The late Lee Wulff famously called the Atlantic salmon the “fish of 10,000 casts.”
Art Lee is a great admirer of Wulff and his legacy, but he fishes for salmon on his own terms.
“I said, ‘Baloney. I don’t want to make 10,000 casts,’ ” said Lee, who will be inducted into the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum Hall of Fame Oct. 9. “I want to make one, at exactly the right time.”
He seems to have the timing down. No person, Icelander or foreign, has caught the biggest salmon of the season from Icelandic waters more than once, except for Lee — who has done it five times.
Lee is quick to say that fishing is supposed to be fun, but his idea of fun is to take fishing very, very seriously. He’s been on the water as many as 300 days per year for the past four decades. He has gone fishing for salmon in Iceland more than 40 times, often for six weeks at a time, and fished the Canadian Maritime Provinces far more often than that.
Lee has published articles in 106 consecutive issues of the quarterly Atlantic Salmon Journal, a streak unmatched by any other fishing writer at any other magazine, and he says he plans to write at least 106 more. [“I dictated one to a doctor in the intensive care unit of a hospital,” he recalled.]
He is also the author of some of the most informative, intelligent and entertaining fishing how-to books ever published, including “The Lore of Trout Fishing,” “Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch” and “Fishing Dry Flies for Trout on Rivers and Streams.”
Lee is in distinguished company as a CFFCM Hall of Fame inductee. Also being inducted this year are John Randolph, longtime publisher of Fly Fisherman magazine; Louis Rhead, the artist and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s of many books and articles, including “American Trout Stream Insects”; and Jack Gartside, the intellectual Boston cab driver and cheerfully unorthodox fly designer who died last year.
Lee’s career began in 1965 with a two-year stint as a general assignment reporter at this very publication, then known as the Schenectady Gazette. He then spent several years at the Times Union, moved on to stints with Curt Gowdy’s “The American Sportsman” TV show and the now-defunct American League of Anglers, and began his long association with Fly Fisherman as northeast field editor. In the mid-1970s, he moved to Roscoe, and has made his living ever since as a writer for all the big fly-fishing magazines, as well as National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.
Such is Lee’s inquisitive approach to fishing that he once figured out that trout weren’t rising to spent, egg-laying mayfly spinners because they were actually eating the insects’ eggs. He tied up some tiny egg flies, and caught trout with a technique that no one had ever thought of before.
There is sacrifice in the life of a fishing writer like Lee, and it’s not for everyone.
“After moving to Roscoe, I never played another round of golf,” he said. “I decided to be as good a fisherman as I can be. But I’ve also said that governments don’t rise or fall based on whether you can catch a fish. There’s no reason to presume that you have to take it as seriously as I have. It can simply be a wonderful lifetime hobby.”
Lee still thinks like a reporter. He’s turned down offers to endorse products in order to preserve his objectivity — “How can you be a journalist and endorse?” he said — and is proudest of being called “a man who never raises his hand unless he has something to say” by Christopher Lehman-Haupt of The New York Times and “a man who always tells the truth” by legendary salmon guide Richard Adams.
Lee won’t have to travel far for the induction ceremony. The Catskill Center is in Livingston Manor, just up the road from Roscoe, and begins at 3 p.m. Visit www.cffcm.net for more information.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]