Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Del Brown-Master Fly Fishermen, Mentor, and old Friend


On May 28th, 2003, the fly fishing community lost a treasure.


Del Brown



Since Del Brown was a private and quiet man, few really knew him well. His humble nature kept him from "blowing his own horn" about his accomplishments, but those who knew him can certainly attest to his skill and tenacity at virtually everything he did.

I was fortunate to live in the same small California town, as Del Brown. Del was the plant manager for Martinelli's Apple Juice Co., and my parents grew apples for Martinelli's. However, it wasn't until 1965, my junior year of high school, as I was getting serious about fly fishing, that a mutual friend introduced us.


Del's home was situated on a small lake, and his dock became a proving ground for the top water bugs he loved to cast. Del, and Doug, his son, were always tinkering with conventional plugs, or fly fishing bugs, and I was fortunate to be included on many, "testing sessions", and fishing trips.


It was on that small lake that I honed my fly casting skill, and learned to fly fish for large mouth bass. Del would row me around the lake, in his john boat, and "school me" and "scold me" on my casting. He would direct me to a target, or tiny opening in the trees, and would not move until I had hit the spot. He would tell me over and over, "..unless the bug is less than 12" from the _____ , you are not fishing-cast again!"
Del was a brilliant engineer, and although not formally trained, he was always thinking about improving things at the cider plant or at his fly tying vise. He felt that every fly or bug could be improved.

During the 1970's fishing for striped bass, in San Francisco Bay, was exceptional, and Del and I had countless days catching striped bass-many caught on home made poppers. Del had a small Boston Whaler, which was perfect for the south bay.


Del and his Boston Whaler, after a morning on SF Bay.


I recall Del purchasing one of the first side-scan transducers, and we had a great time locating stripers with this device. In those days we could fish the piling/dock, that was an extension to the incoming runway for the SF Airport, and we could "see" the pilings on the screen. We could also see the blips between the pilings, and they were usually big stripers. Anticipating the strike, that was sure to come, was breathtaking. On many occasions, we would be fishing poppers and could "see" the striper following our popper, on the screen. One of us would watch the screen and call out the distance, "....the fish is at 40'...the fish is at 30'.....the fish is....WHAM!



Lee and a typical San Francisco Bay Striper-1970's
Note the cutout on the sideplate of my Pflueger Medalist reel. Del showed me that this could be used to apply pressure to the spool, with the thumb. It worked! However, once he burned up a Medalist Reel on a big tarpon, he decided it was time to upgrade to a more substantial drag/type reel. It was Seamasters and Abels from that point forward!!


In 1984 Del hired me to work at Martinelli's so he could spend more time, in semi-retirement, fly fishing all over the world.



Del caught his first permit in Guanaja, Honduras, on one of those first trips.




For most of the fly fishing community, Del is known for catching permit. Before Del and Steve Huff started fishing together, few permit were caught with artificial flies, and most of those by accident. Del created the Merkin, an artificial fly pattern that represented a crab, and Del found a way to present the fly that caused permit to turn and eat the fly eagerly.

Since this technique was introduced by Del, countless permit have been taken on the fly.

These two world records were caught exactly 30 days apart.

This is the 2 lb. record: 9 lbs. 12 oz.


This monster permit weighed 41 lbs. 8 oz. and was caught on 8 lb. test!
Note: At the time, this was the largest permit taken with a fly rod, on any size leader. It was caught on a flat, and not chummed up over a wreck.



I was fortunate to fish with Del and Steve Huff, several years before Del passed, and the experience was very memorable, to say the least! Steve's ability to control the boat and spot permit, even in 25 mph winds, was uncanny, and I was amazed how quickly Del could release the fly and get the fly in front of the fish. Of course, these were relatively short casts, but the communication between Steve and Del was short, quick, and very effective. I recall sitting, and watching and realized I was looking at the masters at work.


This picture might just say it all!




Del fighting yet another permit.





Del and Steve discussing innovations, and improvements.



It was fun being a "fly on the wall" that magical week. Two very opinionated masters, with genuine respect for each other.

Note the foam foregrip on his 10 wt. and the "custom sky-blue paint job" on his fly rod! (In the early years this color was a flat, non-glare, army green!) Del was always tinkering with the setup, looking for a "better mouse trap". I remember introducing Del to braided loops, and installing loops on all his lines-Steve thought Del was making a bad move, but Del took many permit with braided loops connecting his fly line to his leader.



Another innovation that Del embraced was using a 60 deg jig hook to tie his Merkins. He claimed that he dropped fewer permit with this hook style.



Del had a very specific way he carefully formed his cork grips, and I found it very effective, since then forming all my grips the same way. It was formed with a curved, flattened place for the thumb, and the handle was shaped into an oval, rather than simply round, that fit the hand perfectly. At least for my hand, I found this shape less tiring, as did Del.





This is Del's 500th permit, caught on October 8th, 2002.


That's Capt. Dustin Huff, Steve's son, and incredible guide!

When striper fishing returned to greatness, on the east coast, Del discovered that he could sight fish for stripers around Cape Cod. Sight fishing was always his favorite way to catch fish-any fish! It was here he discovered the gurgler, and brought it west for us on the left coast. Del and I felt that this great design could be improved upon, and it was adapted to become more durable and, Del felt, more effective. I adapted a smaller version which Del used, almost exclusively, and successfully, for steelhead on the Dean River.


Del loved to fish for trout in New Zealand, where he could sight fish for some of the largest trout anywhere! I always anticipated his return, to hear the stories of monster trout in gin clear water. He especially liked to explore the sea-run browns on unfished streams along the coast.
However, it was the Florida Keys that were his favorite playground.


Del and I enjoyed a number of trips to Northern California, fishing for trout, primarily with dry flies. This picture was taken in the spring of 2002, and we were both anticipating a return trip, in June of 2003-A trip Del would not be able to make.


One afternoon, I prevailed upon Del to show me his IGFA citations and world records. The documents I could find held the account of no less than 10 world records! However, Del Brown was much more than a world record holder,

or the master of 513 permit....




....Del will always be remembered as a gentlemen, my mentor, and my dear friend.


Rest in Peace, Old Friend!


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