I stopped by the house today to drop off some books and pick up a few things. All the leaves were down and most had been washed away by the night’s rain. There were no tire marks in the drive …
I stopped by the house today to drop off some books and pick up a few things. All the leaves were down and most had been washed away by the night’s rain. There were no tire marks in the drive and the car was gone. The mailbox, once a proud sentinel, slumped forward as a reminder of neglect.
I found the key in the garage and let myself into the house. The odor of pipe tobacco, roasted coffee and all the smells of a man’s life hit me as I entered the room. My eyes took in the studio: the piano in one corner and the coat rack in the other, now without its complement of hats, coats and scarves. I looked at the desk and saw the pipe rack was empty, appointment book gone and the lamp, which had been a beacon of his life, was off. It was eerie, standing there recalling the spring parties after a long Catskill winter. He called spring a time of rebirth, a time for life to begin again, a time for a man to think of the river and mayfly hatches to come. Looking back, I think spring was the first time I would see a glimmer of a smile on his face, like a river had washed away winter’s heaviness. It was at this time that I think he felt the most optimistic, hoping his sight and legs would hold up and let him wade and fish another season.
I’ll never forget the last party, weeks before trout season, and how frail he seemed, but how often he smiled despite the pain and how tired he appeared. He had a bad hip, and in August of that year, decided to have it repaired. Soon after, he entered rehab, but by November, I believe he decided to let the great power in the sky take him to rivers with endless hatches and rising trout.
I first met Frank Mele, this little man with a pipe and a big voice, one April day along the East Branch of the Delaware River. It was Hendricks time in the Catskills. There, we exchanged pleasantries and waited for the first duns to appear. If my memory is correct, the hatch never materialized, and we soon went our separate ways. Little did I realize, on that blustery spring day more than 40 years ago, that our paths would cross again in an effort to restore and stabilize flows to several important Catskills’ trout rivers.
In 1973, Frank formed Catskill Waters, a coalition of local anglers dedicated to increasing the release of water from New York City reservoirs. His efforts resulted in the Water Releases Legislation of 1975, a law that required the City of New York DEP to increase flows to the Esopus Creek and the East and West branches of the Delaware and Neversink rivers.
Frank lived most of his adult life in Woodstock, NY where he was an accomplished violinist and teacher of the violin. He was also a completely dedicated fly fisher. In 1973, he wrote “Blue Dun,” a short story that immortalized blue dun hackle for tying Quill Gordon and Hendrickson dry flies. Later, he published “Small in the Eye of a River,” a little volume that is now a classic in the annals of fly fishing literature.
Some of us, as we go through this life, are fortunate enough to find mentors. Frank was my mentor, and a mentor to almost every person he spent time with. He influenced our cooking, our writing, our passion for cane fly rods and the importance of making and keeping commitments. He was a small man, but as feisty as they come. He was our maestro.