How rare is it to spot Vogue Magazine Cover Girls (20 covers) gently throwing their own hand tied flies upon Upstate New York trout streams ? In the words of Mark Twain "How often do you see men of the cloth standing at the bar in full uniform ? "Ms. Graham grew up in Gulfport Mississippi during the period when bull frogs and water moccasin's owned the glass like waters. These days neon lit casino's compete with shrimp for remaining real estate. What series of life changing events might alter a cover models dreams of fame and glory, into sweet longings for the feel of fine Bamboo.
Picture published by permission of Vogue Magazine
It seems the first seeds were sown growing up in peace and quiet "I would spend almost every afternoon out in the woods near my house observing nature. I would build little homes for me out of moss, ferns, or straw. Many afternoons after school I would spend hours crouched on that old log peering into the green lagoon beneath me. I was fascinated with the tadpoles and slithering creatures.
New York City has captivated and held many beautiful woman, especially those fortunate few able to reach the pinnacle of cover girl. Karen Graham did for a time bask in moonbeams bouncing off private jets and Rolls Royces. Her course was altered in her own words when she began to realize "I was in trouble when I found out my uptown boy friends idea of an outdoor adventure was sitting around a swimming pool balancing a silver reflector to speed up his tan. "Karen never forgot those endless Mississippi afternoons watching creepy crawly Mother Nature play out her drama.
These days one can find Karen either helping awkward first timers learn the basics of fly fishing at her exclusive Fly fishing school located in Rosendale NY., or putting the final wrap on one her favorite killer patterns (Blue Winged Olive). Karen recalls becoming smitten with the allure of well-crafted Bamboo very early on.
"I suppose one can't help becoming rather addicted to the finer things in life. It didn't take long after my first real modeling success in New York for me to understand the difference between hotdogs and caviar! My first Bamboo experience happened while I was still chasing warm water bass along the Mississippi. There I was concentrating on presenting my little fly, when up walked a real southern gentlemen. He was wearing the nicest fishing outfit I ever saw, and under his arm was this 8 foot blond Bamboo Flyrod. It was beautiful and he was real proud of it, you could tell by the way he held and moved it through the air. I never forgot the almost reverential manner, which that rod was afforded."
Over the years many guests have fanned the clean upstate air with every kind of Bamboo rod imaginable. This eclectic variety of Bamboo has allowed Karen to sample more Bamboo then the average angler ever could. Her partner and good friend Bert Darrow known all over the Catskills as an expert in dry fly presentation has used a Thomas & Thomas 5 weight for years. The world-renowned Thomas experts have rebuilt the tip of this cherished rod and allowed both - Bert and Karen countless magical moments. Bert likes to tell new students about the time he and Karen were out on their favorite stream with the Thomas & Thomas. Bert caught his waders on a bit of slippery rock and fell, he heard aloud crunch and prayed he had not broken the sturdy Bamboo "Hell I hoped it was my finger and not the rod. " It was the rod tip after all, the repair crew at Thomas did their usual meticulous work and in a few months Bert was back in business. The so-called innate fragility of Bamboo is the biggest myth surrounding these works of functional art. One well known Hollywood Fly-fishermen had been given a Walton Powell 75th Anniversary Fly rod for his birthday. He kept the magic wand with his other cherished possessions in the climate-controlled garage where he kept his red Ferrari. This star of too many action pictures came home after a few too many Margaritas and while negotiating the tight space where he parked baby, bumped the wall and knocked his Walton Powell off the wall. He then decided to back out and try again, running over the perfectly assembled Powell Anniversary special. the rod was not even scratched!
HOOK IS SET!
Karen recalls her first fly rod experience; her older brother just for fun brought home fly rods for everyone while on vacation with the family. The other members of the family promptly parked their strange gifts in the closet; Karen became intrigued, spent hours studying the little handbook that came with the rods. The local Mississippi warm water bass were her first targets. Many unsuccessful afternoons were spent tossing poppers at wily bass and bluegill.
One momentous sunny day the fish gods smiled, in the presence of her Dad she caught a mess of bass. The die was cast and the bug that caught the future Estée Lauder Girl never to let go. Karen harkens back to her early mostly non-productive fly fishing period "After awhile it became clear I needed lessons from a pro ! Karen has never fostered any interest in dangling wiggily worms in front of hungry rainbows, if fishing was in her future it had to be Fly-fishing only.
Thinking back to her earliest memories of being mesmerized by fishing's many secrets " When I was about eight years old, I remember sitting for hours on the living room floor flipping through the Encyclopedia trying to figure out how to tie knots. It didn't matter how lacking my abilities were, I just could not put that fly rod down." When asked what it is that still intrigues her about fly fishing As a woman I always found power boats cumbersome. I'm not weak, but those batteries and gasoline containers are heavy! How wonderful it is to be free to just get out of the car, slip into my waders and just walk right into the river! " Estée Lauders newly rehired super model has dipped her dainty toes in lakes and rivers from the mighty Mississippi, Texas, Carolina's, Connecticut, Montana, Idaho, New Hampshire, including salt water adventures in Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Martha's Vineyard. She has wrestled (all five foot seven 110 lbs. of her) 200-pound sailfish off Acapulco, caught salmon on the river Tay in Scotland. No stranger to upland bird shooting, many pheasant and wily grouse have found their way to Karen's dinning room! This life long sportswoman has found the eternal secret to her inner happiness.
I wake up each morning with an enthusiasm eager to appreciate all the nature which surrounds me, whether its watching an Osprey soaring above my beloved Esopus River - or identifying a new seasons hatch of Mayflies - spotting a rising trout snatching a dun off the surface - or tying a supply of patterns while dreaming of next seasons adventures! " The history of the fabled trout filled waters near Bert & Karen's Fly fishing School are cemented in the sports lore.
Theodore Gordon, a giant in the annals of Fly-fishing began presenting perfectly tied dry flies along the world famous Neversink River in the last days of the 1890s. His former cabin is forever enshrined under almost 100 feet of water near the Neversink. One of Mr. Gordon's best fishing buddies Roy Steenrod and he spent long lazy afternoons perfecting the notoriously dangerous Gordon Quill. The Hendrickson developed by Steenrod, which imitates the female Mayfly "Ephemerella Subvaria," is one of the most popular flies used today. The short list of famed anglers who have tasted the chilled morning air include George LaBranche author of "Dry Fly and Fast Water" and Edward Hewitt, noted fly-fisherman and author of "Telling On The Trout" and "Handbook of Fly fishing" Karen has her favorite published works which are put to the test each season.
This area of the Catskills is home to many legendary trout repositories including: The Beaverkill, Willowemoc Streams, the East Branch of the Delaware above the Pepacton Reservoir are great spots for early tiny fly action . Karen's favorite haunts are in a state of recovery thanks to the hellish floods of 1996. One shared passion between Karen and Bert is the absolute edict of Catch & Release. This almost religious adherence to Lee Wulff's philosophy " A trout is just too damn valuable to be caught only once "is pounded into the minds of all who enter the realm of Fly-Fishing With Bert & Karen.
John Keats bard of his time captured the essence of Karen's life in and about the fabled Catskills fly rod in hand "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." One of Karen's many passions are her resolute dedication to the new truth within the once male dominated sport, nearly 40 % of all new Fly-fisher persons is the gentler sex. One can easily understand this beguiling infusion by the more sensitive gender. How often have you witnessed the almost agonizing sight of grown men and boys attempting to unravel the mysteries and gossemer thin lines attached to helpless bits of feather and fluff?
"One of my great joys as an instructor is heading up the BAOW or New York's "Becoming An Outdoors Woman" workshop teaching Fly-fishing. Its great seeing large groups of woman eager to learn outdoor sports and finding they can not only learn them, but also excel in them. Fly fishing unlike many outdoor sports does not require strength as much as coordination, therefore woman tend to do very well."
BEAUTY & ART
It is easy to understand the relationship between high profile modeling and the art of mastering the air ballet known as fly-fishing. The perfection inherent in both worlds' borders on the unique characteristics found in most art. How many times have we past by a stream and watched a real professional gently move his or her lineback and forth before making a perfect presentation. It's as if time and the elements have conspired to let the line defy gravity and stretch out on its own terms! It was John Dryden early I 600s essayist, naturalist who said, " By viewing nature's handmaid art, makes mighty things from small beginnings grow."
FLY FISHING WITH BERT & KAREN
It seems like the hand of fate led Karen Graham easily down the path to her own fly fishing - guide school, "Fly fishing with Bert & Karen " has kept her waders damp and her eyes on those rising rings! "Four years ago I joined the Catskill Mountains Chapter of "Trout Unlimited "Thought I'd get to know some great fishing spots as well as do my duty in the area of conservation. Thats how I met my friend and partner Bert whose idea it was, also we are both licensed guides. Many schools can't follow up with guide service or refresher courses (on the stream ). We do a lot of follow up work with clients. We have taught Prime ministers, UN Envoys, many famous citizens, and many family groups. Teaching families is my favorite, because this is a sport that can be enjoyed by many different levels of student on the same stream at once." It's a beautiful outing they can enjoy together almost anywhere they live or visit, a sport which takes you to the most wonderful places in the world. One of the real highlights of the trout opener in the Catskills is the festivities surrounding St. Trout's Day. With winters ice still gripping much of the local waters, Karen, Bert and other hardcore enthusiasts shiver and brave the elements paying homage to all trout gods. The early Rainbow spawners are heading up river from the reservoir, mayflies and hearty constitutions rule the day. Karen has spent many cozy winters snuggled up to one of her countless books on Entomology. Clients and fly fishing friends tip their hats to the cover girls knowledge of local and regional hatches. One day while teaching a new class along her favorite stream, a Caddis Hatch was discovered in her ponytail! Is it possible the Estée Lauder model has somehow entranced unsuspecting local flies?
MOST MEMORABLE TROUT
In the first days of Bert and Karen's fledgling fly fishing school while sitting in the printer's office laying out the first brochure. The hand of fate intervened once again in Karen's life. It seems the printer had all he needed except for a strong photo of Karen with a decent fish in her hand! They had little more then a few hours until the job was to be completed. Karen recalls her anxiety " I fly fish for relaxation, the mere thought of fly fishing under this kind of pressure was turning my stomach into knots. "Heading for one of their usual haunts where several nice fish had been spotted, Karen soon hooked into a nice fat trout thanks to her Quill Gordon. "Every muscle in my body tightened as and I flinched under the pressure. I pulled back as if I had a bolting horse on the end of the line! I ripped lips as they used to say back on the Tchouticbouffa. That was it, I felt terrible I hurt the fish botched the photo opportunity, fly-fishing was not fun anymore. I need my space, let me alone- my usual cant whenever I'm in one of those moods. I walked the banks and soon spotted a little pink Ephemerella Subvaria. sweetly drying her wings on the water surface. A little gulping mouth came up and took her. I tied on my best looking Hendrickson and carefully presented it about five feet upstream adding just a little last minute slack Bob Jacklins Reach Cast Style.. He took it gently and I set the hook- while yelling at Bert get the camera quick. It was a very nice fish for the photo and he was on a barbless hook - due to my stubbornness I had at least five minutes of easy persuasion to go. That's still the photo I use in our brochure each year, I have gone back looking for that fish to know avail many times."
FAMOUS NEW YORK MODELS CLUB?
In regard to Karen's list of famous clients, one might assume one or two of her high profile model counterparts might have picked up the bug "Absolutely not, We never had a Famous Model Club or any thing like that! I remember going to shoots alone and hardly ever seeing another model, let alone ever running into another fly fisher person" One might gather a bit of the lone wolf which most avid flyfisher persons come equipped with also exists in the inner sanctum of one of natures loveliest creatures.
"When I decided to become a trout bum, maybe in a little corner of my mind I sort of expected this move to the mountains to be only a sabbatical for the mind. Instead it has become a doorway to a wonderful new phase in my life. I've never been happier. When I'm out on a stream by myself, I don't want to even see another angler period!"
Karen Graham and her partner Bert Darrow have shared the stage with many of the worlds leading authorities on the sport at venues such as the fly fishing show held in Somerset New Jersey. They have been featured in New York Sportsmen and on the cover of Hudson Valley Magazine.
© Dan Fallon 1999