David and I made Montana our adopted summer home for many years. David felt more at home there than any place he ever lived. The summer of 2008 turned out to be his last year there. After a difficult summer of digestive problems and back pain, he was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the Fall. He died in August 2009. During the winter, he continued with as normal a life as possible, building rods, taking pictures, and developing his photo journals.
David was born and raised in Johnstown, PA. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1965 he followed me to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and started teaching high school English. David and I met when I was 16 and he 20. We married two years later. As he started his teaching career I started to college. Four years later I joined him teaching art. David always had great fun interacting with his students and felt he learned many important life lessons.
As a little kid growing up in Pennsylvania, David had the good fortune to have an older teenage brother willing to take a little boy fishing from an early age. In the late 1940's most people kept the fish they caught on worms and spinners. Pennsylvania was one of the first areas to have streams designated catch-and-release. David and his brother soon transitioned to fly fishing and relished the idea of returning the native trout to their sparkling habitat. David was a natural born engineer/mechanic, having an innate instinct for designing and making things and a personality needing a creative outlet. In his early teens he made his first fly rod, which he perfected over the years. After 22 years of teaching, he decided he wanted a new challenge. He started his business, Performance Fly Rods, selling his custom fly rods at fly fishing shows on the east coast and through his web site.
David's first two-week adventure to Montana in the early 1980's turned into a long-lasting love affair with the beauty of the state and the native trout species that live there. His early competitive desire to catch lots of fish transitioned into a desire to meld with the beauty of his favorite isolated haunts and a reverence for the beauty of the different species he caught.
David has always had many hobbies and interests - making and flying model airplanes, boat building, woodworking, target shooting, making guns, motorcycles, (he had a shop for awhile), bicycles. Being strong, small and slight, he was a superb cyclist. We had a tandem we enjoyed for many years. In recent years he really enjoyed his mountain bikes, particularly rides in the national forest adjacent to our home near West Yellowstone. Very early in his life he became fascinated with photography, setting up a dark room and developing his own photographs. Photography continued to be an important part of his life. Many years ago he started photographing the special places he fished and the beautiful fish he caught. When he started his business and the age of computers dawned, he designed his own web site, adding his photographs of his rods and pictures that he or I took in our many excursions into trout habitat. He eventually started to combine his photographs with his extensive writing and placed them here on his web site as photo journals.
David has always had tremendous energy and vitality and every day was full of energetic work or play. With his cancer diagnosis in November came a resolve to keep on doing the things he loved. He eschewed the commonly held refrain of "fighting cancer". He did not want to waste a minute of his precious time creating negative energy. He continued to build fly rods all winter and into spring. He then had a number of ideas for photo journals he wanted to complete during the spring. His last fishing destinations were the small mountain streams in Virginia and the spring streams of his native Pennsylvania. At times with great difficulty, he was able to finish those journals. You will find them under Photo Journals: additions for 2009.
We are presented with many challenges in life. We define ourselves by our response to them. How David dealt with this final challenge was an inspiration and gift to me and I am sure to others.
I will share some of David's thoughts during his last year:
I look forward to life as it comes to me and feel blessed at every turn. I never go fishing with a sunset expected at the end of the day, but I'm pleased if there happens to be one. I just take it as it is handed to me. I figure if you keep chasing those sunsets and rainbows, you'll always be ten steps ahead of what you missed along the way.
Perpetual optimism drives me to thinking Mary Lu will enjoy healing and peace in her remaining years. The little bit of time I have left surely engages the same optimism. I fully intend to enjoy every minute of it. I intend to be as productive as I've ever been. I've enjoyed perhaps more rewarding personal contacts than I ever have before. I've encountered a peace and tranquility in facing death that I never knew possible. The feelings of completion are almost overwhelming. I know how truly fortunate I am to be able to move on without any regrets.
I don't believe you leave your soul behind, you rather carry along the spirits of all you have come to know in your brief span here to your death and beyond, perhaps. Comfort is knowing you have been a part of all you have known and the assurance that you have done your best by it all. I have no regrets, no losses, no empty passages of time, only warmth and love for it all as I move on to my final wanderings.
There just seems an overwhelming warmth that descends on you when you are surrounded by folks who care, with long term and long distance friends who have you in their thoughts and carry you along as part of their soul.
I have my best friend with me and my cat and my chickens and no need to chase after anything unrealistic. I think I'm pretty lucky.
After those short early visits to Montana in the early 1980's, we started spending our summers there. And after I retired from teaching we were spending 6 months in Montana. Early on David had kept a fishing journal, at first mostly a fish count. It gradually turned into a lengthy daily journal of places, experiences, and photographs. At the end of each summer he printed out a copy of what he called "The Big Book". I'm hoping at some point to add some of that writing to this site. As anyone who knew him can attest, he was totally averse to any fisherman divulging favorite fishing haunts. He tried to protect small intimate fishing destinations from publicity. He was well known for his fictitious Bumblechook Creek.
Due to missed communications, David's web site was accidentally removed from the server he was using. And somebody now has his old domain name, PerformanceFlyRods.com. I'm hoping with word of mouth, people will be able to find this new site, DaveLewisFlyrods.com. I know he had a lot of fans who enjoyed his writing and photographs.
I will leave his web site up for people to enjoy. This message is the first update to the site that I have made. Much of the site is not up to date, including the rod catalog. I may never do anything further with that. Even though a lot of things are not current, I know a lot of customers and rod builders enjoy looking at his pictures of rods and components.
I still have some rods to sell plus lots of components. I'm hoping that next year I will have organized myself and decided how I want to accomplish that. I will put an announcement on this site at that time.
I frequently have people contacting me with rod building questions. David often talked about writing a rod building book. I wish he had done that. He was very inventive, a consummate craftsman, and his photographs of rods will probably never be surpassed. Although I worked with him in his business and observed everything he did, I was not interested in the minutia of rod building and would not be able to answer your rod building questions.
I would like to thank all of David's customers over the years. He loved building rods and interacting with the people who bought his rods and made his business successful. He particularly enjoyed writing and sharing his journals with others.
I know David corresponded with many of you about rod building and fishing. If any of you have correspondence or contributions he made to the various fishing forums that you think would be a good addition to this site, please share them with me.
Thanks to all our friends and customers,
You can contact me at:
5798 Singers Glen Road
Harrisonburg, VA 22802