Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Remembering Larry Koller, Catskill Fly Tier

Remembering Larry Koller, Catskill Fly Tier

Last week, Gary Deppe posted a boxed lure on Joe's Board marked "Ruff-Nek Lures, tied by Larry Koller, Middletown, New York." I thought I'd spend a little time expositing on the history of this fascinating gentleman, who started his career as a Catskill fly tier.

Larry Koller in the mid-1950s with a black bear he bagged with a .308.

Larry Koller (1912-1967) was a Brooklyn-born writer who rose to fame in the 1940s and 1950s as one of the most prominent outdoor writers in America. Having moved to Orange County, New York in 1919, he took to the woods like the proverbial fish to water, and by the mid-1930s was a popular local guide as well as a budding gunsmith. His expertise was so great that he was hired by the Middletown Times Herald as an outdoor writer, his first experience in the field. He wrote a regular column for the paper until the start of World War II. We'll have some of his early writings from these columns in forthcoming Voices from the Past features.

In the middle-to-late 1930s (I believe around 1936 or so), Koller opened up a sporting goods store in Middletown. It was from here that Koller sold hand-tied flies and bass bugs under the Ruff-Nek name. When World War II started, he closed the sporting goods store and went to work in New Haven, Connecticut as a barrel department foreman, which honed his gunsmithing skills to the point that from this period he would become a renowned American gunsmith and gun designer.

After World War II, Koller's fame spread widely as both a fishing and hunting writer. As outdoor editor of the popular magazine Argosy, he had a unique finger on the pulse of the sporting nation. He began publishing books (his hunting books far outnumber his fishing ones), and some of his most popular titles include Treasury of Hunting, Larry Koller's Complete Guide to Handguns and Shots at Whiteails. The latter is still in print today, forty years after its first publication. He founded Guns and Hunting magazine in 1957 and lived to see it become a successful publication.

He wrote a number of fishing books, too, and these include Treasury of Angling and The Complete Book of Tackle, among others.

Koller was a prominent Catskill fly tier even at a relatively young age. For example, when he was 24, the August 19, 1936 Middletown Times Herald noted that at the State sportsmen's exhibit that year "Larry Koller who featured last night with a varied demonstration of fly tying and bass-bug making will return Thursday and Friday." It is not known when he began tying commercially, but the earliest advertisement I could find is dated 1937, although it referenced the lure as available in 1936.

Gary Deppe's Ruff Nek lure was clearly the Bug pattern, as there were two styles of bass bugs made by Koller (Bug and Minnow). Each was available in ten patterns.

They were .75 each, which was not cheap for the time (that same year Pflueger offered the Pal-O-Mine wooden, glass eyed lure for .75). Koller also noted it "accounted for nearly all catches of large bass on the fly rod" in the region the previous year.

There is an interesting mystery tied to Larry Koller. Bill Stuart asks:

"What relation was Larry Koller to J. J. Koller of Goshen, NY (it says on his box that the lures were designed by Larry Koller, who later moved to Florida)? J.J. Koller continued to sell some of his hair baits in the Goshen box with Goshen marked out and a Miami, Florida address written in hand in pencil under the crossed out Goshen address.

Well, I don't have a definitive answer. I believe, however, that John J. Koller of Goshen, New York was Larry Koller's brother. My current theory is that when Larry shuttered the sporting goods store in 1941 to take over as barrel foreman at Winchester, his brother (who was living in Goshen in the time) began selling his excess stock for him. He had the address changed to his Goshen home, and when the war ended and J.J. moved to Florida, he took what remaining stock he had and sold it in the same boxes, crossing out the old address and adding a new Miami one. Koller's sister Mrs. Frances Craig also lived in Miami at the time.

Regardless, Larry Koller was a great outdoor writer and, for a brief time, a prominent local tackle maker. His Ruff Nek lures are rare as hen's teeth, and the owner of one, like Gary Deppe, is lucky indeed. I believe they date from 1936-1941.

-- Dr. Todd


Gone Fishing said...

I surprised their are no comments here. This article and photos are great. I'm into learning what I can about Fly Reels and fly fishing in general are found your site to be a very good resource. Thank for the info.

Glenn Ballard said...

I became acquainted with Larry Koller's books in junior high school. He and "Skeeter" Skelton are my all-time favorite gun writers. I have always wonderred about his life and death. It has been my understanding that he used alcohol and tobacco to excess, and put on quite a bit of weight late in life. If he had lived longer, I am convinced he would have ranked with Keith, O'Connor and others of similar fame. Any additional information about this man would be appreciated. It is strange that such a prolific writer should remain such a mystery.

bodyandbeyond said...

I'm glad to see this article on Mary I had almost every book that he had written when I was researching a gun that him and Bill River actually built for a hunt. I actually found a lot of his old manuscripts and even the rough draft to his books doing my research for this gun and sold them to a person that was going to do a museum I was just researching to see if that museum ever took off

Sailor Cowboy said...

Larry Koller was one of the finest gentlemen who ever lived. He met my father through the Montana Fish and Game Department. "Ship" and Koller enjoyed about a dozen hunts together as best of friends. Anyone who wants information and stories about Larry Koller, please, email me. Rob Shipley..........Miles City, Thank you.

Robert Koller said...

My Grand Father Lawrence R. Koller
I barely knew my grand father since he died when I was seven. Spending only a few treasured moments with this great man. I was in Montana with my dad and mom when he pasted making our little family pack up as much a we could and recall dad (Larry Koller jr.) driving our 67 Chevy wagon with the speedo pegged nearly the whole way. It was a very sad day for the entire family. I hardly was aware what was going on by the time we were at the house on Seven Springs Rd. I was so young and my first death I experienced on my dads side. My mothers sister had died giving birth to her eight child, but I was so protected and sheltered by mom than I was not told until she was long buried. Only tears I shed for her when I did learn. My grand father was a whole different family matter as we. My mother, father and father's sister and brother (Ann and Paul) were there as well as Larry's surviving wife and her mother (Norma and Alma Drake, great grand mother) we all were in tears sitting around the thick heavy Oak table that served as the kitchen family meeting place in front of the bar that was well stocked with booze as dad would say as well as loaded hand guns with lite triggers that I found out the hard way that they would fire with the slightest touch. One day I pick one up out of its holster and it went off firing a round into the back side of the bar. My father and grand mother were at that table that day. Lighting was the only thing I ever saw that was faster than them as each reached me in a split second. Both so worried I had been shot or something else that may have been a danger to be stuck by a bullet. Bottles of booze. The black bear that as taken down by grand father often shown posing proudly with rifle in hand was given to me when he first meet me when I was old enough to know who he was. That bear was the best rug I have ever sprawled on. My cat love it too but, she was always fearful of it as no matter what they did to process it to a rug it always smelled of "wet bear."
I miss my family so much, "crying hard" and shoves it hard again down to where ever it goes. I have always been so envious of people that have love given to them within a family setting it really hurts. That is all another story I wish I could forget.
I have read your uplifting words of my Grand Father. It is sad to me because I only knew him and them all for just a sort time. I wish it was different story somehow though we all know we can not go back and change it all. I guess for what it is worth. I have learn some very hard lessons in my life. The say what hurts you only makes you stronger. If that so I should be have bones of steal and titanium skin. True as for when I was younger I was a very strong worker and have amazing stamina. Even to this very day I stay awake and relativity busy for days on end. Why? Who knows. Possibly trauma? I have outlived all of my family members but I too am really on the down word spiral. Just not to healthy anymore. I need so much help now in my life and always have but I have done it all on my own and that has busted up my body to bits.
I would like to know your stories as well as the many I have that it is a good chance none of you would know of just because it is only known by me and I have not surfaced to speak of my families past and I bet there are many things I know nothing about.
Please dear kind people I would like to learn, hear and offer a few teed-bits of a broken family that surely could have become a proud one.
At this time I really am at a loss for words. I am just so swelled up from simply posting this rather lengthily message. I rather talk than type because I have always been a chatty one. I would dearly like to be in touch with those who knew my family and bring me a smile to warm my aching heart. Please.