Marking the passing of fly-fishing author Charles Meck
Occasionally something occurs that reminds me I am getting old, and I don’t like it – you may know what I mean. The recent passing of fly-fishing book author Charles Meck, who lived most of his life in central Pennsylvania, is one of those occurrences for me.
Charlie, who first published his “Pennsylvania Trout Streams and Their Hatches” in the 1980s, was one of my heroes. The paperback was my guide to travel around the state and know what fly patterns to use to catch trout on unfamiliar waters.
I first met Charlie on the Little Juniata River in Huntingdon County on a foggy evening during a phenomenal sulphur hatch a few years after he published that first book.
With the fog so thick you couldn’t see 10 yards, I had been casting over a big trout that was feeding steadily on floating naturals for a long time. The fish would not take my fly, and I recall trying a number of dun and spinner patterns to no avail.
I also remember how alone I felt, no sounds but the steady gurgle of the river and the splashes of the feeding trout. It was downright spooky — alone and up to my waist in the flow at dusk, surrounded by a thick, damp cloud — and I kept smelling what seemed like the same pipe smoke my grandfather often puffed. It was downright weird.
Finally, the big trout took my fly, but in my heightened state of awareness, I struck too hard, breaking the fish off. I’m ashamed to say I threw a bit of a fit, uttering a few expletives and smacking the surface of the water a few times with my rod.
Just then, out of the fog, a voice said, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.” Scared the #@%& out of me. He wasn’t far downstream. Later, back at the parking area, I talked with the familiar-looking guy with a pipe. He had a sense of humor.
I ran into that angler several times on his beloved Bald Eagle Creek near Julian in Centre County in the next few years – it turned out to be Charlie. He even took pity on me once and gave me a couple of tiny Blue-Winged Olive dries to match a hatch.
Decades later, not many years ago, I was covering a Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission meeting in Harrisburg when the agency gave Charlie an award for many years of excellent contributions to its magazine, Pennsylvania Angler.
At the ceremony, Charlie told the funniest story I ever heard at an event like that. I’ll try to recount it here:
Charlie lamented that he was getting older, that he didn’t think he had many more books left in him, and he told us about an experience he had the weekend before at the Spruce Creek Rod & Gun Club as proof.
He had enjoyed a day of trout fishing on the famous stream, had dinner and retired to his room that he shared with another visiting fly-fisherman. The next morning, he got up and went to the bathroom to get ready to go home. But he bumped into the doorway, and couldn’t see well enough to shave and could barely get dressed.
“I said to myself, ‘This is it, the big one, I probably had a stroke,” Charlie said.
On his way out, he stumbled over a step he didn’t see and nearly fell, and when he got to his car parked nearby, he couldn’t see well enough at first to open the door. When he finally got behind the wheel, he sat there wondering how he could drive.
“Everything is blurry, what am I going to do,” Charlie said to himself. “I’m done.”
Just then, the guy he shared a room with the night before came bursting out the door of the lodge. “Charlie, wait,” he yelled. “You have my glasses!”