I’ve been very fortunate to have had many mentors as I waded into the wide, wild world of fishing and writing. My parents unconditionally supported the fascination I had with fish, even though they weren’t themselves into fishing.
My father-in-law was probably the person most responsible for teaching me how to fly fish, and more important, why to respect fly fishing for what it really means—more than just “catching.” Every day I wade into a river now, I remember my late father-in-law and count my lucky stars… not just for his daughter I married (of course!) but also for the fact that he was my fishing buddy. I can say that my father-in-law was also one of my best friends. What a rare, amazing life gift that was.
I used to joke to him that I was planning on being a doctor, or some captain of industry, but he screwed it all up by turning me onto this crazy fly-fishing thing, so me becoming an outdoor writer was his “fault.” He was fine with that, and I have never had any true regrets either, other than I wish he were around now to know the places I have been and the things I have now seen, which all started fishing shoulder-to-shoulder with him on the Baldwin River in Michigan.
When I got to a point where I started writing professionally about fly fishing, I found other mentors. Sid Evans was editor of Field & Stream when I applied for a deputy editor position there. He didn’t hire me to work in the New York office of the world’s leading outdoor media brand. Instead, he asked, “Why don’t you just stay out there in the Rockies and write stories about fishing for Field & Stream magazine?” That was a gift, like earning Yankee pinstripes.
I then got to work with Anthony Licata, who would also later become the editor of Field & Stream, and we made stories… beautiful pieces. Those were the “creative years” when I really developed as a storyteller. But it was high-stakes poker. Back then, I’d pen a piece knowing five million people would read it. I had to develop some chops and thick skin, and Licata had my back and taught me the value of a great editor.
John Merwin, maybe the most influential dollars-to-donuts writer and editor fishing has ever known (then the fishing editor of Field & Stream), took me out for three-martini lunches now and then, where he’d bluntly dress me down for the weak leads I’d write for some of my stories, but then lift me up and tell me that I could turn a phrase and had fishy “substance” that couldn’t be coached. He had a way of making me better that I’ll never forget.
As all this stuff was falling in place, I had the chance to forge a friendship with the late, great Charlie Meyers, then the outdoors editor of the Denver Post. Charlie had been writing outdoor stories for the Post, in arguably the most “outdoorsy” market in the world, since the year I was born. But for some reason, he took me under his wing. And we’d talk about writing and all that, to be sure. But Charlie’s approach was to get me on the water. If ever we had something we wanted to talk over, we didn’t just pick up the phone. He always insisted that we’d go “fish on it.”
I’ll always remember one early August morning in particular, after we had driven in the darkness to Spinney Reservoir in Colorado’s South Park to chase trout with callibaetis flies from float tubes together. And after finning around on the glassy slicks for an hour or so, catching the occasional fat rainbow here and there, Charlie grew very serious and grabbed me by the elbow, and said: “You know, Deeter, the greatest hope, the greatest purpose any angler could ever have, is to replace himself or herself.”
What he meant—which was very clear to me at that time and still is—was that any angler, be they a writer or magazine editor, or a guide, a parent, or an in-law… any of those things and more… if they hold fly fishing sacred… sparking that fire in a child, or a protégé, a neighbor or a son- or daughter-in-law… even some random person you meet by chance… is the highest aspiration anyone who truly loves fly fishing could ever have.
It’s bigger than any bylined story or any book you’d write. Most certainly bigger than any fish you catch or story you’ll tell. Bigger than any guide tip, and certainly a helluva lot bigger than any clicks of chatter to be earned on social media.
It means that the passion endures, and the places that fuel that passion will ultimately be taken care of.
Nobody will ever truly “replace” Charlie Meyers. There’s never again going to be anyone that good.
But I hold his words sacred, and I try. And especially when I fish, I think about all the mentors I’ve had, and I am grateful.
I understand that many of you do the same. Knowing that is the greatest satisfaction of all.