Fly-fishing loses legendary author Meck

Pennsylvania native and nationally renowned fly-fisherman Charles R. Meck passed away on Sept. 18 surrounded by family at Fairport Baptist Home in Fairport, N.Y.

He was 86. Charlie was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in fly-fishing during the past 50 years. A prolific author of fishing 15 books, he schooled two generations of fly anglers and fly tiers about the aquatic insects and fly hatches that are the foundation of fly-fishing.

Charlie was a longtime personal friend, and I regret that I only learned of his passing last week and that I now offer this belated tribute to him. I first met Charlie in the mid-1970s when he was working on his first book, “Meeting and Fishing the Hatches.” He was one of the instructors at a weekend workshop for anglers about trout stream insects and their life cycles. That event was sponsored by Trout Unlimited and was held on Fishing Creek in Clinton County. Much of the workshop was spent on the stream collecting nymphs, larvae and other organisms trout feed on. Charlie’s unbridled enthusiasm and passion for the bug life was immediately apparent, and I couldn’t wait for his book to be published.

“Meeting and Fishing the Hatches” was released in 1977 and became a best-seller for fishing books. For me, it was an invaluable reference in my development as a fly-fisherman and fly tier, especially since Charlie lived in Pennsylvania Furnace and fished many of the same streams I did. In August of 1979, the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited held its annual meeting in State College, and Charlie was one of the featured speakers at the meeting. My girlfriend and I attended his presentation, and I brought my copy of Charlie’s book to have him autograph it. A small crowd gathered around Charlie after his talk, and I struck up a conversation with another friend as I waited my turn. A few minutes later, I looked back to discover Charlie had left the room.

I was so disappointed. My girlfriend decided to go back to our car for a nap, so I had her take the book with her rather than carry it around needlessly. A couple of hours later, I left the conference to check in to our hotel so we could get ready for the banquet that evening. When I got to the car, my girlfriend cheerfully said, “I got your book signed.”

“How?” I asked.

“I saw Mr. Meck walking across the parking lot, so I caught up to him and asked if he would sign your book. He asked your name, where you were from, and if you fish the Little Juniata River. And he put a nice inscription in it for you,” she said.

I eagerly opened the book and read Charlie’s kind message: “To Walt Young, I hope you enjoy the book. Maybe I’ll see you on the Little Juniata River in the next couple weeks. The Cream Cahills should start emerging there in the next couple weeks. Good luck fly fishing! Charlie Meck.”

That was just the first of many books Charlie signed for me over the next 35 years. I worked in a fly shop in State College for several years and become friends with Charlie back then. I always enjoyed discussing his vast knowledge of trout stream insects and hatches with him.

That was also when bead-head nymphs first appeared on the scene, and I had been having success with my own version of a bead-head of a Pheasant Tail Nymph. Charlie stopped in the shop one afternoon on his way to fish one of the local streams. I gave him a few of those flies and told him to try them out. A few hours later, he called to thank me, excitedly relating how well he had done well with the bead-heads. He wrote about the pattern in his next book and mentioned me or my fly patterns in several of his books.

Years ago, my sister who lives in Florida flew back to Pennsylvania for a visit. When I picked her up at the airport, she pulled a book from her carry-on. It was a copy of Charlie’s “Trout Streams and Hatches of Pennsylvania,” which her husband thought I might like. I just smiled.

“You have this book, don’t you? I told him you would have it,” she said.

“I do have it,” I said, but didn’t you notice I am also in it?” I opened the book and showed her a full-page photo of me tying flies that Charlie included in the book.

The last time I saw Charlie was April 2013, shortly before he moved to New York to be near his son. My friend Paul Weamer and I accompanied him to Carlisle for a special event at the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum inducting him into its Hall of Fame. Paul and Charlie were close friends, and they coauthored the wonderful little handbook, “Pocketguide to Pennsylvania Hatches.” Paul has also written several other fly-fishing books and moved to Livingston, Montana, several years ago. When I learned of Charlie’s passing, I emailed Paul to offer condolences and get his thoughts on the loss of a dear friend who meant so much to his career.

“In addition to being a great angler and author, Charlie was a kind, humble and unpretentious human being who loved people. His caring acts affected hundreds, and most will never be known beyond the people he helped,” he wrote. He also shared some deeply personal thoughts. Although they lived thousands of miles apart for the past five years, the two friends spoke on the phone frequently. “I just really miss our talks.”

Donations in Charlie’s memory can be made to the Little Juniata River Association (LittleJuniata.org) or Project Healing Waters (projecthealingwaters.org).