In 82nd trout season, Harvey still 'fishing fly'

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2000

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- It's a glamorous photograph, circa 1940: Wearing a fedora and a letterman's sweater, a fly-fisherman stands beside a spring creek and admires a fish stretching from chin to waist.

George W. Harvey no longer cuts that dashing profile. Stooped by 88 years, he doesn't trust his shaky legs on slippery stream beds. He can't hike mountain trails to the little-known holes. Even with thick, black-rimmed glasses, he can't always pick out his fly on the water.

''He'll still out-fish 10-to-1 anybody you put out on a stream with him,'' says Tom Murphy, president of Spruce Creek Rod and Gun Club.

And in mid-April, Harvey still found himself on the water on the first day of trout season, as he has every year since 1918.

''I just fished enough to say I fished, because I haven't missed an opening day for 82 years,'' he says.

This was great understatement, of course.

He floated caddis flies at Spruce Creek for two hours and landed seven trout, including one a bit over 20 inches. Five measured 14 to 16 inches and one was a laughable seven inches.

A perfectly fine outing for anyone, but just average in Harvey's book. This is, after all, a man well known in eastern fly-fishing circles for starting an angling class at Penn State, a collegiate first.

Since the 1930s, he has taught some 40,000 people how to cast and tie flies. He has guided two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the renowned local streams.

''He's one of the finest fly-fishermen in the United States,'' says Joe Humphreys, one of Harvey's best students, who now teaches fly-fishing. ''He's an original.''

Harvey still gets out three days a week during trout season, though he mostly sticks to places where fishing clubs have cleared the banks. A live-in aide, Ann Stine, nets his fish.

By now, Harvey's got enough stories to fill a book. And he has, in the locally published ''Memories, Patterns and Tactics.''

The first story begins on opening day at a time when streams ran thick with trout. Harvey was 6.

His father, Archibald ''Pop'' Harvey, took him to Anderson Creek, and rigged his son's rod with a worm. Then he opened a fleece-lined wallet, picked out a fly (Which one? ''I haven't the slightest idea,'' Harvey says) and tied it on as a dropper.

The youngster plopped the line into a little riffle and watched brook trout leap. A fish promptly hooked itself, a barely legal six-incher.

He fell in love with ''fishing fly,'' as he says in his old-fashioned way. Yet, all these years later, it's not the fishing that keeps Harvey alive: It's the teaching.

''I've caught so many trout over the years that catching more trout doesn't matter to me,'' he said recently, from a recliner in his living room. ''It used to be, the fishing was No. 1. Now I enjoy helping people.''

He gets plenty of chances. Every day, he gets letters and calls from people looking for lessons from a master. On the stream, anglers recognize him and ask for help.

Harvey turns hardly anyone away.

''That's not surprising,'' says Jeanne McKinney, a 46-year-old mother who is one of four women Harvey has taught and befriended in recent years. ''It's just his natural friendly manner, giving manner. And I think he's at a time in his life where he wants to give back.''

Just last month, a stranger called asking for help tying dry flies. Harvey invited him over and took him upstairs to his tying room for a private tutorial.

The room is a fly-fisherman's dream. Huge jars and tins line the shelves, filled with expensive feathers and yarn and all other manner of fly-tying materials. Spools of thread hang on the wall. Hundreds of tiny blue boxes are filled with size 18 Blue Quills, size 16 Quill Gordons, and on and on.

Harvey has tied hundreds of thousands of flies. In his prime, he and his wife tied 24,000 each year, enough to pay off his mortgage in a decade. He's only able to tie a handful of flies an hour now, but they're far more valuable. A dozen Harvey flies sell for $95 or more; typically, flies cost $2.

And yet, when a stranger calls, Harvey gives away his secrets -- free of charge. ''He can take someone who hasn't done anything, and in short order have them catching fish,'' Murphy says.

One day recently, Harvey showed off a box of beautifully tied flies. Proudly, he announced that Stine, his aide, had tied them all.

''Look at the perfectly tied wings! Look at the hackle standing up all over!'' he crows. ''You couldn't buy flies this good!''

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