Photo by Hank Bales
Russ Mason sits watching for the stonefly hatch on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle in 2009.
It’s the great conundrum.
Sportsmen – hunters and anglers alike – enjoy most their time in the woods and on the water, away from the crowds, and especially the cacophony of what is all too often plugged-in modern life.
In a perfect world, they could spend all of their time there. The weather would always be pleasant, the trout always rising, the whitetails always approaching from downwind.
Threats to wild places and wild creatures would be unheard of.
Sadly, that’s not reality.
People who care not for such things would pollute, corrupt and defile. Sometimes from ignorance. Sometimes from greed. Often from both.
What to do?
The easy – if shortsighted – thing is stay out there, casting and blasting. The hard choice is to sacrifice some of that precious time afield to fight for conservation.
That’s what Russell “Russ” Mason did. A charter member of the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited, he died on Jan. 16.
The chapter wrote a tribute to mark his passing, but also to note his work on behalf of those who would enjoy special things and special places outdoors. It follows, in part, here:
Russ was named by author Mike Klimkos in his book “Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Movement in Pennsylvania” as one of “the lions, one of the people that made Trout Unlimited the most powerful voice for coldwater conservation in Pennsylvania.”
Fellow charter member Frank Felbaum described Russ as “dedicated, inspired, committed, dependable, organizer, leader, educator and a man of integrity who loved the natural world.”
Russ Mason was among the first trout anglers in Pennsylvania to “get” the concept of Trout Unlimited, that “if we take care of our trout streams, our trout fishing will take care of itself.” Speaking up for our environment took guts in 1963 when Russ joined the new Pennsylvania Chapter of Trout Unlimited, now the Penn’s Woods West Chapter in Pittsburgh.
Russ kept good company back then. With Ken Sink, for whom the Indiana County chapter is named, Russ helped build a new TU chapter in Cambria County, the Mountain Laurel Chapter, and in 1973 in Westmoreland County, our Forbes Trail Chapter. A lifelong learner and avid reader, Russ took to heart the central thesis of Vince Marinaro’s 1950 classic “A Modern Dry Fly Code.” To paraphrase: There’s more to trout fishing than catching trout. If an angler doesn’t understand why he did or didn’t catch a trout, if he doesn’t work to understand trout bugs and behavior, then the fun soon passes and the angler never truly finds the sport rewarding.
During his formative fly fishing years, with his fly fishing partner Jim Elliot, Russ journeyed eastward most weekends to Cumberland Valley’s Le Tort Run to fish under the watchful and critical eyes of mentor Charlie Fox. Members of the Forbes Trail Chapter benefited greatly from the lessons Russ Mason carried back from Pennsylvania’s “Holy Water”.
Hard-core fly fishing enthusiasts particularly appreciated Russ’ life-like stonefly patterns. He was in a league of his own. Russ pioneered the use of metal templates to burn Plecoptera body parts, an esoteric pastime to be sure. But the results tempted with regularity big browns to rise from the depths of the trophy trout section of the Youghiogheny River, Russ’s favorite late-in-life fly fishing destination.
The Forbes Trail Chapter created the special role, director emeritus, for him, and established the C. Russell Mason Fly Fisher of the Year Award. He will be missed.