Passing the Torch: The First Annual Bill Canfield Youth Fly-Fishing Camp

Written by: Joe Demalderis, 2010 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year

Video and photos above by Colin Archer

Last week we held the first Bill Canfield Youth Fly-Fishing Camp for the kids of Hancock, New York. The camp, which will be an annual event, is a tribute to Bill Canfield, who passed away three years ago shortly after the birth of his first child.

Bill and his father, Dave Canfield, had fished with me for many years each season on the Upper Delaware. Bill was an excellent fly fisherman and world class kayaker who, beside being just a great all around guy, was also one of the best fisherman I ever guided. On his many outings, Bill would frequently comment that he was surprised that he rarely, if ever, saw any local kids fishing in the river. If you knew Bill, you’d know that this was something that bothered him. A true sportsman in all facets of his life, he very much cared about kids—the kind of guy one would wish was their uncle or an uncle to your own kids.

The season following Bill’s death, his father Dave brought Bill’s older brother, Doug, along, so he could hone his fly fishing skills on the Delaware River. The three of us were talking and reminiscing about Bill and how very much he loved the Upper Delaware. We joked about how Bill never thought of a fish as “impossible” and would go into stealth mode to fool a fish that most others would have long given up on. For Bill and Dave, it was always about the quality and challenge of a fish rather than numbers of fish.

That day on the river, the idea was spawned to start a fly-fishing camp for kids. Doug generously funded the camp as a tribute to his brother, and the result became the Bill Canfield Outdoor Adventure School’s Youth Fly Fishing Camp. Plans are already underway for next year and to open the camp to virtually any 11- to 16-year-old kid in the country.

Bill Canfield Camp

The class and instructors at the inaugural Bill Canfield Outdoor Adventure School’s
Youth Fly Fishing Camp are ready for action.

photo courtesy FUDR

This year’s inaugural event was held at Camp Weequahic in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, just minutes away from Hancock, New York, on the Upper Delaware. It was an overnight camp with casting, fly tying, ecology, and of course fishing all mixed into a jam-packed week. There were traditional summer camp activities in the evenings and during a midday break, culminating in a s’more-laden bonfire on the last night.

The camp was organized and taught by Jim “Coz” Costolnick—Upper Delaware fishing guide, fly shop owner and original host of ESPN’s “In Search of Fly Water” and me. Our right-hand man and fly-fishing instructor was Colin Archer, an Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing guide. Mike Romanowski, expert fly tier and high-school teacher, carried the lead on tying instruction. Entomology and additional fly-tying was provided by Ben Rinker, another Upper Delaware fishing guide. Sherri Resti from Friends of the Upper Delaware River lent her assistance each day and several days prior to the camp, and Linda O’Brian, Executive Director of the Hancock Education Foundation, provided her support encouragement and liaison for enrollment. Orvis helped with the rods, and each student got to take home their own Access 5-weight outfit so that they could continue to practice and fish.

Here’s Colin’s daily journal of the camp:

Day 1: Thirteen youths from the Hancock area enjoying the fresh air of the Pocono Mountains and an introduction to fly fishing. Today they each received their own Orvis Access outfits and had casting lessons and plied there new talent on a lake. This is really a great program for the attendees and the staff.

Day 2: Today the boys had a casting competition, tied their first flies, and went “live” with flies on the lake where a mix of sunnies and bass were the targets. Mixed in were a couple of old “In Search of Fly Waters” videos starring Coz himself. And, a midday wiffle ball game where it came down to the last pitch, as the Rainbows beat the Browns 6-5.

Day 3: Coz, Joe D, and myself had the boys out on the lake in the drift boats tossing some classic and homegrown fly creations to largemouth bass and sunnies. Mike Romanowski and Sheri Resti manned and womaned the fly-tying room where the boys tied some Woolly Buggers and Green Weenies. Some boys shortened their week up, so we enter our last full day tomorrow with “The Great Eight” and a special guest appearance by Ben Rinker.

Day 4: The boys sat around the campfire sharing what they liked the most about the week. They all said it was learning how to cast, tie flies, and catching their first fish on the fly. Some even said it was great to meet new friends that they can fish with….sounds like mission accomplished. Today we got lucky and were able to spend the afternoon in the drift boats on the lake, which followed Ben Rinker’s morning entomology class backed up with more fly tying. The boys will sleep well tonight, and then it’s good-byes after breakfast. I hope Bill Canfield enjoyed watching what happened this week in his honor.

The coolest thing about this camp was to see these kids rapidly learn the sport and grow a true interest that they’ll continue to carry forward.

Joe Demalderis is a longtime guide on the Delaware system and was named 2010 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year.

Bill Canfield Camp

Instructor Ben Rinker with a proud student and a largemouth bass.

photo by Joe Demalderis

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