Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

A tribute to Dave

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 4/8/20

It was a long time ago—a cool rainy morning, late April in the Catskill’s. I was one of five instructors gathered in the little schoolhouse at the Wulff School of Fly Fishing on the Upper …

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Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher

A tribute to Dave

Posted

It was a long time ago—a cool rainy morning, late April in the Catskill’s. I was one of five instructors gathered in the little schoolhouse at the Wulff School of Fly Fishing on the Upper Beaverkill River. We were there to begin the 1993 school season with a briefing by Joan Wulff. Dave Brandt was one of those instructors, and this was the first time I had seen him in several years.

I don’t remember when I met Dave; it was probably in 1987, the last year I taught at the Wulff School before being recalled by Joan in 1993. Beginning then, Dave and I taught at the Wulffs every weekend from late April well into June.

The April schools were fraught with cold mornings, high water and brief snow squalls; we often eagerly awaited the roaring fire at the Beaverkill Valley Inn and the sumptuous lunches that followed. After lunch, the wait staff would bring each table a platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Dave loved those cookies so much so he made arrangements with one of the staff to slip him a stash “to help us get through the afternoon sessions.”

At the time, I had a camper at Peaceful Valley. After we finished teaching on Saturday, Dave and I would fish the East Branch then have a burger and a few beers at the Schoolhouse in Downsville. We stayed over at the camper so we could be back at the Wulff School early Sunday morning. This routine went on until I stopped teaching in 1996. A few years later, Dave joined me to teach the fly fishing schools hosted by the Frost Valley YMCA near Claryville, NY.

As with all friends, there are fond memories: all the years teaching, fishing trips, fly tying shows and gatherings at our camp on the East Branch. Of all these memories, one trip in particular comes to mind. In my May 17, 2017 column for TRR titled “Is the green drake hatch overrated?” I wrote, “Two friends and I, all instructors at the Wulff School, journeyed to the lower East Branch to fish the green drake hatch.” Those two friends were Dave and Rhea Topping. When we arrived, there were green drakes everywhere, slashing rises too. We fished that hatch until dark and never moved a fish. That prompted a trip to the Schoolhouse to discuss this dilemma over several New Castle Ales, Dave’s favorite brew. I recall Dave saying: “Well, that was a humbling experience.” 

Mostly, I remember Dave as the friend I called when in need of another neck for fly tying or some oddball hooks. He was the friend I called when my boxer Molly passed; he and wife Barb provided a great deal of comfort and support during that very difficult time. To all, he was the most well-known fly tier in the Catskills during this era. If I used the word famous, it would not be an overstatement. Perhaps my friend Rod said it best. Dave was a “husband, father, friend, teacher, mentor, tier of flies (par excellence) teller of tales, illustrator, ‘50s hair, Sinatra man, movie star, jokester, namesake of his own TU Chapter; New Castle Ale always at the ready” to quote in part. Dave was much more than that; he was the consummate caregiver.

Dave always attended the annual fly-fishing show in New Jersey. So, when I learned that he was not there this year, I called. He told me that he wasn’t feeling well and had some tests scheduled. That was the last time I spoke with my friend. Dave passed from this world on the morning of March 26 after a bout with a brief illness. His wonderful wife Barbara was at his side through it all, until the very end. It is so sad what happened to this lovely family.

To think, just last fall he was in fine form during our last outing at the camp; now, six months later, he’s gone? His passing has rocked his family and the local fly-fishing community. Soon, our small group—Dave’s friends—will gather at the camp, bow their heads, say a few words and make a toast in his memory.

You will be missed DB. I will miss you. And each evening when I fish the East Branch, I’ll look for your spirit over the riffles as the mist rises from the river.

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