Fly Fishing Legend Stanley Cooper Jr. Dies At 93
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter both got in touch with him, but he wasn’t a politician.
He also heard from college basketball coach Bob Knight and sportscaster Curt Gowdy, but not on the sideline or in the broadcast booth.
He didn’t have to share the outfield with Ted Williams to build a friendship with the baseball Hall of Famer, either.
Fly fishing was Stanley Cooper Jr.’s passion, and it’s what connected him with all those household names and so many others. Cooper began tying flies decades ago with his father and didn’t stop as he entered his 90s.
Cooper died Tuesday following a lifetime that included a couple million flies and plenty of connections in the fishing community. The Wilkes-Barre resident was 93.
“I got to know him through the regular meetings and our board meetings. You could tell right away, this is the guy’s life,” said Jay Downs, a director at Trout Unlimited’s Stanley Cooper Sr. Chapter, named after Cooper’s father. “Everything he did kind of revolved around fly fishing and fly tying.
“Then, when you hear the stories about who he knew and who he tied flies for, you start to realize you’re in the presence of a living legend.”
That status — a living legend — was cemented in 2016, when Cooper was one of the four Catskill Legends selected annually by the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. Each year since 2014, the center “honors four individuals who have contributed their expertise to impact, educate and share the history and knowledge of the Catskills” and “continue the tradition of Catskill fly fishing,” according to its website.
Cooper was 91 years old when he was named a legend in the fly fishing world, roughly 70 years after he started tying flies with Cooper Sr. It was a father-son bond that quickly became a business for the two.
J. Scott Brady, the president of the Cooper Sr. chapter, said he can tie five or six flies in an hour if he’s working hard. Once, he was curious and asked Cooper how many he’d tied one day, and was surprised when Cooper counted off about 15 different ties.
“That’s not very many,” Brady recalled reacting. “He said, ‘No, 15 dozen.’ ... He did it well, and he made a living out of it.”
Downs said, “Everyone knew if you were getting Stan’s flies, you were getting top quality.”
Cooper’s passion became an avenue to a number of high-profile individuals.
In a 2016 interview with The Citizens’ Voice, Cooper noted he kept records and had tied more than two-and-a-half million ties. Among those, some went to Carter, Eisenhower, Gowdy and Knight; in return, he received a thank-you card from Carter and a signed scorebook and Indiana hat from Knight.
He also built a relationship purely centered around fishing with Williams, the Red Sox great who hit 521 home runs in 19 seasons with Boston but is perhaps best known as MLB’s last .400 hitter in a regular season.
“I fished with Ted for about 10 years, and in all that time not once did we talk baseball,” Cooper, who fished as near as the Poconos and as far as Colorado, California and Canada, said in the 2016 interview. “We always talked about fishing. I’m proud to say I fished with him.”
But Cooper certainly wasn’t in the business simply for those connections.
As Downs quickly pointed out, Cooper made himself as much of a resource as he could to children trying to learn the ropes.
He’d be one of the first to sign up and attend any event that benefited kids, Downs said. And at a yearly banquet, he’d make sure a child won his special prize, which included dozens of ties he made.
“He was super conscientious about the kids, but (also) with everything the chapter did,” Downs said. “He was there to help teach and expand the sport. ... He was a real diplomat.”
Funeral services for Cooper Jr. will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Wyoming Valley Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre.
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