Mark Libertone was a friend of mine who passed away on September 16, 2013. I once included some information on him in a post, Autumn Journal, November 5. The long struggle for his health is over. Mark lived for years along the banks of his favorite river, the upper Genesee, in western New York.
Mark was an artist, a fly-fisher, and an internationally known tier of flies. Back in the late 1990s, Mark helped to establish the Upper Genesee Chapter of Trout Unlimited and, through various meetings and correspondence, inspired me to join that chapter in its infancy. Although I eventually fished with Mark on streams such as the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, it was our casting on the Genesee that I fondly remembered this week after I heard that he was gone.
I wanted to reflect on his life while fishing one particular section of the river. I drove out to the Hawks Road pull-off and suited up. I tied on a soft-hackle, the kind that Mark loved to tie and fish. His passion for the traditional wet fly, and his skill at tying the soft-hackle and the flymph helped him garner a wide reputation for craftsmanship at the vise. Since caddis were hatching and flying everywhere above the river, my first choice of fly was an October Caddis. Although another good friend had recently gifted me the soft-hackle imitation, Mark would certainly have approved its use on this occasion.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Mark created the FlymphForum web site and was co-founder of The International Brotherhood of the Flymph. He’d encouraged me to expand my tying and fishing horizons by making use of the historically significant and vital (but largely abandoned) soft-hackle fly, the “wingless wet.” On good days, back in early 2012, Mark would often leave a comment on the Rivertop posts and brighten up my hours.
He encouraged many people in the fields of fly tying, art, and conservation. He knew the ins and outs of his beloved Genesee River near Wellsville, N.Y.; he knew its hatches and what fly patterns would connect for memorable catches. I reflected on Mark’s knowledge and experience in my book, River’s Edge, in a chapter called “Genesee Home Water.”
Mark had an extended, close-knit family, including other fly-fishers, with whom he enjoyed spending time on the river. I had the pleasure of meeting some of his family on more than one occasion. In fact, I was thinking of such a rendezvous as I approached the Bracken Pool the other evening, absorbed in my thoughts, in tune with the chorus of crickets and the squawking of jays.
I remembered a long ago evening when fishing successfully at the pool. I was reeling up and ready to wade back to the car when I saw Mark approaching with several of his kin, all of them with fly rods at the fore. They, too, had been having fun with the trout, and we stopped to share the news, before continuing with another round of casting.
In the clear evening of my recent visit to the river, I made a long cast of the soft-hackle fly, recalling how Mark had supported my ideas for Trout Unlimited, how he encouraged my writing, and how I gladly did the same for him. The reverie was suddenly interrupted by the weight of a good brown trout on the line. It proved to be 16-inches long, a modest fish, too thin perhaps, but handsome nonetheless. Plenty more would come before this caddis hatch was finished. I was thankful that the summer, with its cool evenings and sufficient rainfall, had been good to the Genny, for a change.
The river would abide for a while, in health. Anglers would approach and wade along its course, not so much now in fall, but surely when the spring comes round again. Our good friend, Mark, will not be among them physically, but for many who wield a fly rod, and for many who live in this community, he’ll be missed.