American males, slumped in front of the tube, putting on a pot and approaching 40, arise! Take as your example in life Richard A. Wolters. To middle-aged millions reared on the unrequited dreams of Walter Mitty or diverted by the brilliant ineptitudes of George Plimpton, the positive achievements of Dick Wolters offer direction, inspiration and thrust.
Thirteen years ago Wolters was just another weary commuter, slogging home to a loving family, a relaxing drink and an hour in an easy chair. Then he discovered sports, and now, at the age of 49, he is a distinguished (and sometimes controversial) fly-fisherman, skeet shooter, retriever trainer, sailplane enthusiast and author of five books, Beau, a sporting memoir, Gun Dog, Water Dog, Family Dog and Instant Dog. The owner of multitudes of equipment, some of it ingeniously self-devised, he has a customized camper that draws wows on the back roads of Maine and Montana. In Manhattan he is a pillar of the Midtown Turf, Yachting and Polo Association, where he lunches with the likes of Lee Wulff, Ed Zern, Ernie Schwiebert and other mahouts of the outdoors. Wolters is generous with advice, even among his peers, and comparative strangers often phone him to inquire about hatches on the Batten Kill, the proper discipline for a listless Labrador or the name of a good little parachute rigger. Wolters is pleased to serve as a guru; as a matter of fact, he resembles one. He has a bushy mustache, and for the past three years he has allowed his naturally thick head of hair to grow almost to his shoulders, with the result that he looks rather like Hal Holbrook playing
Mark Twain Tonight. Dressed in a vintage Abercrombie suit, his hatband studded with field-trial pins, he is a sight to remember.
Wolters did not become interested in sports until he was 36. Like many another American male homing in on middle age, he was too busy with a career and building a home to get involved. He played tennis as a youngster in Philadelphia, but he gave it up when he went to Perm State to study chemistry. Upon graduation in 1942 he went into rocket and then atomic research for the government. He took part in A-bomb tests in Nevada and the Pacific but, bored with research, he gambled on turning his hobby of photography into a living. He succeeded and became a magazine photographer.
In 1954 he became the first picture editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and soon thereafter, more or less in line of duty, was persuaded to go fishing. He returned to the office proudly bearing a 4�-inch trout—a catch that should have got him arrested but instead set him on fire. "Given the way I've always embarked on projects, I'm sure that had I been on a construction magazine I would have learned to operate a crane," he says. "But suppose I'd been on a woman's magazine?"
Fly-fishing helped establish two basic rules that Wolters has since followed in choosing a sport.
1) The sport must be readily available. Fly-fishing was only minutes away on the Amawalk, an excellent stream in northern Westchester.
2) The sport must be within reach financially so that he can afford the best in equipment and accommodations. "I must go first cabin." he says.
Wolters is very methodical, and when he began fishing the Amawalk he kept a log noting stream conditions, water temperatures, fly hatches and the number of trout caught. In 1956 he fished a total of 45 times and caught 11 trout, much to the merriment of his friends. After the season ended he practiced casting on his lawn and started tying flies.
He built a rotary tying vise from sundry spare parts, including a shaft stripped from a motor his son Roger found in the street, and he constructed his own tying table. He also designed a fishing jacket with all sorts of special pockets. "Anything I go into I go completely whole hog," he says. "I go all the way out. I don't fiddle around watching television."
In his second year on the Amawalk, Wolters improved. He fished 50 times and caught 166 fish. Having learned his basics, he began fishing elsewhere in the East, and he even made a special trip to England to fish the Test. He set new goals for himself, to fish with the tiniest of flies and to catch and release the limit of trout every time he fished the Amawalk. He was very fond of fishing and the men he met in the sport. One of his best friends was the late Jack Randolph, the outdoor columnist for
The New York Times
, who on occasion made Wolters the subject of jokes or misadventures. Wolters did not mind, because, as he says, "I enjoy humor, especially the give-and-take between friends." Randolph sometimes got as good as he gave. Once he spent a baffling afternoon on a stream casting some flies Wolters had tied, and every time a fly hit the water, the feathers would disappear. Wolters, who was hiding nearby and chuckling to himself, had used sugared water instead of lacquer to glue the feathers to the hook.