I met Jack Fragomeni in the mid-1990s, when he was working at the Brookwood fly shop in Rexford.
I needed turkey tail feathers for fly-tying, and couldn’t find them amid the other packages of feathers, furs, duck wings, deer tails, yarn, tinsel, thread, hooks and all the rest of the tying materials on display.
Jack disappeared for a moment, then returned and set before me a big cardboard box brimming with unpackaged turkey tail feathers. “I’m glad you asked,” he said with a big grin. I bought a bunch, and there are still a couple left today.
That was Jack: always a salesman, and always the guy you went to when you needed something in the way of fly-fishing — a rod, a reel, a vest, a line, waders, flies, tying stuff, books, magazines, gadgets and, above all, advice. At Brookwood and then for the next dozen years or so as manager of the fishing department at Goldstock’s Sporting Goods on Freeman’s Bridge Road, Jack shared with bewildered newbies and grizzled veterans alike, the wisdom he accumulated in a lifetime of high-level fly-fishing.
From his post behind the counter-topped glass cabinet full of fly reels, Jack was the undisputed fly-fishing guru of the Capital Region, chatting with fly addicts about what patterns were taking brown trout on the Delaware River or striped bass along the Massachusetts coast.
Last Saturday, just days after stepping down to part-time status at Goldstock’s to make more time for teaching and playing music, Jack died suddenly at age 57.
“We’ve lost an irreplaceable part of our fly-fishing community,” said Tom Brewster, who has worked at Goldstock’s for years and replaced Fragomeni as fishing department manager. “Jack had forgotten more about fly-fishing than most of us will ever know. He was a mentor to so many people in all aspects, not just fly-fishing or fly-tying. I don’t think there was ever a question asked of him about fly-fishing that Jack couldn’t answer. It’s a real shock to us, and I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet. I’m sort of at a loss for words.”
Fragomeni was known to the non-fly-fishing world as a gifted guitarist who gigged with famous jazz musicians along the eastern seaboard. He was a professor of music at The College of Saint Rose and Schenectady County Community College. But even in the heady worlds of academia and jazz guitar, Jack felt the urge to cast. He instituted a credit-bearing course on fly-fishing, a rarity, at Saint Rose.
I’m one of the many who owe a debt of gratitude to Fragomeni. He taught me about the autumn landlocked salmon fishing at Million Dollar Beach in Lake George. He taught me how to fish with nymphs for steelhead trout and Chinook salmon on the Lake Ontario tributaries. He told me about Amawalk Outlet in the lower Hudson Valley and the Connetquot River on Long Island. He helped me pick out the right color dubbing to tie flies that matched the mayflies on the Delaware, and schooled me in the advantages of casting downstream, rather than upstream, to those wary Delaware browns. He gave me casting pointers in the parking lot behind the store.
It was, in fact, Jack who suggested back in 1997 that I start writing a column on fly-fishing for the Gazette. I was already working at the paper as a city hall reporter. I told him I wasn’t expert enough, but he waved it off.
“How many boxing writers were ever champion boxers?” he asked.
Sadly, I never got to fish with Jack. We ended every conversation by promising to hook up, but life kept getting in the way.
Still, I think of him often while on the stream. When my cast starts to go haywire, it’s Jack’s voice I hear, telling me to move the rod in a straight line from back to front, as if rubbing a wall with the back of my hand. It always works. Tight lines, Jack.
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