Ted Rogowski was a conservationist, lawyer, angler, photographer, and fly tier. He was a member of AMFF’s founding board in 1968 and went on to be a spirited volunteer of many conservation and fishing organizations throughout his storied life. He photographed and filmed with outdoorsman Lee Wulff, helped form the Environmental Protection Agency, and influenced future generations to become stewards of our land and water.

Ted, who lived in Lew Beach, New York, was born on 20 December 1927 in Chicopee, Massachusetts, and passed away on 5 July 2021 at the age ninety-three. On 7 May 2021, AMFF Executive Director Sarah Foster, Director of Development Samantha Pitcher, and former Deputy Director Yoshi Akiyama visited Ted and his wife Joan Wulff at their home in Lew Beach, where Sam was able to record Ted demonstrating his new tying technique. That video can be found at the end of the interview.

Four weeks later, on June 8, AMFF’s Director of Outreach Matt Smythe had an opportunity to interview Ted Rogowski in connection with his article in the Summer 2021 issue of Fly Tyer magazine, “A Better Way to Tie Mayfly Wings.”


Interview Transcript

Ted Rogowski: One of the important starting times of my fly tying career, it was in the ninth grade at high school and my English teacher on Friday asked for a thesis or theme based on what we do for at the weekend for our pleasure, whether it’s hiking or golf, or tennis, or whatever. Well, I was making model airplanes, balsa and tissue paper and painted them, but I also was fishing. And I was making green grasshoppers, about one inch in length, with the balsa wood stuck to the hook. We raised chickens, so I had feathers for the wings. And I stuck them on and then painted the little critter green with yellow eyes.

So my green grasshopper had to be my theme for what I did, because it was Sunday night and I had to have my paper written up. For the next morning, I wrote a short description of how you tie and make a green grasshopper. And that was like a two-pager with illustrations and 1,2,3,4, etc.

Well, I handed that in and was thinking, oh my God, I’m going to get a C or a D for sure. I should have written about making model airplanes because I know that better. My teacher, Mr. Faye, got to my paper. He looked at me quizzically, looked down at a paper, looked up again at me, and I thought, Oh my god, he’s eyeballing me. I’m really in trouble.

When he finished reading the class papers, he said “Teddy, will you come up, please, to the desk? Class dismissed.”

Well, I sat down for a minute, and then I walked up, and I said “Yes, sir.” And he looked at me, and he said, “Do you tie dry flies?” I’m thinking, Oh my god, he’s a fisherman. Well, Mr. Fey was absolutely astonished having received the paper he received, and he was so pleased. He became my mentor, and he coached me.

He went up in class from ninth grade to high school, all the way up to the senior teacher and became the principal of the school. Meanwhile, I was writing additional articles for him: the dry fly, the streamer fly, the nymph. He kept me going at this work, and it really helped me tremendously.

Chicopee High School has a scholarship to Amherst College for one person each year. I was class president and editor of the newspaper, and I won that scholarship. I often think back to the time these many years later. If it weren’t for that green grasshopper, I never would have been enthusiastic to be mentored by Mr. Faye.

That 100-percent scholarship to Amherst College is a $100,000 scholarship. And so my green grasshopper is in a globe on my desk, and I call it the $100,000 Green Grasshopper.

Matt Smythe: I love that. What a story!

TR: Yes. So that pins down about when I first was serious about making fishing flies. I made fishing flies throughout high school. And when I got to Amherst, low and behold, the president of the college happened to be a fly fisherman, and so I became a fly tyer to the president of Amherst College. You can’t do better than that!

I then formed a fishing club instead of an outing club and we created the first college tournament in fly casting and fishing. We went up against Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts, and maybe Boston College, and we would fish on Saturday in championship fly casting, and on Sunday to fish the Deerfield River and we had a wonderful time. And the person who was measuring the casts was Charles Cole, president of Amherst when he was only 40 years old, and he was enthusiastic about winning the first tournament – and we did. I was always enthusiastic about fishing.

After Amherst I was drafted for the military. I spent three years and did my service. But that gave me a scholarship under the GI Bill. I chose Columbia Law School, and I turned out to be Wall Street lawyer. Upon graduation, I was hired by Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, one of the really fine Wall Street law firms. I served there for 10 years and it was really a delightful place because it was a five minute walk from the Anglers’ Club. So for three days a week or so, I had lunch at the Anglers’ Club because for one dollar, you could get a hamburger, a cup of coffee and French fries. I really enjoyed that ten years or so of my life.

But when 1960s came along, people were really changing and doing things. I wanted to get into the environmental movement. I applied for Justice Department and I was accepted. But within a year, Stewart Udall heard of me – there’s a lawyer over across the street, who ties flies. So he called me and asked me for lunch, and said – you’re working for the wrong agency. We have a pollution control measure that we’re trying to enforce, and we need a lawyer like you.

So I jumped over to the Department of Interior, with Stewart Udall. And President Johnson was president in my second week. Udall said, tomorrow, we’re going over to the White House. Great. So I just thought going to the White House to sit down, but President Johnson came down from the second floor and we were the first people he met. And Stewart said, “Mr. President, I want you to meet Ted Rogowski. He’s my chief enforcer of pollution control regarding water quality, loves fishing, and with me, we’re going to clean up the lakes and streams of America. And Johnson put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Thank you for joining the team.’ Just like that. Then Stewart said, ‘Can I have your permission to proceed to build an environmental program and our agency?’ And he said, ‘Yes, sir, Stu, you go ahead and do the job. And if you need more money, let me know.'” So that was the beginning of what would become the Environmental Protection Agency. That was that was 1965.

We worked for five years, building sewage treatment works throughout America. And then Senator Muskie from Maine was Mr. Clean Waters. He was running as vice president with Humphrey running for president. They ran against Nixon, who was very clever, running for a second term. He outsmarted Muskie in a sense. In 1970, Nixon signed Executive Order Number Three, which created the Environmental Protection Agency and gave the EPA great numbers of new rights and authority. Actually, what I’m describing is a political move that took the power of pollution control away from Senator Muskie and put it into the hands of Nixon, who was running on the Republican ticket. So in the 1970s, a Republican ticket was a pollution control ticket. We created the independent Environmental Protection Agency with Bill Ruckelshaus as the administrator, and he was wonderful.

We started with 16 people. In two years, we had 3,500 employees working for the environmental program. That’s what the executive order dictated. It required other agencies that had pollution control authorities of one type or another, like the engineers who worked for the Army Corps, cleaning rivers and marshes – they had to come over and become members of the Environmental Protection Agency, rather than the Department of Commerce. So we acquired the Clean Air Act, and hazardous waste became an important issue, and the EPA became a very, very strong agency.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency has 32,000 employees – that’s at the federal level. It’s just as important that it spends as much money as any agency except the Defense Department.

In my time in Washington, DC, there were New York Times headlines based on legislation in a case I was responsible for. One was the pump storage projects on the Hudson River. We defeated that project. That was front page news.

The other was one where I criticize Senator Muskie, who was my hero. But I criticized some poor legislation that he drafted and put into effect regarding oil pollution. And because I criticized, Muskie, who was running for vice president, a New York Times reporter picked it up as good news. He was a front page reporter, and Muskie called a hearing about oil pollution.  I testified on a broader scope regarding oil pollution, which was published. And Muskie asked me to come forward for a conversation after the hearing. And I said, boy, here’s where I get my ears really plastered! Well, I said, “Senator, I didn’t really mean to be published – that was my personal opinion.” And he said, “Llook, I want to thank you. Keep it up. Keep going strong. The work you’re doing – I’m with you 100%. We’ll go after oil pollution in a big way. And I’m having hearings during the balance of the year. And I want you to be there. And if there’s anything more you see that we should be doing regarding oil pollution, send me a note once in a while. And I thank you for the New York Times. That’s great news for the pollution control program.” How do you like that? You criticize a guy and he thanks you for it.

And I went away from that I said, God, I was supposed to be in Washington DC for two years and then go back to the law firm. It was so exciting. I couldn’t go back to the law firm. I was friends with people at every level. So I stayed in Washington, DC for about 12 years. And then my kids were growing up in Washington and not that was not an easy place to bring up a family. So I went out to Seattle. And I was part of the Environmental Protection Agency program, but at the regional level, and I had Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and the state of Washington to enforce pollution control laws. So I finished in Seattle and enjoyed the family growing up, going to college and so forth. So that’s a quickie tour of Ted Rogowski’s career, sir.

MS: That’s outstanding. So how many presidents have you been able to fly fish with?

TR: Well, 1965-1992 – 30 years. I remember. Oh, yes, there were six—at least six presidents.

Surprising to me, Reagan was one of the worst pollution control presidents. He wouldn’t allow any lawsuits. He didn’t want that kind of controversy during his administration. Well, you can’t go in and clean up America unless you sue a few people. His administration was difficult.

Humphrey didn’t make it as president but as vice president, he was very active, like the vice-president we have now. She’s doing a wonderful job. And you notice how many jobs the President gives her. He turns immigration over to her. Now she’s on airplanes flying here and there. Kind of interesting to see what happens three or four years from now.

MS: Well, tell me about pattern for the video [embedded below]: what’s the name of it?

TR: Well, let me let me tell you a little bit about it. It doesn’t have a different, individualized, generic name. I’m calling it a mayfly. Generally, as a pattern, if I copy the Adams fly, its going be called the Mayfly Adams.

The only difference will be that I will have a different wing position, at a 45 degree angle, flattening over the back of the fly. If you notice in pictures of real mayflies, when it hatches, it carries its wings at 45 degrees – mayfly wings do not go straight up into the air. So you can tie this pattern to imitate every popular fly, which has significance in imitating a mayfly. Like, right now on the Delaware River, the Green Drake is hatching, and there’s a Green Drake fly. Well, I will tie a mayfly imitation of the real Green Drake, but I use a color scheme of a fly that has already developed legs and body and so forth. So an easy one to understand is that Quill Gordon that Theodore Gordon developed in 1850. You can tie the mayfly Quill Gordon, which really imitates the first hatching fly area here in Roscoe, with the Beaverkill and so forth and that fly would be called the Mayfly Quill Gordon.

Today I received 10 copies of Fly Tyer magazine, the current issue, and he put my fly on the front cover with a story about how it was developed and so forth. I can send that to you, priority mail. You’ll have it four or five days. And that will give you a background as to why you are writing a further treatment. You can use that as I tried to skip over some. I’m sorry, I’ve done 90% of the talking.

MS: You actually answered every question that I had and then some.

TR: Yes, there could be more. But if you have any questions, I’ll be glad to see how they fit.

MS: Well, the stories shared in the background are exactly what I was looking for. And I think that’d be a perfect complement to the film.

TR: Okay, right. Hopefully as you’re writing you can be clear, maybe shorter than Ted Rogowski. Remember that $100,000 green grasshopper? Were it not if it for that, I would not have gotten those scholarships in the college.

Well, thank you.

MS: Thank you so much for your time Ted.

Fly Tyer. Summer 2021.