Imagine spending 35 years learning — in your spare time, no less — the intricate skills you need to produce objects that are not only finely tuned mechanical devices, but also works of art.
Imagine spending hour after hour in your workshop figuring out how to machine tiny gears and screws, and how to mill aircraft-grade aluminum down to exact proportions. Imagine that if you mess up by, say, two-thousandths of an inch, all your work will go down the drain.
Imagine that after 35 years of part-time labor (in your full-time job, you’re a successful family doctor), you look back and realize that you’ve created more than 300 world-class fly reels that are coveted by collectors around the globe. But your eyesight isn’t what it once was. You’d like to spend more time fishing and bird hunting with your dogs. You decide that this last batch of two dozen reels will be your last.
Now, imagine taking most of those remaining reels — each of which would fetch more than $2,000 if made available for purchase — and giving them away.
Unimaginable, you say.
Not if you’re Paul Hermann.
Last Saturday, I told you about Hermann, the reel-maker, in a feature that ran in these pages. The untold story, however, may be even more impressive. Hermann, who now lives in Castine, says that his time as a reel maker will end in the coming months. He says he hopes to teach a young craftsman the tricks of the trade. And he says it’s time for him to give a little something back to a sport that he loves.
Before we get to that, however, let’s focus on Hermann, the man. And Hermann the doctor, who decided to adopt Maine as his home state, even though there were far more prestigious jobs he could have taken.
“The reason we came to Maine was because we wanted a different lifestyle. Medicine was different here,” he says. “When I got done with medical school, I said, ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life going to cocktail parties in Philadelphia. That’s not what I want. I want a more outdoor life.’”
That’s what he found here. And he never regretted his decision.
“I came to Maine, and I never looked back,” Hermann says.
While enjoying that “more outdoor life,” Hermann found a passion for Atlantic salmon fishing. He traveled to many of the world’s premier salmon rivers. And he made reels that are now family keepsakes and collectors’ dreams.
Often, he gave those reels away to people who took him fishing, he says. And now, he’s giving away most of the reels he has yet to complete.
“I’m more than willing to do it,” Hermann says. “It’s what the rest of them are for. It’s time for me to give back to the sport.”
Hermann says he’ll be selective about who he gives the reels to. He hopes that the last run of Hermanns will be auctioned off by conservation-minded groups in order to raise money to support their essential work.
To some, what Hermann is doing might seem beyond belief. Unimaginable, even. Give away thousands of dollars’ worth of reels that you’ve spent nearly four decades perfecting?
But to the Castine craftsman, it just seems, well, right.
“I’ve been really lucky in my fishing lifetime,” Hermann says. “Very, very lucky. Always. Great people. Great places. And some good fishing, too.”
PFF to give fly-tying classes
For a decade members Penobscot Fly Fishers have shared their fly-tying expertise with others during popular winter classes for beginners. With the holidays approaching, it’s not too early to reserve your spot for the 2011 edition.
The PFF will hold the classes at the Bangor Parks and Recreation building on Main Street for eight consecutive Thursdays starting on Jan. 6. The cost of the course is $35, which includes all materials and the use of all the tools you’ll need. And even those who have taken the class in past years are welcome to attend, according to Don Corey of the PFF.
“There’s going to be a lot of new flies this year, so for people who have taken the course in the past, if they want to re-take it, there will be plenty of new flies,” Corey said.
Corey, a longtime tier himself, admitted that people often get into fly tying with unrealistic goals.
“People think they’re going to save tons of money tying their own flies. As soon as they buy a vise and materials, they find out that the cost per fly is about six or seven dollars a fly for the first ones you tie,” Corey said with a chuckle.
“I guess it’s very rewarding to catch a fish on a fly that you’ve tied or a rod that you’ve built. I think that people enjoy it as a hobby. I think that you’ll find that there’s a high percentage of people who tie way more flies than they’re ever going to use,” he said.
Plenty of PFF members show up to serve as instructors, and this year those expert tiers will be led by Joe Beaulieu. Corey said tying flies that will catch fish isn’t as complicated as some people think.
“We try to show people some basic techniques, some basic material handling, and once you’ve learned some of those things, things start to fall together,” Corey said. “Just like a recipe when you’re cooking in the kitchen, you get a recipe for a fly and when you get an idea of how flies go together, you can figure out what material has to be tied in first and what has to be done so that you can move on to the next step.”
The class size is limited, so signing up early is essential. And for those participants who really catch the fly-tying bug, an advanced class will be held for three or four weeks after the beginner’s class completes its eight-week run.
To register or find out more about the classes, call Joe Beaulieu at 991-9586 or e-mail him at email@example.com.