I choose the long rod to pursue fish, and therefore I am a member of a fraternity of people who live with a passion for fly-fishing. I do not see it as a game or a sport; I see it as a connection to the universe. Someone once said that there are matters of life and death, and then, there is fly-fishing. Passion drives people like me. Passion drove Billy Pate. Billy Pate was a person who lived fly-fishing so intensely that it is hard to imagine.
I must admit that I wish I knew him better — there are many more qualified to write this remembrance than I am. Cam Sigler Sr., a dear mutual friend, introduced me to Billy around 2006. I had the privilege to spend three seasons getting to know him at his home in Islamorada, Florida, interviewing him for a feature I wrote in 2009 for this magazine titled “The World Wide Sportsman.”
The first year was splendid as Billy told me his stories one after another, and he let me rummage through his tackle room and look through his gear and flies. He uncovered his boat and climbed up into the forward platform. He showed me how he could operate the boat from his perch and have the best angles on the approaching fish. He talked like an excited kid, never with any hint of arrogance or superiority, almost with humility.
The next season seemed a little different, a slight but perceptible confusion — we continued going through his adventures in the 40 countries he’d fished and things that happened on distant continents, but some of the details were fuzzy and unclear. In the winter between the second and third seasons I got a call from Cam telling me that he had recently talked to Billy and that, if I wanted to finish my interviews, I had better move because, he said, Billy was beginning to deteriorate quickly.
When I arrived, the childlike vigor had gone, and Billy was having trouble remembering certain details. He died in April 2011 at the age of 81. What follows is the way I want to remember him.
Billy is a member of a pantheon of anglers who go back to the mists of time. Only a few modern-day anglers have dedicated themselves so completely. He has inspired a whole generation of younger anglers to go out and find the places in the world where they can do the undone, see what has never been seen, go where few have gone. Billy sought his whole life for the Indo-Pacific blue marlin and the 200-pound tarpon, both of which just exceeded his reach — close, oh so close, but not quite in his grasp. As it was with Billy, these things drive us and inspire us to reach beyond our grasp. People like Billy Pate inspire us to reach further.