To many in the fly-fishing world, Joe Humphreys is a legend.
The 89-year-old from Boalsburg has taught thousands of anglers how to fly fish. Celebrities such as former vice president Dick Cheney and basketball coach Bobby Knight have requested his presence along the stream. There was even a movie made about Humphreys’ life.
Humphreys is respected, revered and even idolized.
Yet for all his accolades, Humphreys had a hero of his own — a legendary fly tyer who called Wilkes-Barre home.
Stanley Cooper Jr.
Cooper passed away on Tuesday at the age of 93, leaving a void that will probably never be filled, but an admiration from many that will last forever.
“Stan was one of my heroes,” Humphreys said. “He was a pioneer. One of the greatest fly tyers in the world today.”
Cooper’s life as a fly tyer began when his military service in World War II came to an end in 1946. His father was a professional fly tyer but Cooper was undecided about his future at the time. Later that year, Cooper accompanied his father to an outdoors show in Philadelphia where he was selling flies. A newspaper reporter from the Philadelphia Bulletin ran a story about the father and son fly tyers, including their address, and a week later the orders started pouring in.
From there, Cooper went on to tie flies for Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City, Orvis, local outdoor shops and fellow anglers. He has also tied flies for such dignitaries as baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, the Roosevelt family, former president Jimmy Carter, and even taught fly tying with legendary angler George Harvey.
It’s an occupation that Cooper enjoyed for nearly 70 years, and he estimated he has tied approximately 2.6 million flies.
In 2016 Cooper earned a prestigious honor when he was named Catskill Legend by Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in New York. It was a fitting title for someone who committed his life to the craft.
“Stan was probably the last link to a golden age of fly fishing and fly tying,” said Mike Romanowski, a member of the Stanley Cooper Sr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which is named after Cooper’s father. “He tied next to some of the greatest fly tyers ever — Rube Cross, Lee Wulff, Harry Darbee and Art Flick.
“Since 1947 he made his entire living tying flies, and he always used to say he never worked a day in his life.”
Romanowski framed Cooper’s one millionth and two millionth flies and said he tied 15 dozen flies per day at his peak. Over the last few years, Cooper still tied three to five dozen flies a day, sticking mostly to the Royal Wulff and wooly bugger.
“He probably tied more flies over his lifetime than anyone, ever,” Romanowski said.
Joe Ackourey, a professional fly tyer/fly fishing guide and chairman of the SCTU Youth Camp, recalled Cooper as a legendary fly tyer who was a strong supporter of getting kids involved in fly tying and fly fishing.
“He believed in it. Before the Youth Camp each year, he’d always ask me what flies I needed and he’d tie them,” Ackourey said. “Stan was an animal at the vise and that’s what he did best.”
For all his accomplishments, Cooper was humble when it came to being recognized. During a 2016 interview with the Times Leader, Cooper acknowledged he was slowing down but said being named a Catskill Legend was one of the highest honors of his career.
“I guess when you live long enough you become a legend at anything,” Cooper said then. “This is a true honor.”
Humphreys, who is still active in fly fishing, met Cooper decades ago when they worked with another legend, George Harvey. For all the time he spent with Cooper, Humphreys said he has one regret.
“I wish I could’ve learned more from him. I will miss Stan,” Humphreys said. “He was one of the finest men I ever met and a hero to a lot of people.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky