at least a half a dozen times before making my first cast. This strategy was employed to help the trout feel safe as it continued feeding in its holding area. After the trout became confident it was time for me to make my first cast, which was always a false cast.

Eventually, Red sat me down at the fly-tying table. He wanted to teach me how to tie trout flies, because it truly adds another dimension to sport. In addition, he probably was tired of me raiding his fly boxes when we went fishing. He taught me how to tie trout fly patterns like the Wooly Worm, the Gold-ribbed Hare's wet fly, a yellow wet fly as well as the Leisenring Spider and the Leisenring Beetle.

In the streamer department I learned two versions of the same fly pattern. A white and gray marabou with the Mylar tinsel silver side facing out and gold side facing in on the fly. The other version was white and brown marabou with the Mylar tinsel gold side facing out and the silver side facing in on the fly. The heads were usually done in olive thread. Then Red would paint the eyes on the finished flies. Red always painted eyes on all of his streamers, which is a tradition that I continue to this day more in his honor than out of necessity. Red also taught me how to tie his favorite dry fly patterns too-the Henryville Special and a black gnat pattern Red invented, which is tied much like a Jassid but it uses a starling feather, and a secret black ant pattern that George and his bother Lee taught him to tie.

In the beginning none of this came very easy to me, in part because Red was fly -ying left handed and I was right handed, but he patiently guide me through each step on every fly pattern. I can remember especially having a difficult time learning how to whip- finish the head of the fly by a hand. There were no whip-finishing tools for Red's students-all whip-finishing tools were manufactured for right-handed fly tiers. In addition, Red did not teach his students to use half-hitches on their flies. Red's students learned to whip-finish their flies no matter how many times a student had to retie the same fly or start the fly completely over again. On the stream or at the tying bench Red was a different person with me. At times it was as if he under went some type of a transformation. He became a person that most people whether friend or foe just would not recognize. It was as if he was routing for me and cheering me on to success at every aspect of the sport. In those moments, Red was gentle, patient and kind as he taught me how to tie blood knots, match the insect hatch and cast a fly rod. He could be just as gentle with me at the fly-tying bench.

If you haven't guessed by now, Red was my Dad. In the later years as I grew into manhood and in the middle of my father's teaching something changed, it was no longer Red teaching me how to fly fish but it was my Dad. My Dad became my life mentor and we began to communicate with each other at a different level. We learned about each other and our relationship grew as a result of our fly fishing experiences. We always loved each other, but now we were able to respect each other and even have a difference of opinion.

My Dad is gone now and he has been for several years. He was a patient teacher stressing the basic skills necessary to enjoy fly-fishing and fly tying. He kept things simple for me and his many disciples. Many of us still pursue our sport on the same home waters where my Dad taught us how to fly fish. Whenever I am on the Paulskill or Big Flat Brook River I think of my Dad and it goes without saying that I miss him.

I often wish that he could stand next to me fishing Gouger's Pool just to share the excitement of catching one more trout together. Today my favorite pupil is my 20 year old son Anthony, who stands next to me fishing Gouger's Pool as we often share the excitement of catching one more trout before the end of the day.

Dad I can only thank you for sharing unselfishly your knowledge and love of fly-fishing with me and so many others. I will always miss you.