Lucas Mayer with trout
Lucas Mayer with a 16" rainbow trout -- the purpose of the Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School: kids having fun catching trout. PHOTO BY DAN PLUMMER

Turning kids into eager anglers for trout
FUDR Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School

| September 7, 2022

The first sounds you hear as you get close to this idyllic spot on the famed Beaverkill River is hooting and hollering.

“Somebody must have caught a fish,”  Pete Grimbilas, the volunteer coordinator of the Friends of the Upper Delaware/ Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School, says with a grin.

Not just any fish — students here are after trout!

And that’s just what Lucas Mayer caught. And he caught more than one.

“I’m going to call him ‘Sippy’ since he sips the water,” Lucas says, pausing for a photo before he releases the fish into the water.

His mentor for this session, Steve Taggart, is reminding him not to keep the fish out of the water for too long and for the best effect, “hold the fish out with your arms straight, it’ll look bigger.”

These are the lessons of fishing passed on by a team of volunteer professional fishing guides to a group of kids in this year’s FUDR Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School.

Mayer and his companions get an opportunity to fly-fish on the famed river thanks to the Beaverkill Trout Club in Lew Beach, N.Y.

(Here’s the list of graduates: Dylan Canfield, Beckett Ertzinger, Lucas Mayer, Jacob Oathout, Justin Oathout and Caleb Schenck. This time around there aren’t any girls, but the first session back in June hosted a girl. The school is eager is attract a broad range of students, especially locals.)

The five-day course has built to this peak, with practice sessions with new fly-fishing equipment courtesy of the school. There’s an art to that sweep of line that drops a right fly just where a trout is lurking and some science discovering what sorts of bugs are in the air right on the surface of the water. It’s called matching the hatch. A popular saying among fly-fishing folk: Enjoy the cast. The fish is just a bonus!

And by listening to what others have learned from years of working as guides, the kids begin to see what’s happening in the river today. The water is so clear you can see the trout. Then it’s how you place your fly to convince the wary fish that it’s a “real” bug.

The students spent time tying their own flies like Woolly Buggers and Snow Shoes. Most of the fish caught were with the flies that they tied.

The FUDR Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School is a memorial to Bill Canfield, an enthusiastic fly fisherman, who, with his father, David Canfield, travelled the world fishing at famous trout hot spots.

The idea for the school came as David, and another son, Doug, were fishing on the Delaware with Joe Demalderis, a guide and owner of Cross Current, an outfitter in Starlight, Pa.

Doug and David Canfield
Bill Canfield’s brother, Doug, and father, David attended the school on the day it was hosted by the Beaverkill Trout Club. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

David recalled that he and his sons have been fishing with Joe for about 25 years.

The three of them got to talking about Bill, who had recently died from lung cancer, and what sort of memorial might be suitable.

David remembered that Bill was always wondering why, when he visited the Delaware, he never saw kids fishing “like he did when he was a kid.”

And so, suitably while fishing, the idea for the school was born.

The money comes from the Canfields, but the sweat equity was supplied by Demalderis (aka Joe D.) Grimbilas and Sherri Resti Thomas from the Friends of the Upper Delaware River.

Joe Demalderis
Joe Demalderis accepts a plaque as tribute to his years of volunteer work to help the fishing school thrive. Ben Rinker holds the plaque. Pete Grimbilas, standing and David Canfield, sitting, listen in. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

According to Demalderis, the first few years were tough getting all the pieces to fit but when they made the decision to move the residential piece to French Woods, that made a big difference.

They overnight at the French Woods Festival site in Hancock, N.Y., which has both an arts camp and a sports camp. The plan for the Canfield kids is that they can “major” in fly-fishing but “minor” in another sport, or even an arts course, so they get a chance to relax and do something different.

But there’s just one wrinkle: There are not many local kids lining up for the opportunity, and they are exactly the target for the Canfields. They want to get local kids fishing and, maybe by joining the camp, open their eyes to all sorts of opportunities. Take Jacob Oathout, for instance. He isn’t exactly local because he lives in Albany but he got interested in fly-fishing when he visited the Deposit, N.Y., area where his family is from.

Matt Ertzinger and Jacob Oatout
Matt Ertzinger, left, shows Jacob Oathout, how to treat a fly so it will fool a trout into biting. PHOTO BY DAN PLUMMER

Jacob was introduced to hunting and fishing by his father but fly-fishing was something new. He asked his aunt about it. She works at Dreamcatcher Lodge, a fly-fishing resort on the West Branch. She contacted the Friends of the Upper Delaware and here he is, back again after attending last year, honing his skills.

He’ll be attending SUNY Cobleskill to get a degree in environmental studies with an aim to eventually become a conservation officer with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

His story made David Canfield smile. “That’s the point of the school: to show young people that there are lots of opportunities for them,” he said.

“Of course, there’s a hole, but this helps,” he added, with a touch of sadness. But soon the smile was back: “All these volunteers, it’s been magical. I’m so grateful for these people.”

The folks who make it all possible are: guide mentors Sam Decker, Matt Ertzinger, Luc Genovese, Lee Hartman, Ben Rinker and Steve Taggart; and non-guide instructors Rick Axt, Dan Plummer and Dave Renan.

Group shot of a day at Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School
All the people involved in today’s Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School. PHOTO CREDIT BILL CANFIELD FLY FISHING SCHOOL.

He’s not the only grateful person.

One of the campers this session is his grandson, Bill’s son, Dylan, who was on line for lunch next to his grandfather, and said, “Thanks, Poppy, for introducing me to this.”

Lucas Mayer and Dylan Canfield
Friendships are another benefit of the camp. Lucas Mayer and Dylan Canfield at Dreamcatcher Lodge on the West Branch of the Delaware River. PHOTO BY DAN PLUMMER

It costs $1,725 for the week. Room, board and great fishing gear are included. The charge is on a sliding scale and Grimbilas said, “We’ve never turned anyone away.”

Know anyone who might be interested? Find out more about the camp:

And info about the French Woods Sports and Arts Camp:

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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