The Angler's Cove is a fishing tackle store that seems somehow out of place among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. It stands at 478 Third Avenue (near 33 Street), but its atmosphere is like the old cracker barrel store in a country village. Trout fishermen meet at the Cove to exchange reverent lies about such hallowed eastern trout streams as the Beaver Kill, Batten Kill, Neversink, Delaware and Esopus. They are insiders, who delight in using such terms as hackles, droppers, line belly, leader tippets and the bucktail versus the streamer. They usually meet at the Cove during the lunch hour and are often joined by a 6-foot-4 native of Brooklyn whose booming voice and downright personality leave little doubt that he is the head man at the Cove. Bob Zwirz, a 254-pounder in whose hamlike hands a delicate fly rod looks like a toothpick, has fished with the long rod since the age of 7. At 39, the energetic Zwirz has made fishing both his business and avocation. When a fisherman comes to the Cove for an assortment of flies, Zwirz will subject him to an intensive interrogation on where, when and how he is going to fish. Zwirz then tells his own experiences on whatever stream it happens to be and, with a friendly bluntness, selects his own favorite flies for the customer.
The fly rod makes a comeback
A former advertising and public relations executive, Zwirz became a partner in the Cove in 1956 and bought it out three years later. "Glad" Zwirz, his wife (a blonde), became a fisherwoman when her husband planned their nine-and-a-half-month honeymoon to coincide with fishing seasons in 1955. Mrs. Zwirz, who used to be a professional singer and dancer, runs the Cove during her husband's frequent fishing sorties, and follows his example in giving customers fishing counsel, whether they ask for it or not.
Although the Cove sells equipment for spinning, surf casting and bait casting, it is mostly favored by the fly-fisherman, a dedicated sportsman who takes pride in his knowledge of artificial flies, leader sizes and the insect hatches on the stream he fishes. The fly rod is making a comeback in popularity with American anglers and—according to Zwirz—spinning enthusiasts are switching to fly-fishing, out of curiosity and the challenge in trying something new.
"The fly-fisherman works for his trout," Zwirz points out. "He uses a light rod, a spiderweb leader and an assortment of tiny artificial flies, and he catches fish regularly only if he is extremely well versed in technique and in patience." Rod manufacturers have taken advantage of this switch to fly-fishing and have aided the money-conscious angler by offering high quality fly rods with surprisingly live actions at a reasonable price. At least four fiberglass models costing less than $20 are offered at the Cove.
In addition to the frail-looking fly rod, which can also be had in tonkin bamboo for upward of $70, the Cove has a colorful assortment of custom-dressed flies and clever pocket-size compartment boxes to store them in, thigh-and chest-high waders, bottled liquids to make a dry fly float and a wet fly sink, and intriguing collections of fly-tying materials ranging from Jungle Cock eyes to deer body hair.
Advice is given free
But whatever they buy, anglers go to the Cove to find out where the fishing is good. Zwirz keeps in constant touch with fishing-camp operators, guides and charter-boat captains and passes their information on to his customers. Though they have a common interest in fishing conditions, the customers are as different as a Black Gnat artificial and a Green Drake. One customer, a wealthy Boston industrialist, makes a special trip to New York each year and insists on having lunch with Zwirz before spending a small fortune on fishing gear. Another is a Manhattan garage mechanic who had to save for a year to afford one of Zwirz' custom bamboo fly rods and apologized for his "dirty appearance" when he arrived in his work clothes to buy the rod.
The Cove employs nine private fly-tiers. One, a specialist in streamer flies, is a vice-president of a Manhattan bank and ties "for relaxation." Most artificial flies sold at the Cove are copies of old English, Scottish and contemporary American patterns and are tied to imitate insects in their several forms and stages. Flies are generally classified as nymphs, the larval stage; wets, the pupal stage, and dries, the emergent winged fly.
Besides old and accepted patterns, the Cove sells a number of "exotics" designed by its tiers. One is the Native Dancer, tied in cerise, white and blue, the colors of the silks of Alfred G. Vanderbilt's famous race horse. Another exotic fly is the Olive Dun, a variation on an old Scottish pattern, in which four kinds of fur (Chinese monkey, English seal, gray fox and muskrat) are combined to produce the olive-hued body.
From January to the opening of trout season in April, Mrs. Zwirz supervises fly-tying clinics at the Cove. For experienced tiers who need "extra finishing touches" and beginners who don't know the difference between a saddle hackle and a hair wing, these clinics are conducted at two tables set up near the front window of the store. Passers-by stop to stare at the fly vises and piles of brilliantly colored animal hair, tinsel and feathers. After six one-and-a-half-hour lessons, Mrs. Zwirz says, the average person can tie a respectable fly.
A spellbinder finds an audience
Naturally, fishing stories get careful attention at the Cove, even when their authenticity may be doubtful. Recently an unshaven man in a heavy, checkered wool shirt wandered into the Cove and asked if there was a locksmith in the neighborhood. Before Zwirz could answer, the man's attention was drawn to a large salmon pattern of the Thunder 'n' Lightning fly lying on a counter.
"Hey!" the visitor said suddenly. "See that fly there? I caught my first Atlantic salmon on one of those. Yeah, I'll be damned. It was about 30 years ago, I guess, and I was back home in Quebec and...." The noontime crowd at the Cove listened silently. When he finished, the visitor waited for a challenge but it never came. His French-Canadian accent and his earnest manner caught up the customers and left them in a trance. When he left, it was time for the noon crowd to return to their jobs.
"Happens all the time," Zwirz sighed. "When you hear a story like that, guys begin getting misty-eyed and dreamy. And you know what happens? They forget to buy what they came for."