On a rainy spring day in 1958, Bob Abraham Sr., of Thurmont, was driving through Catoctin Mountain Park when he saw a fly fisherman walking along the road. He stopped and offered the angler a ride to his vehicle that was parked at the Camp Peniel parking lot.
Abraham was working for the Maryland Department of Natural resources as a game warden. The angler accepted the ride and introduced himself as Gurney Godfrey from Baltimore. He informed the warden that he was in the area that weekend for the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock Campfire being held nearby at Camp Airy in Thurmont.
“Gurney held his fly rod out of the vehicle window as we traveled down the road and we exchanged conversation,” Abraham said.
Godfrey thanked Abraham for the ride and invited him to supper that evening at the camp.
Abraham attended the dinner wearing his uniform. He joined BOJC that evening, sponsored by Godfrey. That chance encounter was the start of a great friendship between the two fly fisherman and the beginning of a close connection between Abraham and the BOJC program.
Take a ‘boy a-fishing’
The BOJC organization was founded in 1940 in the Catoctin Mountains of Frederick County by a group of conservation-minded fly fishermen. The organization has grown, with chapters in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As stated in the creed of the BOJC, adult members pledge to “annually take at least one boy a-fishing, instructing him, as best we know, in the responsibilities that are soon to be wholly his.” The creed is prominently displayed on the BOJC monument located alongside Big Hunting Creek in Thurmont.
This past weekend, Camp Airy hosted a total of 365 BOJC attendees that included 179 boys and their adult sponsors from 16 different states. A total of 44 boys were new to the program this year. Attendees are housed in modern cabins and meals are served in a central dining hall. Camp Airy has two spring-fed stocked ponds on-site, one of which is named for Godfrey. The camp is near several excellent local trout streams that are also stocked with trout for the annual event.
After joining the BOJC organization in 1958, Abraham became very active in the program. He was elected to the board of directors and eventually held the position of president, from 1976-77. Abraham has become the friendly and welcoming face of the organization. Currently, at 86 years young, Abraham is still very active. He attends the annual BOJC weekend, and he can be found stationed under a canopy between the two ponds at Camp Airy with dozens upon dozens of hand-tied flies displayed on a table for the young anglers to use.
The budding anglers are taught, by experienced volunteers, the many components necessary to become a skilled fly fisherman. The BOJC seven-year instructional program is truly an exemplary educational experience. Boys ages 8 or older start with the basics of angling and continue each year, culminating with the opportunity to fish with the masters.
In addition to fly-casting instruction, the boys take classes that are reinforced with streamside instruction that teach a variety of topics, including conservation and outdoor ethics, reading the water, entomology, terminal tackle, equipment maintenance, knots, fly tying, and even rod building and net making for the older boys.
Young anglers seek out Abraham for his trusted advice on fly selection, and Abraham offers his encouragement. When they are successful, they eagerly run to show off their prize catch and share their fish story.
A true fish story
Thomas Burrill, a 11-year-old who lives in West Virginia, has a fish story that is worth retelling. Thomas was attending the camp for the first time with his uncle, Ron Burrill, of Thurmont. Things were not going his way, having lost two fish earlier that morning on the pond. The first large fish broke the line, and another threw the hook as Thomas struggled to control the fish with the fly rod. I assisted the young angler by tying a stronger leader, and I demonstrated how to keep the line taut while stripping in a fish. When an even bigger fish took his fly soon after, Thomas was ready.
Thomas set the hook, and the battle began. Ron Burrill grabbed the landing net and coached his nephew while a crowd gathered on the banks of the pond to watch the fight. The fish made several runs, forcing Thomas to give out line and then work the fish closer to the bank again and again. The big fish tested the integrity of the leader with every run. When the behemoth was finally lifted from the water in the net, cheers erupted from onlookers. The trout taped out at just under 25 inches and weighed 5.5 pounds!
This was the first fish Thomas had successfully hooked and landed on a fly rod. What impressed me about Thomas was how he realized that his trophy catch was not all about himself. His success was a culmination of what he had learned the night before in the classroom and the instruction that he received on the pond that morning. So, after catching the fish, he wanted photos not only with his uncle and myself, but also with “Mr. Abraham” and the other instructors helping with the first-year program.
Ron Burrill had much to say about his nephew’s experience at BOJC that weekend. “Five years ago, I was honored to be invited by Bob Abraham to the BOJC weekend. It was a privilege to mentor my grandson then and now I am thrilled to once again be a mentor for my nephew,” he said. “The instructors just give and give and give, there are no self-serving motives.”
Once a young person like Thomas is introduced to fishing it can easily become part of their life. It is an activity that bonds family and friends. Fishing is a sport that knows no boundaries. It becomes a life-long passion that opens the doors to new friends and new adventures. The BOJC event is a gathering of anglers who become friends for life and who will work together to conserve the resource and pass it on to the next generation.