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Ernie Schwiebert

In Memoriam

(1931-2005)

by 
Eugene P. Macri Jr.
   

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© 2006 E. P. Macri Jr.

 

Dr. Ernest Schwiebert: The Compleat and Learned Angler

 

 

The fly fishing world was dealt a severe blow on December 10th, 2005 with the sudden death of the piscatorial legend Ernest Schwiebert or as his friends called him, Ernie.   Schwiebert was known throughout the world for his books, writings, and angling adventures. They include such memorable titles as Matching the Hatch, Remembrances of Rivers Past, Trout, Nymphs, and Death of a Riverkeeper. He is rightly given credit for the wave of scientific fly fishing after the mid 50’s with his publication of Matching the Hatch. His late friend, the publisher and founder of Esquire, Arnold Gingrich named him the child prodigy of fly fishing because he was so young when he published Matching the Hatch at the age of 24.

 

Flyfishercom: Ernie SchwiebertErnie told me on more than one occasion, “Gene. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time!”  Perhaps he was lucky or perhaps it was the time in the fly fishing world for someone like Schwiebert whatever the reasons, few writers and fishermen in the angling world did it so well.  Schwiebert fished everywhere in the world but one of his favorite places was the limestone streams of the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania.  There he met Rossy Trimmer, Charlie Fox, Vince Marinaro, Gene Utech and others from spring creeks of Pennsylvania. Charlie Fox would light-up with a glow in his eye whenever I brought up Ernie’s name.  Charlie cherished the time that they had fished together and it always appeared to me that Ernie had a special place in his heart for Charlie and his friends of the Cumberland Valley.  Ernie came down for the celebration of Charlie Fox’s life held by the Letort Regulars.  A few years later when Charlie passed away Ernie was at the funeral. He was heart-broken over Charlie’s passing.  I told him how Charlie always lit up when we talked about those times of his youth when both he anErnie Schwiebertd his dad fished the Letort and other streams of the Cumberland Valley.  I told him how much Charlie thought of him.  “Gene, thank you…that’s really kind and I thought the most of Charlie too.  Those are some of my best memories.  They were some of my finest days. It‘s hard to believe that it was over thirty years ago.” Ernie held two doctorates from Princeton University (one in Fine Arts in Architecture and the other, History of Architecture). He traveled the world in his work and his fly rods always seemed to go along for the next adventure.  He also was instrumental in the conservation movement and the starting of Trout Unlimited.  He was repulsed by the environmental destruction in the last few decades in this country and had few kind words to say about the present administration’s policies concerning the earth.

 

Fly fishermen steal time.  For some reason, perhaps because the streams, the art form of fly fishing and caFlyfisher.com: Ernie Schwiebert and Charlie Fox 2maraderie seem to preserve our youthfulness we believe time has stopped.  But we are immortal only when we fish.  When we go back in the real world are mortality returns. Many of us envision Ernie and our own fishing friends as frozen in time.  This is especially true of the fly anglers we meet in the books they write. We see Ernie as the fly fishing child prodigy or the adventurer fishing with the dukes and princes of the world.  Perhaps we live vicariously through such people and do not even know it.  It is the price we must pay for the stealing of time streamside. I think all fly anglers have this curse and I think Ernie knew that.

 

As a scientist and fly angler I was always impressed with Ernie’s knowledge of science which included the Fly Fishing on the Letort: Ross Trimmer, Ernest Schwiebert Sr. and Ernie Schwiebert Jr. Don Dubois and Charlie Foxaquatic sciences.  One night in Baltimore at the Lord Baltimore Hotel over a good beverage ( I do believe we closed the bar for a couple of nights) or two we discussed  entomology classification schemes and whether the genus Drunella should be separate from genus Ephemerella (sulfurs). Ernie knew his stuff and we all got a good laugh. We were both there for the Entomology Convention (1990) and Ernie was the featured speaker.  The next night Greg Hoover, fly angler and Penn State Fly fisher.com: Ernie Schwiebert book signingEntomologist and I got a wonderful, colorful and fun lecture on the pronunciation and enunciation of Latin names of the mayflies.  We were teasing Ernie on his Latin that both Greg and I thought had a distinct Italian flavor.   He then went into the lecture of proper Latin pronunciations and the history of it.  He was amazing and when he spoke the Latin names, it sounded like opera and I was waiting for the orchestra to start. At that time Ernie did not use a computer (around 1990). In fact, he confessed he was a hunt and peck typist. Can you imagine all those books he wrote not to mention the articles and other stuff! A few years back Ernie did get a Mac he told me. I wanted to write the article, "Ernie goes Electric" into the computer world. Just an amazing guy with certain eccentricities you would expect from a fly fisherman.

 

In 2003 Ernie was the featured speaker at the Fly Fishers' Club in Harrisburg. You could have heard a pin drop as Ernie took the crowd around the world in his stories and photos celebrating the art of fly fishing. It seemed like we were all there as Ernie fished for salmon in Norway or Iceland. Ernie said that many of his old friends in the photos and stories had passed away and that he was sad, missing them Flyfisher.com: Ernie Schwiebert fly tyingdearly. Ernie came down to Big Spring Creek the fabled limestoner to see its progress since the closure of the hatchery. He was very much interested in this magnificent stream since the study by Dr. Black and I with the help of the fly fishing community had forced closure of the hatchery. And the stream gods were happy that day. When Ernie arrived, a large hatch of Blue Winged Olives started, I watched Ernie’s eyes swell up when he saw them. He couldn’t believe the stream’s seemingly miraculous return. I’m sure this place brought back memories also. This is where Ernie had met Rossy Trimmer and later Charlie Fox and the gang. Ernie came to my defense and was ready to undergo a deposition in my case with Robert Kennedy Jr. and Riverkeeper Inc. over the use of the word riverkeeper.  It was Schwiebert that actually introduced the term to Robert Boyle who started the movement in New York.  Boyle had called Ernie after the publication of his book, The Death of a Riverkeeper and asked if he could use the term.  Ernie told him that the term was generic and that anyone could.  Ernie was adamant about how the word was used.  To me Ernie never sold out to the world he always kept to his perspectives of  how fly fishing should be maintained.

 

It is sad that we must die as fly fisherman because there is always another stream to fish, another adventure to be found.  As I have said Ernie seemed frozen in time as each new generation of anglers realized that this was the guy who basically started, "The Match the Hatch” phenomenon.  For some reason a few anglers and some writers in the fly fishing world didn’t like Ernie.  I always thought it was jealously because I found him always a gentleman and always approachable. Whatever his sins were none of us are perfect.   Whenever we tie on a fly, whenever we try and match the hatch, whenever we try to discover a more scientific method on how those trout think and respond, Ernie Schwiebert will be remembered.  Like the mayflies, the caddis flies, and the stoneflies that emerge each season Ernie will be talked about and will be toasted with a fine cognac or even a beer for as long as we fly fish because Ernie Schwiebert was fly fishing for trout and salmon. He was the Compleat and Learned Angler!

 

Gene Macri

Dec. 2005

About the photos: They are just snapshots taken years ago. The two with Charlie Fox were taken at the banquet for Charlie Fox in Carlisle. The group photo is from around 1959 on the Letort. It features Ross Trimmer, Ernest Schwiebert Sr., Ernie, Don Dubois and Charlie Fox. Ernie is speaking at the entomology convention in Baltimore, Maryland where he also signed books and tied flies. Most people don't know this but Ernie never used a bobbin to tie with! I told him, "Hey Ernie, why don't you spend some bucks on some fly tying equipment." Ernie said, "this is the way I learned to tie...I never got used to one". He was excellent tyer but he was very methodical and slow at it. Everyone got a good laugh at the fly tying table.

gene macri

 

 

 

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