Fly fishing center gets a redo

Posted 4/1/20

 LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY — There’s a lot going on at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum (CFFCM) these days while the ebb and flow of time makes its way down the fabled waters …

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Fly fishing center gets a redo


 LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY — There’s a lot going on at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum (CFFCM) these days while the ebb and flow of time makes its way down the fabled waters of Willowemoc Creek.

After decades of planning and development, on May 28, 1995, the doors opened on the award-winning, state-of-the-art museum located on what would eventually become a 55.66-acre parcel situated along a mile of pristine glittering trout water on a tributary of the legendary Beaver Kill.

But as the museum grew, so did its collection of artifacts and memorabilia. In fact, it grew exponentially, literally over-flowing the archives to a point where a lot of historical material was gathering dust, far from public view.

Then came the vision of current managing director John Kovach and a cadre of dedicated board members and volunteers—a team consisting exclusively of fisherpersons. The goal in revamping the museum is to make the exhibits flow in a more orderly fashion, particularly with newcomers to the sport in mind.

Kovach took over the reins as the center’s part-time managing director in August 2018. Reflecting on the genesis of the idea for a museum that first rose to the surface in the kitchen of Elsie and Harry Darbee—much like a trout rising to a hand-crafted dry fly—Kovach said, “That’s where it started, that’s where everybody hung out… That’s how we came about.”

As a veteran newspaperman, Kovach knows his way around words. As a “fisherman my entire life,” he said he first wet a line in saltwater before entering the world of freshwater fly fishing.

So, what’s with the renovation project?

“I have always felt that if you were new to the sport of fly fishing and walked into the museum in its existing form, you would be overwhelmed. There’s not a lot of explanatory text,” said Kovach.

“It starts in the middle of the story, talking about Theodore Gordon….” In Kovach’s opinion, things could get a bit confusing for newcomers, as there wasn’t a clearly defined linear flow to the stories presented in the museum.

Take it from a sports scribbler who, as a lad, had a cabinet of curiosities—ranging from a meteorite to Native American flints and beads, to a collection of insects—the museum’s story was comprehensive but a bit confusing to the uninitiated.

“What we’re trying to do is add more explanatory text that leads them into the sport of fly fishing, and also trying to create a better flow to the main museum,” said Kovach.

So instead of lingering in isolated pools of exhibits, visitors will be able to “go with the flow” as the story of the birth and evolution of fly fishing and the legendary figures of the sport course their way downstream through history.

“We’re going to prune some things, rotate exhibits more,” explained Kovach, adding that including audio-visual aids, starting a volunteer docent program, converting the gift shop into a visitor center and expanding the story of President Jimmy Carter’s fishing the sparkling waters of the Catskills are also on the drawing board as the redo project moves forward.

“We need to do a better job of explaining the sport of fly fishing and the museum more welcoming.”

One of the standouts of the museum are the working desks of some of the sport’s most illustrious fly tiers, folks known internationally for their almost other-worldly ability to create dry files that replicate the real thing in colored yarn and bits of feathers.

The likes of Poul Jorgensen, the author of numerous acclaimed books on the art of fly-tying, perhaps best known for his mastery of the Atlantic salmon fly; Art Flick, an ardent conservationist and fisherman who penned “Streamside Guide” in 1947, and for years ran a tavern in Westhill, NY close to Schoharie Creek, both known as ‘watering holes’ to fisherfolk from across the land; Walt Dette, who in a New York Times obituary was called “an exceptionally gifted fly tier”; and his daughter Mary Dette Clark who, along with her late parents Walter and Winnie Dette, were long renowned for their high quality flies and for fostering a spirit of close-knit camaraderie among fisherpersons.

In 1990, the Eastern Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers presented their lifetime achievement award to Walt, Winnie and Mary Dette, calling them the First Family of Catskill Fly Tying “for their untiring dedication to the sport of fly fishing and their efforts to preserve the Catskill fly tying tradition.”

Cy Amundson, a new member of the center’s advisory board, is one of the folks who’s putting his shoulder into re-doing and upgrading the museum.

“I came on because I believe in the center and its future. [I] knew that my background in exhibitions would lend itself to refreshing the museum’s exhibits and programs,” said Amundson who, when not working on the redo projects, works for a contemporary art gallery in NYC.

“We are in a two-phase renovation of the museum. We are shuffling some of the existing exhibits and adding others, including material related to Jimmy Carter and his involvement with the center. The overarching mission of this renovation is to make the museum more legible to the uninitiated viewer, and to tell the story of fly fishing in the Catskills,” said Amundson.

“I’ve arrived at the idea of getting a couple of wall murals printed to break up the rhythm of the framed-objects-on-walls look, to give the place a little graphics punch,” he added.

And then there’s the romantic mystique of fly-fishing.

“It’s a lifetime sport; anyone can do it with a little instruction,” said Kovach. “You don’t have to do the long-loop cast, you can learn a roll cast, and be just fine in terms of going out and catching a fish.

“You can take it shallow, or you can take is as deep as you want.”

The Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum, “dedicated to the preservation of fly fishing, and the waters, people and history that make it possible” is located at 1031 Old Rte. 17 between Livingston Manor and Roscoe, NY.  However, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the CFFCM is closed to the public until further notice.

To contact the CFFCM for more information, visit


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