There weren’t many kids in the southern Florida neighborhood where Paul Bruun grew up, so about all he did was go fish.
Speaking from New York’s Catskill Mountains last weekend, Bruun recalled the earliest days of being hooked. The longtime Jackson resident, who was reared newspapering, made his remarks while being inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame.
“After piano lessons, and later trombone lessons and football practice, I’d go fishing,” Bruun said at Saturday’s ceremony.
The local groundskeepers got to know young Bruun. His lures and flies would occasionally snag in the canopies of palm trees, which were nearly impossible to scale.
“I’d come by and there’d be a couple flies laying in the front yard,” Bruun said. “When they trimmed coconut palms, they’d give me my flies and my other lures.”
Nowadays Bruun has lots of good company to join along on his angling outings, which have taken him around the world.
He first made acquaintance with part-time Moose resident Yvon Chouinard more than half a lifetime ago while reporting for the Jackson Hole News. Bruun, the Patagonia founder recollected, featured the outdoor gear inventor’s skills at cooking a utensil-free dinner.
The now-77-year-old Bruun and 82-year-old Chouinard went on to become good friends and frequent angling partners, even once jet setting to wet lines in Norway to target Atlantic salmon. Through their adventuring Chouinard has come to realize that the breadth of Bruun’s angling knowledge is unparalleled.
“It’s unbelievable,” Chouinard said. “In his head is the entire history of fishing — not just fly-fishing.
“I think there’s no one else in the world who knows as much about the history of fishing,” he said, “certainly in the United States.”
The Fly Fishing Hall of Fame is part of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, a part of the world where fly-fishing first took root. Among those enshrined in the hall are fishing pioneers Charles Orvis, Alfred W. Miller and Lee Wulff, writers Tom McGuane and Norman Maclean, and Hollywood star Robert Redford.
This year’s class features Ted Williams, one of the best hitters in baseball history and an ardent angler. Also a baseball Hall of Famer, Williams wrote in his autobiography, “My Turn at Bat,” of longing for hitting the water with a rod in hand the moment his season ended.
Joining Williams and Bruun are Dave Brandt, a longtime fly-fishing instructor and Trout Unlimited leader, and William Taylor, bamboo rod maker and legendary caster. Bruun is the only living inductee this year; the others will receive the honor posthumously.
Jean Bruun introduced her husband, who’s been a published outdoor writer for more than 60 years. The couple, who winter in Florida, traveled to the Catskills for the ceremony — and to go fishing.
“Paul Bruun’s a writer, he’s an angler, he’s a guide, he’s an outfitter, he’s a conservationist, he’s a mentor,” Jean Bruun told the crowd.
She ran off some of her husband’s credentials. He started the Snake River Fund. He launched the Jackson Hole Daily, and has bylined columns for various Jackson papers for half a century. He’s a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited and the Coastal Conservation Association.
“He protects the water that he fishes in,” Jean Bruun said, “and he’s a true steward of his environment.”
Paul Bruun, who guided anglers for over 35 years, is also a master of gear. He’s consulted Patagonia on its fly-fishing line dating to the 1980s. He co-created the South Fork Skiff, the first fiberglass, low-profile drift boat. The expertise became well recognized within the fly-fishing industry, and Bruun went on to consult for rod manufacturers like Sage, Winston, Orvis and Scott and for fly line makers including Rio and the Cortland Line Company.
Though his News&Guide columns and outdoor writing, Bruun has long had the knack for presenting that technical information to the layman in distinct, never-trite script.
“He’s a craftsman,” Cary Kresge said of his lifelong best friend Bruun. “I think he puts out a superior product compared to a lot of people who write about fishing.”
Kresge met Bruun as grade schoolers over a capgun fight. Both were obsessed with fishing, but his childhood pal took it a level further: From a young age Bruun would consume every edition of outdoor magazines like Sports Afield and Field and Stream. Kresge’s favorite memory wetting lines with Bruun came when they were first turned loose in a sea-worthy vessel on their own, into the waters of Flamingo, a then “wild and woolly” outpost of Everglades National Park.
“Neither one of us could drive, and his dad came over and convinced my mom that we were responsible enough to do it,” Kresge said. “His dad took us. He put their boat in the water, money at the gas dock, rented us a room at the inn, left us there for three days and came back and picked us up.”
The teens’ adventure was surely a thrill that comes once in a lifetime.
Read more about Bruun’s latest thrill — his induction into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame — in his own words on page 2C.
— Jim Stanford contributed to this story
This version of the article has been modified to correct the name of Bruun's teenage fishing compatriot. — Ed.