Coming off a well deserved Emmy Award win this week for his performance in the HBO series “Barry,” you would think Henry Winkler would be hitting up Hollywood parties in style, but the iconic actor is actually dreaming of his upcoming fly-fishing adventure to Montana and a recent family expedition in Idaho, all while dusting his new Emmy statue.
An accomplished sportsman who meticulously records the measurements of every fish he hooks, actor Henry Winkler has learned that his seasonal fly fishing trips throughout American rivers are not just about catching trout. They are about adopting the proper perspectives on life, where fly fishing recharges him and reminds him that anything is possible.
Henry Winkler grew up in New York City and had a summer home on Lake Mahopac upstate. He spent most of his young life with low self-esteem and having difficulty at school due to undiagnosed dyslexia. His insecurities continued even after becoming a sex symbol as the macho, leather jacket wearing Fonzie on the hit television series â€śHappy Days.â€ť
Fly fishing was one of the biggest challenges he ever took on and became successful at, which boosted his confidence. The beauty of the sport and the landscape inspired his interest in photography, and subsequently, he wrote the bestseller â€śIâ€™ve Never Met an Idiot on the Riverâ€ť where he reflects on his family, photography and his extreme passion for fly-fishing.
I sat down with Henry at his rambling, modest estate in Los Angeles where we spent hours talking about his love for the sport and how to this day he will never eat a trout. Winkler is one of those rare souls in Hollywood that welcomes you with an open heart and instantly makes you feel comfortable and at home. Just donâ€™t enter his sacred space when he is fishing, and all will be fine.
Winkler has been fishing since the 80â€™s when a good friend first taught him and his wife Stacey how to cast lines in his swimming pool. He still recalls his first adventure, â€śWe were in a boat and floating down the river, and I was just learning to cast, and I couldn’t get itâ€ť Winkler says, â€śI caught one fish, and it was the runt of the litter. I lifted it out of the water, and it flew over my head, got off the hook, and I literally sent it to another zip code. It was sadly no bigger than the palm of my hand. That was my entire catch for the five days down the river.â€ť
They have now become experts in the art of traveling to exotic locations for their fly fishing expeditions, â€śThe greatest thing is I just get on the plane for my fishing trips with just my rods and a backpackâ€ť says Winkler, â€śI send everything else in advance by UPS. That way I donâ€™t have to worry about checking a bag. I do all my own packing, and Stacey does her own because she has many more specific things she needs. SO many more things.â€ť
Henry and Stacey became addicted to their fishing expeditions but rarely see each other during their outings. Stacey walks into the room and tells me â€śI love fishing, but Henry and I cannot go on the same boat. Henry goes into my water space all the time.â€ť Henry interrupts â€śMy fly seems to always go automatically into Staceyâ€™s water. It seems fishy. We literally fish in separate boats and meet up for lunch. It is not at all a competition.â€ť As Stacey leaves the room, she gets the last word. â€śEvery time I have a really good fishing day you can bet that is where Henry is heading the next day.â€ť
Winkler has learned a few tricks on his outings, â€śThe rods now are made out of graphite, and it does the work for you. It is as graceful as a dance, but you cannot use that much force. I only use flies and no lures whatsoever. The fly always depends on the time of day, and it depends on whether you are fishing under the water or on top of the water. There are times when the water is too high, the water has just changed, or if a storm is coming in which affects the bladder of the fish. There are times when fishing on the surface does not work when the water is too cloudy, and they canâ€™t see what is on the surface, so they eat whatâ€™s on the bottom. So, then you nymph which means you fish with a bug that sinks to the bottom and it floats in front of the fish and looks like their meal. Oh my God, itâ€™s just phenomenal.â€ť
One of his fondest memories in Alaska is when he traveled to Enchanted Lake Lodge. â€śWe take off in pontoon planes called Beavers and every day we would fly into a different place where the pilot lands on a puddle,â€ť he says, â€śMaybe itâ€™s a lake, but it looks like your bathtub. We were dropped off for the day and walked on the tundra while using salmon eggs as our bait.â€ť
But donâ€™t expect to see Winkler away from the rivers and on the open Alaskan waters, â€śI wonâ€™t go deep sea fishing. The first time I experienced it, I went salmon fishing. My problem is before I even get to the fish, I have vomited. You have to go out five miles, and you are just throwing a line in and bringing them to the surface. And then you have to go back five miles and all of a sudden the wind comes up, and it gets choppy.â€ť
Winkler is very organized and methodical, and he lays out each dayâ€™s multilayered ensemble the night before. â€śI leave most of my gear in the guides boat overnight,â€ť he says. â€śI have my silk underwear and fishing pants. In my zipper pocket, I have the guides tip for the day, 50 dollars for an emergency, a credit card, and my fishing license. In the pocket of my fishing shirt, I keep a pen and a small notebook. I started my diary in 2004, and I record everything from the weather conditions to what I have on the end of my line and every fish that I catch that day. I also wear my waders because I have been known to fall in almost every trip. There is not a river that I have not fallen in. I have my fishing boots with felt on the bottom.â€ť
â€śI have my cigar cutter. I only smoke once or twice a year, and it is when I’m on the river fishing. My waterproof backpack holds my lighter, my Sony 50mm camera with two lenses. I have biodegradable bathroom tissue and river soap so that it does not harm the river. I have my gloves, extra socks, an army navy knife, and gum. I have a scarf that you can put over your head and face. I have my Simms rain jacket. I have dark chocolate in a plastic bag. I have sunscreen, a felt fishing hat, and every time I have caught a lot of fish on the same fly, I hook it on my hat. Under my seat, I have an ice chest where I keep a bottle of water and my lunch which is the same every day; Fritos and a tuna fish sandwich.â€ť
The sport of fly-fishing is not about hunting for food, but about the excitement of the chase, the skill of the catch, and about communing in nature. â€śI have been known to catch sixty trout in one day,â€ť says Winkler, â€śI always catch and release and donâ€™t even eat Trout. I think they are so majestic. I wonâ€™t eat a trout even in a restaurant. They are beautiful and so much fun, and they give me such joy to catch them that it is my pleasure to take a picture with them, give them a kiss, sign a laminated autographed picture and put it in their mouth. I am hanging in Trout nests all over the West. You never know, they might be watching my HBO series â€śBarry.â€ť