Fly fishing with an old friend and fellow fly tier
Written by Walt Young, July 2017 for the Altoona Mirror
[Bill will have rods, reels, tackle, tying materials and ED KOCH’S rods and reels!]
My long career as a fishing professional has been a rewarding one, and I’ve always been grateful for the countless opportunities it has provided me.
But over the past three decades, my most enduring angling memories aren’t always of amazing destinations or some of the great fish caught there. Some of my best and most gratifying recollections involve the many wonderful folks I’ve met and long-term friendships I made along the way, especially in the realm of fly fishing.
I first met Bill Skilton and his wife, Nancy, at a fly-fishing show almost 30 years ago. I was presenting fly-tying demonstrations at the show, and the Skiltons had a booth there selling Bill’s specialty fly-tying materials, tackle and some vintage fly-fishing books. I was an avid student and collector of fly-fishing literature even then, and they happened to have an autographed copy of “Just Fishing” by Ray Bergman, which caught my eye. Bergman was one of my early fishing heroes, even though he passed away in 1967, just a few years after I began fly-fishing and fly tying. His classic book, “Trout,” provided my earliest instruction in those pursuits, and I read it several times while still in junior high school. The prospect of adding a signed Bergman title to my collection proved irresistible, so after inspecting the book several times, I bought it on the last day of the show. That transaction years ago sparked a lasting friendship with Bill Skilton, a great fly tier and personality in Pennsylvania fly-fishing.
Bill is from Boiling Springs in Cumberland County, the home of Yellow Breeches Creek, Letort Spring Run, Big Spring Creek and the other legendary limestone streams of that region. He began his fly-fishing career in the early 1970s working in a fly shop owned by the noted angler and author Ed Koch. In the years that followed, he was able to connect and become friends with many of the other notable fly-fishermen of that region, including Charlie Fox, Vince Marinaro, Ed Shenk and Ross Trimmer. A knowledgeable and talented fly tier, he also began to source unique and useful synthetic fly-tying materials, especially items useful for ants, beetles and other terrestrial insects to tempt the ever-finicky trout on the fabled limestone waters.
His quest for materials soon became a significant sideline business, and by 1990 he was not only supplying individual tiers but also major dealers like Orvis with his Quick Sight Ant bodies and other special components. In 2002, Skilton became an author himself when he wrote and published his own book, “My Fly Patterns, Materials and Techniques” in a limited edition of 1,600 copies. The original run has long since sold out, and I’m hopeful he will consider another edition sometime in the future.
Skilton’s sideline business finally became a fulltime pursuit a few years ago when he quit his “real job” to devote all his efforts to marketing fly-tying materials and fly tackle. His focus remains specialty fly materials like foam ant bodies, leg materials and hackle, along with quality used fly rods and reels. In addition to a customer base throughout the U.S. and Canada, he regularly ships his merchandise to the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere in Europe and to far-flung locations such as Singapore, Russia and Australia. To check out what he offers, search “skilto” on eBay or “Bill Skilton” on Facebook.
Despite being friends for so long, Bill and I had never fished together, so I was delighted when he was able to travel to my home area last week, and we were able arrange a day of fishing on a wonderful stretch of private water on Spruce Creek. The only downside was the ominous forecast for rain for most of the day, including a batch of thunderstorms. As we stepped into the water that morning, the sky was solid with threatening gray clouds, and we both were hoping for at least a few hours of fishing before the rains came.
It was no surprise that Bill chose to start with one of his simple beetle imitations, and in a few minutes a nice rainbow became the first victim to it. The heavy overcast and cool temperatures put the fish in a cooperative mood, and by noon, we had landed about 20 fish, all on that same beetle pattern. And other than a few brief sprinkles, we had no rain to spoil the party.
Over lunch, we reminisced about the old days and caught up with our recent affairs, especially Bill’s current duties as president of the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association. It has been an eventful year for that organization, as the museum moved into its own freestanding building on the banks of the Letort just outside Carlisle. I visited the new location last spring and can say it is an impressive site and well worth seeing for anyone interested in the history and legacy of fly-fishing in Pennsylvania.
Visit Bill at the Maryland Fly Fishing Show