Faces of Fly Fishing: Joe Humphreys

Joe smiling

In anticipation of the worldwide release of the inspiring documentary, “Live The Stream: The Story of Joe Humphreys” Flylords had the honor of spending a few days with Joe, exploring the story of this legendary angler, philanthropist, and teacher. During this time, we were allowed an inside look into the life of an angler who has helped to develop the sport of fly fishing and who has dedicated his life to establishing the values the fly fishing community holds dear today. 

In order to watch his feature documentary as soon as it is released (SVOD, Blu-ray, DVD and more), make sure to check out Live the Stream’s website, or click HERE to pre-order on iTunes for your copy of Joe’s once in a lifetime story. Also, follow Joe Humphreys and Live The Stream on Instagram and Facebook

Flylords: Who is Joe Humphreys?

Joe: I am a 90-year-old man who has lived a, I guess, most unusual life. I’d like to think that through all of the adventures I’ve had, I’ve had a chance to give a message to so many people towards the preservation of our environment. My goal is, this is what we have to do, we have to save it. So, I think maybe the good Lord has put me in this situation where, working through him, I’ve done some good.

joe humphreys

Flylords: How did you first get into Fly Fishing?

Joe: When I was six years old my father took me fishing. He was a novice, we both were naturally, but it was a sport that I ended up loving and it’s an activity that has brought so much happiness, and so much wealth; Not financial wealth, but spiritual wealth, and ever since it’s given me a life of adventure.

joe and friends

Flylords: For somebody who has never picked up a fly rod before, can you give them a reason to start?

Joe: Fly fishing is such a beautiful sport and such an art form. It’s something that anybody can do. There are so many aspects of this a beautiful game, and it’s an exciting challenge.  For somebody to take a fly line, attach a fly to the leader from the line, make the cast, and catch a trout? What a wonderful thing.

joe and a trout

Flylords: as a Hall of Fame wrestler and past wrestling coach for Penn State University, how could you compare wrestling to fly fishing?

Joe: Wrestling and fly fishing? They’re both physical sports. Secondly, the technique is so important. When you’re wrestling you have to set up your takedowns, you’ve got to move your opponent. On the bottom, you’ve got to be explosive. There’s technique and smarts involved, fly fishing is the same thing. You have techniques, you have to adjust when you’re fishing dry flies. You have to have great fly control so that the fly will float perfectly, drag-free. When you’re nymphing you have to make that tough cast at a distance so you can have line control and get the nymph to the bottom. You really have to respect techniques in both aspects of both games.

Joe wrestling
Joe Humphreys (Bottom) Wrestling for Penn State University in 1956. Image courtesy of Live the Stream

Flylords: let’s talk about your movie, “Live the Stream: The Story of Joe Humphreys”. How did this whole project begin?

Joe: Lucas (Director/ Cinematographer) came into my life when I was teaching at Penn State University. He had been putting together a video project for his film class called Penn State Fly Fishing, and asked me if I would help him. I said, “Well, certainly.” So, I did help him and he did extremely well. I think he got an A in the course. Then, maybe 15 years later, he came to me at Lancaster when I was doing a fly fishing show and said, “Would you like to be the subject of Nomadic Studio’s first film on fly fishing?”, and I said, “Yes, I think it would be wonderful.” So as we started to work together, with his wife Meigan, as we’re doing now (interviews by the hour) it was stressful at times, but it was exciting. We filmed over 3 years.

Joe and his crew

Flylords: Over the last few years you let Lucas (Director/Cinematographer), Meigan (Director/ EP), and Alex (Producer) into your life. What was it like working with them for so long, and what was it like letting these people into your life to tell your story?

Joe: It was, here again, a wonderful adventure. There was a lot of bonding and a lot of excitement; a lot of great days on the stream, success, and failures; but with their expertise and their knowledge of production… I was in awe. When it all came forth it was a thing of beauty. I was not only in awe of these two (Lucas and Meigan), I just fell in love with them. We’re family and I’ll never be without them.

Joe and Nomadic
Pictured (left to right): Alex Gasowski, Joe Humphreys, Lucas Bell, Meigan Bell

Flylords: That’s amazing. What do you think about the film, and why do you think somebody should go watch it?

Joe: I think the film has a lot to offer. There’s a message of protecting our environment and what we have to do to preserve it for future generations. One of my favorite subjects, and one thing that I’ve been working so hard on for many years is the restoration of Thompson Run. We made so much progress that has been highlighted throughout the film. There is also the fishing aspect. Have I helped people in this film? Have they watched what I do? Have I given them instruction as a mentor, and are they learning techniques and methods?  I hope so. And are they enjoying the thrill of catching fish? I like to hope so, too. I also think anyone can appreciate this film because it shows the importance of camaraderie and family not only in the fly fishing game but in life itself. 

updated pin


Flylords: What do you think was your favorite part of the film?

Joe: So, there are so many aspects to this film. Meigan and Lucas, the Directors, have done a wonderful job. From the winter scene to the fireside fly tying scene and a Green Drake hatch that we were lucky to get on film, I have so many favorite scenes in the film but I don’t want to give too much away. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

joe fishing

Flylords: Is it true you invented the “bow and arrow cast?”

Joe: A lot of people say, “Well, yeah. The bow and arrow cast. Oh, I’ve done that.” Well, I’m 90. The gentleman that just said, “Oh, I do that.” He wasn’t born yet, nor was his mother. Who knows?! Maybe the Macedonians created it but I’ve been perfecting the bow and arrow cast since the early 1930s and I like to think there are some things I’ve contributed to this game.

Flylords: Can you tell us a little more about this signature cast and how it came to be?

Joe: The bow and arrow cast came to me as a child. I was walking and pursuing brook trout out in the mountains when I was a very tender age. All through my early experience, there was nobody to show me or tell me what to do. We had in this area very few fly fishermen. Necessity is the mother of invention, so there were times when I was on a trout stream that I would make a little flip cast, get the line in the water, and then kick out a line into the currents to place the fly where it had to go. But then, when the water started to drop and there was clarity, those fish fled if I moved the rod around. So, then I learned to get a hold of the line, bend the rod, and basically create a bow and arrow cast.

bow and arrow cast

Flylords: I know night fishing is a really big love of yours. What makes you love it so much? 

Joe: There’s a sense of excitement at night. It’s like the ambiance of the night itself. The sounds of the crickets, the frogs, the noise… it inspires me. To look at the heavens above with all the stars and the moon. I also like it pitch dark because that’s when the big fish really feed. Big trout have excellent vision, but at night it’s not as acute as daytime. So, when I’m working them, I have big wet flies. The pusher types. I commonly use the George Harvey Pusher fly, my own stonefly night flies, or my sculpin patterns. I will cast on top on occasion. Sometimes I’ll go on top just to hear the explosion of a big take. But, I have always felt that the big fish would rather just trap their food underwater and make it easier for themselves.

night fishing
Humphreys night sculpin fly

Flylords: You were night fishing when you caught your state record brown trout. Could you tell us a little bit about that story? 

Joe: I caught the Pennsylvania state record brown trout in 1976. I was fishing this patch of stream in 1974 and I heard a mighty explosion. I thought maybe a deer had jumped into the stream. But then, it went quiet, and I knew that it was a fish. That started my quest. Then, after working this stretch for a few years now in pursuit of this fish, I landed a 26″ trout in that area. I was on a high, and the next night I got a call from my friend Al. He said, “Hump, I’m sick of watching television. Go fishing tonight. I just want to tag along.”

After a few hours in light rain, I had caught a few good-sized fish. It was 1 am and Al wanted to go home. I said, “Just give me one more shot.” I made the cast back under the brush to the far side. I swang two heavy night flies, then the rod stopped. I felt the take. I set the hooks and it was like somebody turned over a washtub. It just was a huge explosion. The fish ran down to a fallen tree. I had a heavy leader and I stopped the run, then worked the trout back to me.

I didn’t have a net, but a net wouldn’t have got that fish in. So, I finally got the fish in front of me. I threw the rod down, jumped in the water, got both arms under him, and threw him up on the bank. Al and I were on our knees looking at that fish and he says, “I’ve never seen a fish this big in my life.” And I said, “Neither have I.” And he says, “Is this a record?” And I said, “It is to me.”

It was 4am and I called up the warden. He said, “Why are you getting me out of bed? Are you in trouble?” I replied “no” and told him I had a fish for him to see. When he saw the fish he looked at me and said, “You’ve got the new record, 34 inches”. We are very lucky in that you can see all of this in the film.

joe record trout
Image courtesy of Live the Stream

Flylords: At 90 years young, what’s your secret to your longevity?

Joe: Always have something exciting to look forward to. All the time. Every day, I have something exciting to look forward to the next day.

joe and car

Live the Stream: The Story of Joe Humphreysis now available for pre-order on iTunes. Watch out for the worldwide release of this documentary on November 5th across all digital platforms – SVOD, DVD, Blu-ray, and more. Sign up for updates on all LTS film info at their official site.

Don’t miss the inspiring life story of Pennsylvania’s fly fishing legend, Joe Humphreys: a man who was born to fly fish, lives to teach, and strives to pass on a respect for our local waters. A visually stunning film, anyone with a pulse can appreciate Joe’s contagious spirit and, at 86-years-young, trout streams are his fountains of youth.  This is an emotion-packed adventure and Joe will catch your heart in this powerful tale of tenacity, life and love. Follow Live the Stream on Instagram and Facebook.

live the stream poster
Image courtesy of Live the Stream

Flylords would like to thank Joe and his family, as well as Nomadic Studio for welcoming us on the stream with Joe and the Nomadic crew. Feel free to follow Nomadic at @NomadicStudio on Instagram for some exclusive Live The Stream and Joe Humphreys content in the coming weeks – stay tuned!

Another special thank you to Black Mountain Cinema, in aiding in capturing these adventures.

Article written by Flylords Team member Wills Donaldson

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