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Ed Shenk Influenced Us All

Ed Shenk Influenced Us All
Ed Shenk “master of the Letort” and the creator of the Letort Hopper passed away on April 10, 2020. Cathy & Berry Beck Photo

Ed Shenk, a Pennsylvania icon and a man who left a lasting legacy on the sport of fly fishing passed away peacefully on April 10, 2020. He was 93 years old.

Almost all fly fishers have been impacted by Ed Shenk in some way, whether they know it or not. His home water was Letort Spring Run where he shared the water, and ideas, with other leading fly fishers of the day such as Vincent Marinaro and Charlie Fox.

He wrote 18 articles for Fly Fisherman magazine starting with “The Cress Bug” in the January 1972 issue. He was a great observer, and most significant contributions were transferring what he saw in nature to his fly-tying vise. He created and wrote about the Letort Hopper, Letort Cricket, Shenk Cress Bug, Shenk Sculpin, and Shenk White Minnow. And while many of these flies have since evolved into more complex variations with synthetic materials, Shenk and his peers laid the groundwork for how we imitate trout food sources both at the vise and in our on-the-water presentations. Stories like “Sculpinating Trout” (March 1985) started trends that we are still following today. The last story he wrote for Fly Fisherman was the obituary for his friend, fishing companion, and another legend of the sport. His story “Charles K. Fox; 1908-1997” was published in the July 1997 issue.

He wrote one book Fly Rod Trouting (Stackpole Books, 1989).

Ed Shenk was among a group of fly fishing great who were invited to Camp David in 1980 to give President Jimmy Carter private fly-fishing and fly-tying instruction. Among those present were Fly Fisherman editor John Randolph, Vince Marinaro, Eric Leiser, Ed Shenk, Cathy and Barry Beck, and Tom Maxwell of Thomas & Thomas rods.

“Ed was not only a friend, but a mentor,” says Barry Beck. “When I was 17 I took my first road trip to Montana with Ed and it was a trip I will always remember. We lived on Pepsi and hot dogs and we stayed in Montana until our money ran out. Ed was a true trout hunter long before the term became popular. He had a natural ability to find big trout. And, along with his fishing skills he was an innovative fly tier. He’s a friend that I will always miss.” 

Ed Shenk was among a group of fly fishers who went to Camp David Maryland in 1980 to teach President Jimmy Carter how to cast and tie flies. In this photo, Ed Shenk is on the left wearing a black shirt. Eric Leiser is tying, and Vince Marinaro is sitting at the picnic table across from President Jimmy Carter. John Randolph photo

At the gathering, Shenk jokingly told the president of the United States "Your casting stinks" but once he had the right instruction, Carter went on to become a lifelong fly fisher and eventually wrote articles for Fly Fisherman and The New York Times on the joys of fly fishing.

The 1980s was period experienced of huge growth in the sport of fly fishing, and Shenk was one of the great teachers who passed knowledge along to newcomers like Jimmy Carter.

Ed Shenk (black shirt) showed President Jimmy Carter how to tie flies at Camp David in 1980. Shenk was the creator of fly patterns like the Letort Hopper, Letort Cricket, Shenk’s Cress Bug and Shenk’s Sculpin.

Shenk was inducted into the PA Fly Fishing Museum in 2016. 

"Perhaps the real significance of Ed Shenk lies not just in his expertise and many individual accomplishments, but as a carrier of the torch and a link between the founders of the limestone tradition and the next generation of fly-fishers to whom the torch will be passed," Thomas E. Baltz wrote in the book, "The LeTort: A Limestone Legacy."

Shenk was a graduate of Carlisle High School and Penn State University and served in the U. S. Air Force. The last 27 years of his career were with the Tri-County Planning Commission in Pennsylvania.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the PA Fly Fishing Museum in Carlisle.


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