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A Husband's Touching Remembrance of Cathy Beck

Cathy was a teacher, mentor, adventurer, and one of fly fishing's great ambassadors.

A Husband's Touching Remembrance of Cathy Beck
Cathy Beck was Lefty Kreh’s casting protégée, a fly tier and fly designer with many commercial patterns to her name, and a mentor to thousands of aspirational fly fishers around the world. (Barry Beck photo)

“Will you marry me?” I asked.

The girl across the table from me looked puzzled. After all, we’d been introduced to each other less than two hours ago. A smile formed across her face and she said, “We will see.”

There are many people who believe in divine intervention, but at that moment I was not one of them. In time, Cathy would change my mind about that, as she did with many people. I’ve been asked over and over again how Cathy and I met, and I’ve always said I was “lucky.” Maybe there’s more to it than that. When you hear our story, you can make up your mind whether God intervened or not. I believe she was sent by a higher power.

Chance Meeting

In 1980 I was rebounding from a bad divorce. It was a marriage that started when we both were way too young, and it was destined to fail because the most important thing in my life was fly fishing. At the time, I was tying flies professionally and working for the H.L. Leonard Rod Company. When I wasn’t working, I was on the water. Being a husband simply was not in the equation.

One day a marriage counselor told me that my fly-fishing addiction had to stop. I told him if fishing was an addiction, then I had it all my life. As a boy I constantly skipped school to go fishing. One day my guidance counselor informed my parents that if I continued with these unlawful absences, I would grow up to be nothing but a fishing bum. He was right, and it also ended my first marriage.

After my divorce I had plenty of time to fish. I started dating again, only this time telling myself I would never marry again or jeopardize my love of fly fishing. I was happy as a bachelor. During breakfast with a friend in my hometown of Benton, Pennsylvania, I even made the rash verbal statement that I was done dating. My friend Jim laughed and said “Sure you are.” At that exact moment I looked up and noticed a waitress walk by. I had never seen her before, and I was instantly captivated.

Cathy Beck smiling for the camera, holding a fly rod.
Cathy Beck was the author of Cathy Beck’s Fly-Fishing Handbook (Stackpole Books, third edition 2013), gave thousands of seminars around the country, ran a fly-fishing school in Pennsylvania, and with her husband Barry hosted exotic fly-fishing trips around the world. The couple published hundreds of magazine articles. The last one was “When the Quills Come” in the April-May 2024 issue of Fly Fisherman. (Barry Beck photo)

As we left the dining room that morning, I looked back to get one more look at her and walked into the door jam, splitting my head open. That last look cost me three stitches in an emergency room.

The next day, I returned to the restaurant to talk to the owner. I inquired about the waitress who had caught my attention. She told me her name was Cathy Campbell. She had been helping out at the restaurant Mortgaged Inn the day before, but was returning to her home in Sea Isle City, New Jersey that day. I immediately asked, “Is she married?”

She was single, but was not returning to Benton until the night before Thanksgiving. It was June, and Thanksgiving was five months away.

At that time I was tying a lot of fully dressed Atlantic salmon flies and the owner saw them at a local art show. She said that if I gave her some flies, she would introduce us in November. I went home and immediately brought back a frame of flies and hung them in the restaurant.

As I waited for November, I constantly dreamed of this girl. I stayed busy working and fishing, but I had a hard time keeping her out of my mind. I began to think I was losing my mind because nothing in my entire life had ever affected me like this—not even fishing.

When November finally arrived, I found myself parked in front of the Mortgaged Inn. I went in and sat down. At first I only saw the regular waitresses, but Cathy came out of the kitchen and brought me a glass of water and a menu. I asked her if the owner was in, and she said no. I asked if she will be back later, and again Cathy said no. I panicked!

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Cathy said she would be back to take my order and walked away. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry and found myself lost for words. When she came back all I could do was order a burger and fries . . . how original!

In the end, I bypassed a formal introduction and simply blurted out “Hey, I’m Barry Beck and Sally was supposed to introduce us. Would you consider having a drink with me?”

She smiled in a way that I would learn to love and said “Yes.” Two hours later, we sat across from each other a table at the Central Park Hotel talking about our lives and whatever else we could think of. I was in awe of this girl, and I proposed. At that point neither of us could have ever imagined what our future held for us.

In April 1981, Cathy finally said “yes” and after a small wedding we packed our bags and headed to Slate Run. I hoped to introduce Cathy to a mayfly hatch and some rising trout. Cathy grew up on a farm in a family with eight children, and they had a springhead that became Raven Creek in her backyard. In those days Raven Creek held a healthy population of wild brook trout, so Cathy fished for most of her life but not with a fly rod. For the next year we spent every minute we could on a trout stream. Casting came easily to Cathy, and it wasn’t long before she was outfishing me. Soon afterward, we bought my father’s tackle shop and turned it into a fly-fishing-only store. What would happen next would change our lives forever.

Lefty Kreh

Lefty Kreh and I had been friends for many years. After we opened a fly shop, I decided it was time to take Cathy to meet Lefty and receive some advanced casting lessons. Lefty immediately took Cathy under his wing and spent hours upon hours coaching her and tweaking her casting style. She learned from the greatest teacher of all time.

At one point a few months later, we were both watching Cathy cast and Lefty looked at me and said, “Do you see it? Her loop . . . it’s my loop.”

He was right. We were watching the arrow-point, perfectly formed loop that Kreh was famous for, but Lefty wasn’t casting.

Lefty took Cathy aside and gave her important advice she would live by the rest of her life. He said, “Cathy, there are people in our sport who show off their skills, and then there are people who share their skills. I always want you to be the latter.”

A collage of Cathy Beck images.
(Barry Beck photos)

Years went by and Lefty and Cathy’s friendship continued to grow. We moved our fly shop from Berwick to Benton, Pennsylvania, near Fishing Creek where we became a destination and mail-order fly shop.

Our business grew, and soon we received a letter from The Orvis Company offering us a job in marketing. They wanted us to promote Orvis products in our schools, casting clinics, and in our hosted travel, which we were doing on our own at that time. My father’s original tackle shop was one of the first Orvis dealers in the state and our fly shop was an Orvis shop and we already sold a lot of Orvis gear. The contract sat on our kitchen table as we kicked the idea around. We were elated. We always had a good relationship with the company and with the Perkins family. At that time, Orvis was doing more than any other organization to promote our sport, and we felt honored by the offer.

The next morning Lefty called Cathy just to say hello. She excitedly told Lefty about the Orvis offer, and he immediately asked her not to sign it. She was surprised. Lefty had great things to say about Orvis, but he wanted us both to join him at Sage.

Lefty asked us to give him 24 hours, and the next day, Marc Bale, vice president of marketing and sales at Sage, called and made a counter offer. In the end, our choice wasn’t based on the money, it was about friendships. Cathy needed to be with Lefty, to be on the same team, attend the same events, be aligned on the same products, work with the same designers. Lefty chose us to be on his team, and we trusted his judgment.

A few years later, another call from Lefty changed our lives. Lefty had been hosting trips for a Pennsylvania-based company called Frontiers International, but was unable to continue as he had just taken a job working for his good friend Johnny Morris at Bass Pro Shops. Lefty said it would be a personal favor to him if we would consider filling his role at Frontiers, as he had deep respect and admiration for the Fitzgerald family and wanted to make sure they continued to thrive. We happily filled his shoes at Frontiers and have enjoyed 31 years of hosting trips for them around the world. Cathy passed away suddenly in February 2024 while we were hosting a trip for Frontiers at Estancia Laguna Verde in Argentina. She spent the day helping others, and on her last day of fishing caught a gorgeous rainbow trout herself.

Cathy always said that taking the job at Frontiers was one of the best decisions that we had ever made. She had the greatest respect for the Fitzgerald family and the whole team at Frontiers as it evolved over the years.

Author/Photographer

After we started working for Frontiers, Nick Lyons from Lyons Press called Cathy and proposed that Cathy write a fly-fishing handbook. She had never done such a thing and told Nick that she was not the right person. “I wouldn’t even know how to start,” she told Nick. He replied that writing a book is just like fishing a pool in a large river—you get in and take one cast and one step at a time.

Cathy Beck holding a very large rainbow trout.
Cathy Beck passed away Feb. 7, 2024, at Estancia Laguna Verde Lodge, Argentina. She caught this trout that day, and her husband Barry Beck snapped the photo. She posted the image to Instagram in her usual cheery tone, saying “The rainbows keep coming . . .” (Barry Beck photo)

That evening, the pressure mounted. Lefty called and said “Cathy, you need to write this book.”

“Lefty, I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t even own a computer.” Two days later, Lefty showed up at our house, unloaded his own computer, and said “Okay, you need to get to work.”

The result was Cathy Beck’s Fly-Fishing Handbook. Together we also published Fly-Fishing the Flats, and collaborated on many other book projects.

A lot of people were not aware of the fact that Cathy was an excellent photographer, and that she was as comfortable with her Nikon as she was with her favorite Sage Method. One of her favorite images was a silhouette of a grizzly bear in Alaska that appeared in the Patagonia catalog. Cathy was a huge fan of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and for his commitment to protect our wild places. Nothing is more important. Our rods, reels, and everything else are useless if we lose the beautiful places where wild fish and animals can thrive.

Cathy’s closet is full of Patagonia clothing—some of it is so ragged and worn out that I begged her to throw it out, but she always said, “The more worn they were the more character they have.” Who was I to argue?

Cathy loved Africa. Every photo safari we hosted there was a new adventure, a chance to immerse ourselves in the culture and photograph some of the most majestic animals in the world. Our Africa wildlife image file now holds over 200,000 images. Africa was a breath of fresh air to Cathy that gave her a chance to reset and recalibrate for another year of fishing trips.

Growing and Nurturing

Whenever we were home, Cathy found time to work in her flower garden. It was a place of solitude for her where she could relax and think about how blessed we were by our friends, our family, our career, and the opportunities we’ve had to see the world.

She learned her love of gardening and nature from her mom, Lavenia, who she was close to all her life. We built our cabin on a piece of land we bought from Cathy’s parents so we’ve always lived adjacent to their farm, and were both deeply involved in caring for our parents until the ends of their lives.

There’s no question in my mind that Cathy’s greatest joys were her grandchildren. Ethan and Henri live in New England, and Bridger and Colter live on a horse farm 50 yards from our cabin in the woods. When we were home, Bridger and Colter were always with Cathy, and she absolutely loved it. She loved to go fishing, sledding, ice skating, swimming, and playing in the creek with the boys and prized that time above all else. Her grandkids also played soccer, and Cathy was their biggest fan. She rarely missed a game when she was home. Her greatest wish was that she could watch the boys grow up and someday be a great-grandmother.

Faith was always a significant part of Cathy’s life. When we were home, she taught an adult Sunday school class and she was always involved in church projects. In the last month of Lefty Kreh’s life, Cathy and Lefty had many long talks about faith and God. Lefty was agnostic through most of he life. He had questions about God and an afterlife. He just wasn’t sure what would come next for him. Cathy offered any advice she could, and shared her own personal beliefs, trying her best to put Lefty’s mind at ease. In her last conversation with Lefty, she hung up the phone and just sat and cried. I asked her, “What’s wrong?” She smiled at me through her tears and said, “Lefty’s going to be all right.”

Ego was simply not in Cathy’s vocabulary, in fact she preferred not to talk about herself. She would talk to anyone about anything from farm equipment and Range Rovers to birds, children, butterflies, or any other of God’s creations. I always admired how she was such a good listener, and could carry on a conversation with anyone from any walk of life or any part of the world. Her ability to “connect” was one of her best attributes and the primary reason she had so many friends who could confide in her.

We were often wrongly referred to as fly fishing’s “first couple.” That bothered her when she heard it, and whenever she could she’d say, “Thank you for the thought, but Lee and Joan Wulff will always be fly fishing’s first couple and Joan Wulff will always be the first lady of fly fishing.” Joan Wulff was one of Cathy’s heroes—a person she always looked up to. Cathy was always quick to give credit where credit was due, whether it was to other fly tiers, guides, casting authorities, or authors. She spent her time building up her peers, and was well aware of the history of our sport and the great many people who make it special. When she taught, it wasn’t just about the fly casting, it was about the history and traditions of our sport, the people in it, and the opportunities we have to enrich our experience by learning our own history.

Cathy’s wishes were cremation and a celebration of life when the flowers are in bloom. That wish will be honored. Cathy touched a lot of people and will live in our hearts forever.


Barry Beck lives in Benton, Pennsylvania, where he offers fly-fishing schools and guided fishing on Fishing Creek. For more than 40 years he has traveled the world with his late wife, Cathy, with fly rods and cameras, documenting everything from African safaris to South American golden dorados and New Zealand brown trout.  barryandcathybeck.com | Instagram: @barryandcathybeck




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