Couple fly-fish around the globe year-round


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LANCASTER, Pa. -- You are married to a spouse who loves to go fly-fishing all over the world as much as you do.

For income, you guide appreciative anglers to special spots around the globe, sell photos of fish, fishing and sublime natural settings. You sell books and DVDs about your passion and run a fly-casting school.

You live in a log cabin you built yourself just two miles from a dandy freestone trout stream.

Barry and Cathy Beck seem to be a couple that the folks at the "Life is Good" line of T-shirts had in mind. Talk about combining work with pleasure.

Their lifestyle once prompted Outdoor Life magazine to dub them "the first couple of fly-fishing."

Barry immediately protests that such a title belongs to Joan and Lee Wulff, the pioneering fly casters from New York's Catskills region.

Though it's a lot more grunt work than you might imagine and the Becks claim to work 364 days a year, the couple won't argue that they are happy with their lot in life.

"We love what we're doing, yes," says Cathy, 59.

"We're blessed that it worked out that way," adds the 65-year-old Barry, reached by phone just after the couple had returned from leading six anglers to Bolivia to cast for golden dorado.

It was one of the last fishing destinations in the world not scratched off their "bucket list." Cathy caught and released a 42-pounder on a fly rod.

Her husband, as usual -- and by choice -- photographed the trip. As usual, the venture was a team effort.

Barry grew up in Berwick, Columbia County. His future wife lived in Benton, 18 miles away.

One day more than three decades ago, Barry walked into a small restaurant in Benton and was immediately attracted to a young woman inside. As he was leaving, he turned around for one more look and slammed into the door jamb. On top of his humiliation, he had to have three stitches.

With the help of the restaurant owner, he returned weeks later and introduced himself. Cathy had no recollection of ever having seen him.

Despite that unpromising start, the couple fell in love, marrying 32 years ago.

They bought Barry's parents' fly shop and moved to Benton, Lancaster County, where they built a log cabin with wood cut at a family sawmill.

On the road 45 weeks of the year, Barry says, "It's a nice place to call home when we can be here."

Barry stumbled into fly fishing. When he was 9, his father gave him a spinning rod and a fly rod. Barry promptly broke the spinning rod, so he learned to fish on the fly rod.

Though Barry ran a fly-fishing school, Cathy mastered the fly rod from one of the best of them all, Maryland's Lefty Kreh.

She would eventually surpass Barry in her ability to cast. It's one reason Barry takes the photographs in the prolific duo's well-published fishing photographs, though Barry readily admits, "I enjoy the camera as much as the fly rod."

He feels photographing fishing gives him a greater appreciation of his natural surroundings.

Also, "I shoot more than Cathy because I need someone to catch and hold a fish," Barry says. "If you want action shots, you can't be fishing. You've got to be watching."

Says Cathy, laughing, "I'm very happy being the fisherman. He's a better photographer. I'm a better caster."

While running their fly shop, the couple started hosting some trips to Montana and Alaska, as well as to Mexico for saltwater fishing.

Eventually, they took over Lefty Kreh's arrangement to host trips through the outfitter Frontiers International Travel, based in Wexford (www.frontierstravel.com). They lead about 12 trips a year for eight to 12 people. Many are couples.

The photographs they take on the trips and other angling forays may be seen in the nation's and foreign countries' top sport magazines, as well as in calendars, books, advertisements, catalogs, websites -- even a 20-by-20-foot wall on a Patagonia store in Japan.

That's hardly the end of their ties with fly-fishing. They have written five books together: "Pennsylvania Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide," "Fly Waters Near & Far," "Seasons of the Bighorn," "Fly Fishing the Flats" and "Outdoor Photographers Handbook." On her own, Cathy authored "Cathy Beck's Fly-Fishing Handbook."

Cathy has three instructional DVDs and still runs a fly-fishing school in Benton.

They serve on the staffs of Sage Rod Co., Rio Products, Tibor Reels, Smith Optics and Redington.

Each has invented popular flies they sell through Umpqua Feather Merchants.

All these products and more may be found on their website, www.barryandcathybeck.com.

They've been teaching and doing for more than 30 years now.

Why fly-fishing? I ask them.

"I think it makes you more aware of the environment and it keeps you grounded," offers Cathy.

"It keeps you close to nature because you have to pay attention to how the fish are feeding and why."

For someone who is constantly on the road, Cathy also finds that fly-fishing is a welcome and calming distraction.

"It's enough of a challenge that it allows us to escape family or the office or issues. You have to put everything out of your mind.

"At the same time, it's very rewarding when you do make that nice cast or catch a fish that you've been working.

"It's challenging, relaxing and rewarding all at the same time."

Her husband cites other attributes.

"It's an art form. The Japanese take casting as seriously as catching fish. Casting can be poetic.

"A fly-caught fish almost always can be released and caught again. I think fly-fishing gets you a little closer to the nature of the stream and its prehistoric insects."

Their favorite fish on a fly rod? Permit in saltwater. Trout in freshwater. Among trout, brown trout get the nod for their wariness, size and beauty.

Asked about the state of trout fishing in Pennsylvania, Barry is quick to answer that with the amount of pressure on streams these days, more streams should be designated as catch-and-release.

If God came to them and said they had one more day to fish, where would they go?

South Island in New Zealand for brown trout, they both agree.

"It's all sight fishing," says Barry. "It's trout hunting. One mistake and it's all over. But they're all big fish.

"You're pitting your skills against the best of the best."

Having traveled to Bolivia and Mongolia in the past year, the Becks have visited all their dream destinations.

Not that they intend to start sitting by the fireplace in their log cabin staring wistfully out the window.

There was that rarely visited confluence of mountain streams in Peru that the Peruvian ambassador told them about several years ago.

And wouldn't it be nice to fish your way through Ireland, staying in castles and soaking in all that greenery?

For the Becks, life is good.

travel - huntingfishing


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