90-year-old touts fly-tying, fishing as ‘best therapy you could ever have’
“Tying flies is just like riding a bike, you never forget,” said Karl Henthorn of his pastime.
For the past eight decades, Henthorn has crafted artificial flies to catch fish. These days, Karl may still be found tying flies at his home at Valley View Nursing and Rehab near Montoursville.
“I am 90 but I can still tie flies like I did 10 to 20 years ago,” he said.
Karl started his hobby of fly tying when he was just 11 years old. The youngest of six children, Karl would watch his older brother and avid outdoorsman, Jim, tying flies. “When you are younger, you copy your brother. That’s what I did,” Karl said with a smile.
Karl has never fished with a spinning fishing reel, preferring to fly fish. “To tell you the truth they weren’t even around when I was younger,” he said with a laugh.
Karl grew up near Easton and spent much of his youth fishing along Bushkill Creek.
Fishing and making flies has seen him through his childhood, college, and a 60-plus-year marriage to his wife Barb.
Karl, a retired physical education teacher, has been teaching the art of fly tying for much of his adult life, even having a club at his school in West Orange, New Jersey. The club was so popular with students of both genders that it had a waiting list to join. Karl says the some of the girls excelled at fly tying. “I think they had more patience,” although some of them would turn their creations into earrings, he said with a laugh.
Karl would mostly fish in the Catskills in New York, camping up there during fishing season. Karl says his wife Barb, who was also a physical education teacher, was supportive of his hobby. “She was a wonderful wife, she never complained when I went fishing,” he recalled. He was never one to hit the crowded fishing spots, preferring the quiet solitude of nature.
“Just being out there, looking at nature, it is very relaxing. It takes your mind off everything,” he shared.
Although he loved fishing, Karl would always throw the fish back. “I don’t like to eat fish, I always returned them to the water.”
Karl recalls standing in streams and watching a bear or deer drink from the opposite side. “It’s beautiful being out there by yourself, it is the best therapy you could ever have.”
Karl would advise anyone wanting to begin to tie flies to find someone who does it well and have them teach them. He says the craft hasn’t changed much over his lifetime.
“You just stick to your patterns that you know are good.” The patterns mimic an insect’s appearance. “The pattern that’s the key,” said Karl. Some of his favorites to make are the grey ghost streamer and the Adams dry fly.
Even though Karl does not get out to fish anymore, he still spends his days tying flies and happily gives them to fishermen to use. “I love to be able to do that, to give flies to someone and they catch a fish on it, it makes them happy.”
These days he shares his creations with the staff of Valley View and hoped to teach his fellow residents his craft when the COVID restrictions are lifted.
“A fly tier can tie for the rest of his life, as long as he has the ability,” said Karl.