Tuesday evening, Bill Donato worked as an instructor in the Clearwater Trout Unlimited chapter’s fly-tying class. On Wednesday, he was the floor-walker at a similar class organized by the Capital District Fly Fishers. So how did he spend his Thursday?
By having a few guys over to his house to tie flies, naturally.
“I’m tying some caddis with V-Rib and Krystal Flash underneath it,” Donato said a week ago today. “I’ve been fooling around with some stoneflies, then I switch over to dries. Plus, I had an order from a guy to tie up a gross for him because he lost his fly boxes. He was fishing up on the Ausable, and bent over and lost them all.”
Drop in on any sizable gathering of fly-tiers or fly-fishers in the Capital Region, and you are likely to see Donato. He’s usually the biggest and tallest guy in the room, and he’s usually sitting at his vise, calmly winding fur, feathers and thread onto hooks to form neat, symmetrical, perfectly proportioned trout flies. He’s been doing this for more than a half-century, and it shows.
A lifelong resident of West Albany, Donato tied his first flies from a kit at age 12 and used them to fish for local panfish. A lifetime of trout fishing later, he still enjoys good sport with less glamorous species, such as the nearly 17-inch crappie he pulled from Rensselaer Lake two years ago.
And as wading rocky creeks becomes a less attractive option to his 75-year-old legs, Donato and his fishing buddies have set out in pontoon boats to explore a new frontier in local trout fish-
ing — stillwater fisheries such as Shaver Pond at Grafton Lakes State Park.
He’s driven out west a couple of times, and has been to Maine a couple of times, “but I do most of my fishing around here,” he said.
There’s no telling how many people Donato has taught to fish or tie flies.
“I like the classes, and I like to get people out on the water,” he said. “I met a guy today in Barnes and Noble who said he wants to get into fly-fishing.” Naturally, the guy was informed when and where the next class meets.
Donato is especially gratified when young people take up fly-fishing and fly-tying. At the Rudy A. Ciccotti Family Recreation Center in Colonie, Donato and other CDFF members set up vises the first Tuesday night of every month for any youngster who wanders in and wants to try his or her hand at tying a fly, at no cost or obligation.
“You get some that are really into it,” he said, and added with a chuckle, “It gets ’em away from the video games and the TV and that junk.”
No one ties like a commercial tier. Donato’s steady hand at the vise is in part the product of years of cranking out flies by the dozen for others to fish.
After work — first at the Tobin meat-packing plant, then in a Thruway Authority toll booth — Donato tied flies for big national companies including Orvis and Raymond C. Rumpf, as well as local businesses such as Taylor & Vadney in Albany, Sawyer’s Sporting Goods in Clifton Park, Mountain View in Keene Valley and Clark’s in Lake Placid. Often, filling the bins of local fly shops was more worthwhile than tying for the big companies.
“It was better than a part-time job,” he said. “But if you tied for these big places, they only wanted to pay you 29, 30 cents a fly. If you tied for the store, you got half the price. If they sold for a dollar, you got 50 cents.”
Donato was the “big Bill” to the late Albany resident “little Bill” Dorato, inventor of the Dorato Hare’s Ear pattern, a buggy dry fly that catches trout from coast to coast. He was involved when the Clearwater chapter got off the ground in 1967, and has been an officer, director or otherwise active member ever since. Clearwater is a large chapter with the resources and connections to land marquee guest speakers, and Donato has enjoyed meeting, talking and tying with people like Ernest Schwiebert, Lefty Kreh, Vince Marinaro, Poul Jorgensen and Jack Gartside.
He’s one of those guys, bless their hearts, for whom the fishing and the tying isn’t enough. You can fish and tie by yourself. Bill Donato is a people person, and his serene enthusiasm and warm, outgoing nature have made him a natural ambassador for fly-fishing.
“You keep it going, keep the sport going,” he said. “Plus you meet new people, and it works out good.”
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