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Joe McFadden

Joe McFadden
Says Goodbye

By Ted Waddell
HANKINS — November 19, 2004 – After 20 years, famed fly tyer and former world champion professional fly caster Joe McFadden decided to walk away from his beloved fly and tackle shop overlooking the Delaware River.
Last Saturday, he hosted a “closing house” party at Joe McFadden’s Fly & Tackle Shop to say a fond farewell to the business and, for the last time, welcome a cadre of customers turned friends over the years.
“I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, and on the East Branch [of the Delaware River] since 1953,” McFadden said.
Before he opened up his fly and tackle shop, first in Cochecton and later in Hankins on April 8, 1995, McFadden picked up 180 first place trophies as a professional fly caster.
His awards from the 1960s and 70s include being named the Eastern United States All-Accuracy Champion and the Eastern U.S. All-Fly Champion.
At the age of 16, he was the country’s youngest certified casting instructor with the National Association of Anglers and Casting Clubs (NAACC), a group of competitive tournament-level fly casters.
Before picking up a rod seriously “a long, long time ago”, McFadden spent several years on the rodeo circuit, calf roping around the West with an occasional foray into “a little bit of bull dogging and bull riding.”
“But Mother Mac’s boy wasn’t fast enough on his feet for the bulls,” recalled the rodeo rider turned celebrity fly caster and tyer.
While on the rodeo circuit, McFadden logged more than 100,000 miles a year, but when he was not in the ring parked his rig and went fishing in the pristine waters of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.
McFadden said that his father taught him how to fish in the grand old tradition of fathers passing down the secret delights of wetting a fly to their sons, but it was a white-haired gentleman named Bill Taylor who took him, the legendary Joan Wulff and John Dieckman – who went on to be named the men’s world professional caster – under his wing. Taylor taught Dieckman, McFadden and Wulff how to tournament cast with the best of the best.
“He could make a fly rod talk,” recalled McFadden of Taylor’s ability to put a polish on a rod.
What is McFadden’s take on the NYC water releases along the Upper Delaware River?
“It stinks,” he said. “We’ve been fighting with the city for a long time… they do not realize what this fishery means to our area, our economy and everything else.
“This is an unbelievable wild trout fishery,” he added. “We’re a hundred miles from New York City and people travel from all over the country to fish it.”
What about the National Park Service (NPS) presence on the river?
“They have their good points maintaining the river, but at times they can be a pain in the neck,” said McFadden. “They’re sort of ‘police types’… at times they can be overzealous, but in general they do a good job.”
During his love affair with the Upper Delaware, McFadden has served as Delaware River Chairman for the NYS Council of Trout Unlimited (TU), regional vice president and president of the local chapter.
“We’ve practiced catch and release all our lives,” he said of his own brand of fly fishing. “I want to leave a river and a fishery for my grandkids.”
Of the alure of fly fishing, McFadden said, “It’s trying to tie a fly that looks like a bug, and then going out and fooling the fish with it.”
During his career, McFadden has seen a lot of bugs and a lot of fish.
In his first year at Hankins, McFadden figures he tied 1,000 dozen flies that winter.
He used to tie all his own flies, but now Mike Bachkosky, a fly tyer and dog handler of “Rainbow’s End Flies”, a bit further downriver in Callicoon, ties about 1,500 to 1,800 dozen for McFadden every year.
Over the years, McFadden has learned a lot about river insects, and has used that knowledge to refine the Delaware Hendrickson and a fly named after the Isonychia to reflect their colorful adaptation to the local ecosystem.
“We try to match the bug to whatever is out there,” he said. “From Hancock [the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Upper Delaware River] to Hankins, there are seven different kinds of sulphurs, from almost translucent to a bright orange.”
At one point, his fly and tackle shop was the largest R.L. Winston rod dealer in the east, and one of the largest in the U.S.
McFadden’s fly rod, the Delaware Special, is built on a Winston blank to his design.
“I built it strictly for the river so that it would cast and could put up with the wind, and yet you can smaller tip it for smaller flies,” he said.
McFadden said he got tired of running the business seven days a week, and gave it up to “spend more time with my lady, my kids and my cutting horses.”
Does he have any regrets?
“It’s been my life for a long, long time,” McFadden commented. “Now all of a sudden, I’m not going to be going there every day.”

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