Just two weeks before the start of trout season, the Catskills lost a paragon of angling. Henry "Hank" Rope, Jr. wore out a pair of wading shoes every year, fishing Catskills creeks and tributaries. Hank shared his love of the sport through his Big Indian Guide Service and volunteered his time with Trout in the Classroom at a community elementary school.
We recorded Mr. Rope on several occasions over the years, and this week we're joined by two friends –– Bethia Waterman and Jane Wolfrom –– with memories to share.
Hear more from Hank in Sporting Legends of the Catskills, where he joined panel discussions for "Outdoor Guides of the Catskills: The 'Adventure Experts'" and “On the River with Authors, Guides and Catskill Characters" at Phoenicia Library's Jerry Bartlett Angling Collection.
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Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai
Hank Rope 0:03
I love standing here listening to the creek. This is what it sounds like from my bedroom window, so that's...I just...that's why I live here. It's beautiful.
Brett Barry 0:13
Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Hank Rope and wife, Muriel, would eventually settle in the Catskills, where Hank could indulge his passion for fly fishing. April marks the start of trout season here in the Catskills, but this will be the first year in many...that Hank won't be sinking a line. On March 19th, Hank died at his home in Big Indian, New York. On today's podcast, remembering Hank Rope.
Hank Rope 0:45
I checked it...it was secret place on purpose and I usually blindfold people before I take them there.
Brett Barry 0:51
Flattered that you trust me. In October of 2016, Hank took me to a secret location. One of his favorite stretches of the Esopus Creek, where we talked about his love for angling.
Hank Rope 1:04
Hank wrote...I am Big Indian Guide Service. I guess I've been guiding him on the Esopus for 21 years now and I love it. This is the greatest place there is. I moved to Big Indian because a friend of mine recommended it; and from here, I can fish the Esopus, the Neversink, the East Branch of the Delaware, the Schoharie, all within 20-25 minutes, and that doesn't even count all the tributaries that come into the Esopus, and the little creeks here that are absolutely loaded with brook trout (little teeny brook trout). Most people don't want to fish for them. They're only four to five inches. Brook trout will come up with a little true weight rod (put on a little). My favorite one is an Adams or an old Sable Wolf and these guys come up and they have no fear when they come up. It's a sight to see and they're a lot of fun to catch and a beautiful, beautiful fish. Probably, the only time I cook anything is when I'm with my granddaughter in the Adirondacks, but I would say 99 and nine-tenths on my customers are catch and release. It's the way to go. I refrain from letting a customer keep a rainbow. The rainbows are precious and there are some beautiful rainbows in here. They come up right where we are. They come all the way up here. All the way up to my house.
Beth Waterman 2:44
Hank was a very expert fisherman and an expert fly tyer and lot of the research that he did came from...from the library (The Phoenicia Library's Angling Collection).
Brett Barry 2:56
Beth Waterman is curator of the Jerry Bartlett Angling Collection in Phoenicia, New York.
Beth Waterman 3:02
In 1995, Jerry Bartlett died. He was in his fifties and it was unexpected. He was the president of the first Trout Unlimited chapter in Kingston, and he was a very active conservationist, he ran a hotline about the Esopus that people could call and find out the conditions and things like that, and he ran a guide service, as well as a bed and breakfast for anglers who had come for the weekend, and...and fish, and then study with Jerry, so when he died with his widow, Doris Bartlett, I founded the fishing collection at the Phoenicia Library in his memory; while we were building the collection, we also had public events, we had fly tying lessons and fly casting lessons and...and we acquired rods and reels, which we check out with a library card, so anyone with library card can...can go fishing, and that's when I first met Hank Rope and he started teaching fly tie for us, and he was just so keen on the collection. I think he read every book I really do. He was always actively involved with the collection from the time I first met him, which was soon after the collection started in '96.
Brett Barry 4:22
The Jerry Bartlett Angling Collection would go on to host a series of community discussions called, "Sporting Legends of the Catskills." Hank Rope was a panelist at two of those programs including "On the River with Authors, Guides and Catskill Characters" and "Outdoor Guides of the Catskills: The 'Adventure Experts'"; here, Hank recounted an experience with a particular client; he was guiding on the river.
Hank Rope 4:47
About why I live here, why I'm a guide...two-day trip on the Beaverkill with a gentleman that was a president of a bank in Florida; more money than anybody. He really had a lot of money; all nice, fanciest anyway. On...on the second day, he said I have to be out of here at noon because the chauffeurs come in to pick them up and take him to the airport in Sullivan County, where his jets waiting to take him back to a meeting. So, I said, "Okay, about 11:30, we have to go in 15 minutes or so." He said, "I'm just going to sit here," and the man sat on a rock in the middle of the Beaverkill, and I...kind of...went in the woods a little bit got out of his way. Come back out later on and I said, "Sir, we have to go," and he says to me, "I envy you. You'll be back here tomorrow."
Brett Barry 5:55
As Beth Waterman explains, getting Hank to even commit to a panel discussion on a day when he could be fishing was no small feat.
Beth Waterman 6:03
Yeah. Well, he kept his calendar open, so he could fish if it was the right circumstances, and he was very particular...the water had to be the right temperature, etc. Hank was obviously very skilled and unassuming, and he made sure that, you know, he put the time in and that's what it really takes fishing takes a lot of time. I got to know Hank pretty well and his wife (Muriel) before she passed, and I realized how important his family was to him and especially his granddaughters, he kept telling me that he was only taking customers until he put his granddaughter's through college; and sure enough, once they graduated from college, he became a lot less easy to hire to take out as a fishing guide. He had a very lightweight canoe that he could carry to a remote pond, and I like to do long distance swimming with some friends of mine...and so we would sometimes set out on a swim around the perimeter of a pond in dense fog because we went early in the morning and there were times when you couldn't see in front of your face, but we stay pretty close to the perimeter of the pond, so we can find our way around and I'll never forget one time. I was swimming along and all of a sudden I look up and there's a boat in front of me and I...I was like appalled and shocked and didn't know what we're had that kind of horrible feeling...where am I...what's happening...and then I heard this voice say, "Hi, Beth," and it was Hank and he was out there fishing and we would often see him in the early morning when we went for our long swims. He would be out there even earlier than we were fishing in the break of day.
Hank Rope 8:04
Should be out in my canoe. Don't blaming it on you.
Jane Wolfram 8:07
We should all be out in their canoe. You see these kids.
Hank Rope 8:10
Much beautiful out there.
Brett Barry 8:12
In May of 2016, I met up with Hank at Phoenicia Elementary School, where he'd been volunteering with Trout in the Classroom for more than a decade.
Hank Rope 8:23
Wow! He doesn't want to go in there. Does he? Come on guy, get in there. He likes it here. You guys take good care of him.
Jane Wolfram 8:40
My name is Jane Wolfram. I am a retired Phoenicia elementary school teacher and I worked in Phoenicia for 25 years and loved every year, except for the last three months of my career when we spent that in lockdown, so other than that, it was a wonderful, terrific career. I taught first grade for probably the first half of my career there and I believe that's when I first got a trout tank and...and enjoyed the years with Trout in the Classroom. Melissa Johnson and Veronica Rowe were two school teachers. Melissa still is a kindergarten teacher in Phoenicia, and she was actually the person who established contact with Trout Unlimited; and through Melissa's efforts, we met Hank, and the Trout in the Classroom program was set up, so Trout in the Classroom is a program that supplies funding for equipment. We had a 55 gallon tank, we had a chiller that always had to be at no higher than 50 degrees because the trout needed cold, cold water, a filter of course, and 55 gallons of water...and so Hank would come. We'd pick the eggs up pretty much; the second week in October, we'd either have a field trip where we'd go all the way up to Frost Valley to the trout hatchery up there. Many sick kids on the way. It was...it was really not a fun field trip and Hank would never take the bus he'd always follow in his car. One trip, he actually had to take a mom back in his car because the bus ride up was...was so bad for her that he volunteered to take her home in his car, so she didn't have to go on the bus, and he said, "She's not going to be sick in my car." She said, "No, Hank, no, it'll be okay," and every year without fail, there was a problem. You know, it was a gasket that had dried out over the course of the summer. It was the tank leaked. It was the bad chiller...and he always got us what we needed equipment wise. Now he'd say there's a meeting tomorrow and I'm gonna go tell them that you need a new chiller and...and Trout Unlimited always stepped up and gave us the funding for what we needed.
Hank Rope 10:55
You can see it says 66 degrees that should be 52.
Is it? That's the water temp?
Hank Rope 11:01
That's a little high.
Hank Rope 11:02
Yeah. Well, this thing is gone. I'm gonna have to ask, try and eliminate for another 800 bucks, I need a new one. Now we're gonna take them from 66 degree water and put them in 49-50 degree water. They're not gonna like that.
Jane Wolfram 11:18
Kids could see (you know) what the trout would face once they got into the water and left our classroom, but Hank was always there, you know, always excited at the kids excitement that...that he just loved the fact that they were excited about it; and it made them think and it made them want to go into the streams and perhaps fish when they got older. That was an important part of his life.
Hank Rope 11:41
I've been doing this program for 15 years and it's absolutely fantastic. It's a greatest thing with these kids and I could be in a Boiceville Market and some kid, you know, whose now 15 years old comes up and says, "Hi, Mr. Rope," you know and honestly, I don't know who he is, but...but they all know who I am and they get a lot out of this program. It's not just about raising fish like you would (guppies in a tank). It's about learning about the environment.
Jane Wolfram 12:13
I have a great Melissa Johnson story because she was the person that got it up and running, and she talked about a time when they were having some kind of a crisis in their tank, and she called Hank because the trout looked like they were dying, and she was a kindergarten teacher at the time, and he came in and whatever he did, he made it so that the trout survived, and it was a wonderful happy tale, and she decided she was going to make a book about Hank, and in the book, he was a superhero, and he had a trout on his...on his chest, and the kids loved it because he was the superhero who had saved the tank, but...but Hank was a very low key guy, you know, he wasn't all warm and fuzzy kind of thing. He just this was...this is what he did and wasn't, you know, in it to be a grandpa, he definitely was just happy that he was passing on his love of trout and his love of the Catskills and his love of nature, basically, and excited to get the kids excited about what was right in their own backyards.
Hank Rope 13:15
They learn a lot. They learn about the conditions in the stream, why you want the stream to be clean, why you want everything to be for their benefit to keep the environment clean; may raise them over the winter, and then come the first week in May. The fish are two and a half to three inches long, and we have a big party down in Stony Clove, and we let the fish go. It's the greatest thing you can become involved with these kids. They're just all smiles and they learn a lot, and we're going to take them on the stream again, we bought boots for them. We got a grant for the boots and we're gonna wait till the spring, take the kids in the stream, we get a permit and we see what kind of insects are in a stream. This is what the fish live on, so we want to keep the stream clean, so the insects will be there, so the fish survive. That's what the whole thing is about. Great, great program. The kids love it.
Jane Wolfram 14:19
The song that we always sang at when we released the trout, it was to the tune of the old Everly Brothers' "Bye-Bye Love," and it was "Bye-Bye Trout," and...and the kids would stand on the shore of the Stony Clove right there in Phoenicia after walking from the school to release the trout and that was their big send off singing "Bye-Bye Trout."
Bye-bye trout! Bye-bye aquatic friends! We hope we'll see you when you're swimmin' down the stream! You're swimmin' down the stream!
Jane Wolfram 14:56
Alright, trout releasers. I'm going to hold on to your papers. So it was...it was just a great, great experience that for all the trials and tribulations and I'm sure Hank would say the same thing. He wouldn't change a thing, you know, he would...he would do it. He probably if I hadn't retired and COVID hadn't hit, we probably both would be still doing it saying one more year. He just...it was a great inspiration, and through that sort of commitment, I think we both sort of had a lot in common, and I'll miss him terribly.
Brett Barry 15:30
During fishing season, how often are you out on the creek?
Hank Rope 15:33
That's a tough question to answer. I'm either working or fishing or let's put it that way, so I wear out a pair of wading shoes every season because I didn't hit 160 days a year maybe by love standing there listening to the creek. This is what it sounds like from my bedroom window, so that's I just...that's why I live here.
Brett Barry 16:03
Henry F. Rope, Jr., U.S. Navy veteran, angler, guide, and friend of the Catskills, died March 19, 2023, at the age of 82. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.