Paul Holden Young was born in Cherry Valley, Arkansas in August 1890, the first child of an Arkansas couple who had not really been in Arkansas for very long when he was born. His mother, Alice, was the 12th daughter of an Illinois preacher and related to John Moses Browning, the holder of many semi-automatic weapon patents and inventor of the machine gun of that name. She had also been told all her life that she was related to the poet Robert Browning.
Paul’s father, Henry, was the 6th of seven children of a retired Great Lakes ship captain named Ben Young who hailed from Vermont. Henry and his siblings and Ben’s wife Margarit, who was part-Cree Indian, were living on a livestock farm in Ottawa, Ontario in 1870 when "Captain Ben" received a U.S. government claim of 160 acres in the deep forest of the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, a few miles from Bear Lake and 22 miles north of Manistee. They traveled by covered wagon and ox, and found 5 other families sharing the government-blazed trail that stood for a road. Ben built his family a log cabin and helped the other men build theirs, and helped hew logs for a school for the children of the families who’d been building homes on claims around there for 17 years. Other than Ben and three brothers who arrived in 1871 to build a sawmill, the men of Bear Lake were Harvard grads and their wives similarly educated–one wife brought an entire library, with shelves, and pressed books into the hands of every new pioneer.
It is not known whether these young college grads shared a philosophy of education, one of commerce, or just why they all took ships over the Great Lakes from New Haven to Manistee, Michigan. Although one child of the town and era thought they all came for the giant Michigan white pines, that doesn’t explain how they all came to be expensively educated and against opening stores in their settlement for a good sixty years. Even Paul’s grandfather Ben was there because the aunt and uncle of his oldest daughter’s husband were from back east and "in the loop" of the Concord-New Haven-New England "intelligentsia" that grabbed up all the claims.
Margarit Young, Ben’s wife, was probably never a college student, but no other information was ever passed down about her other than her Native American heritage; Alice didn’t talk about Henry’s family to his children. Alice wanted them to look in her direction–proud that her ancestors came to Jamestown, then called College Lands, from England in the 1620s, both her mother’s family, the Brownings, and her father’s, the Lionbergers, and were the first settlers to outlast the "Indians" who’d killed the two previous attempts of Europeans to settle in the U.S. Both families owned large tracts of land in the Virginia area given to them by King George, and the first Browning ancestor to arrive was a burgess of Culpeper County, Virginia in 1629 and twice of Elizabeth City County, Virginia ( 1631 and 1633). Alice’s were the only ancestors she told Paul and his siblings about. Henry also had not told them if Margarit was his real mother, nor her maiden name or originations, leaving plenty of room for myths. Paul sometimes said his grandfather was Chinese and named Egg Foo Young.
It was said that Ben knew the names of all the birds and plants, which was a boon to these educated people who’d filled their ticking with pine ("Well, it smelled pure, even if it wasn’t soft," one explained) and their homes with hemlock, and thus bedbugs, which loved to nestle in the dry notches of the hemlock and weren’t discovered until the houses were infested with them-- a people apparently not very knowledgeable about nature, because they believed that raccoons would eat a wooden crate if it smelled of human sweat. The pioneers’ intent to grow their own food was sidelined at first by pests which got all their crops, and they never had more than a few oxen to travel the two-day trip to Manistee that ox and cart took. As there was always a crop of watermelon or something to get in, or something to haul, the few oxen they had could not be spared for four days, and few of the settlers saw the people of Manistee once they were driven out to their claims. In the 1870s two schoolteachers who lived too far to walk to the school got the first and only horse and buggy Bear Lake had since the first settlers came in 1853.
Ben taught the men to make bullets and he and a 16-year-old son-in-law went deer-hunting every morning at 4 a.m. His granddaughter said if they didn’t return by 4 p.m. with a deer, they returned with two.
Ben stayed at Bear Lake at least 30 years, until his death. While his children grew up there, two daughters married Bear Lake men, and two sons went away and returned with wives. Three of these four couples stayed all their lives.
In the 14 years that Henry lived there he never saw a store. He got his first store-bought clothes at 18 to attend college –one can imagine some shame on his arrival at Hillsdale College to find that other young men had more than one pair of clothes. At any rate, whatever happened, no one in Bear Lake heard from Henry again, and his descendants have no idea if he graduated from college or even went more than a day.
When Paul was born Henry was a schoolteacher in Arkansas but having a hard time at it, disagreeing with each school board he worked for, being fired, and having to move to the next county. When Paul was eleven years old, Alice became pregnant with her 5th child, and she decided to stay in Jonesboro to be near a sister. The sister and her husband, from whom Paul got his middle name, also raised the three middle Youngs--Paul’s brother Ben and two sisters. Alice rented their rooms out, one to a preacher of a religion vastly different from hers who ran a tent revival in the vacant yard across the street. The only known prank Paul pulled as a teen was in mounting a rattle snake in the striking position that he’d killed as it crossed the yard, and putting it on his mother’s gate facing the revivalists. His poor religious mother was very upset. Perhaps it was Paul’s way of getting even with her for not allowing him to fish on Sunday.
At age 12 Paul "fetched" the doctor to "hatch" his baby brother Cy. Paul became Cy’s surrogate father, teaching him to fish, shoot, and hunt, and bought him his first B. B gun when he was 8.
Separated from his other siblings and father, Paul roamed the outdoor world of Jonesboro alone while Cy was a toddler, so interested in nature that he took a taxidermy class by mail. As for fishing, it was said that if Paul was plowing a field and his fishing buddy came by to say the fishing was good, Paul would tie the horses up and take off, although his brother Cy said that this was not strictly true but was indicative of Paul’s obsession with fishing.
He did not use a fly rod, then.
Paul’s father had told him about Bear Lake, that the people there ate fawns as often as grown deer, caught lake fish with "three men and a bag" rather than a fishing pole, and caught grayling three at a time on one hook and chose the best to keep and left the rest in a big pile to rot or be eaten by scavengers. The pioneers largely ate pigeon and partridge pot pies. It was"the life" for Henry’s sister’s daughter. Obviously it had not been "the life" for Henry, for he never returned. Sadly, he did not fit in with the "normal" world, either.
In those days high school graduates could teach and Paul taught grammar school for two years before enrolling in the new Arkansas State University with a major in agriculture. Then someone discovered that rice could be grown in Jonesboro. Henry appeared out of nowhere and talked a friend into buying land Henry would manage a rice crop on. When Paul was in his sophomore year of college his father begged him to help him with the farm, which lasted about a year and then Henry vanished. He was not heard of again until he died in Los Angeles ten years later, in 1923, during a railroad strike so that his body could not be sent home, and his death certificate gives no details about his parents. When he vanished Paul had to take over the farm for another two years to keep his father’s bargain with his friend, which included letting Alice and Cy live in the farmhouse free. Alice then got the job of postmistress and rented out the back of the Post Office to a doctor, and Cy worked every kind of job you can imagine, and Paul was finally free to leave Jonesboro.
He took up an offer to harvest a wheat crop in Kansas, then went to Duluth, Mn, where he worked in the McDougall Shipyards , became foreman, and sent for his mother to be his company-paid housekeeper and got Cy a job as a riveter. It was here that he walked into a jewelry store and met Martha Marie Moisan, a pretty lass from France. In his diary that day he wrote, "Met my wonder girl."
He taught Martha to hunt ducks and fish and from the start she got as many fish or ducks or more than he did. In January 1920 they married and moved to Saskatchewan to run a wheat farm. Paul had heard that the money was better but didn’t know about the extremes in weather, and between blizzards and droughts, they lost everything, and returned to the U.S. where her mother lived in Kansas City, Missouri, to have their first child in January 1921, a son they named Paul Anthony. It was very fortunate that they had, as the plan while living in Canada had been tested several times when Paul had to take off at daybreak on the horse to fix a toothache that had kept him in agonizing pain all night, leaving Martha with a buggy and recalcitrant mare in case she went into labor, with the nearest town far away– it developed that she had issues during labor, and this was before the invention of penicillin, and after the first and then second baby nearly killed her, they could not dare to have more. Had she been alone at their farmhouse in Canada when young Paul came, she probably would not have survived. Instead, she survived her husband by 36 years, dying at age 96.
Paul tried to find taxidermy work in Kansas City, but ended up taking a job as foreman of a factory-like taxidermy shop in Denver. That didn’t last long and he wrote J.P. Eppinger of Daredevle fame and was given a job at Eppinger’s Detroit factory, where he wound up doing taxidermy and was so good customers asked for him by name. But the workplace was"punk", as Martha described it in her diary, and promises were broken. After the birth of his son Jack in June, 1922, Paul left Eppinger and opened his own taxidermy in his home. Many of Eppinger’s customers followed him there because they knew and appreciated his good work.
In 1923 he discovered the Au Sable River and was so excited he waded right in, forgetting to take off his new shoes. His love affair with the river lasted all his life.
In 1923 Paul and Martha rented the upstairs of a building on Grand River Avenue, one of Detroit’s most respectable streets. One of Paul’s hobbies was photography, and they decorated the walls with, besides examples of his work with pheasants, deer, etc., enlarged photos of Martha and Paul holding big trout, as well as mounted trout. Every customer remarked on it, wanting to know about the suitability of their own rods and what flies the Youngs recommended. One day during this common conversational topic Paul and Martha looked at each other and knew exactly what the other was thinking. The store next to theirs was empty and they opened a tackle shop there in 1926. Martha got the idea to make catalogues and soon they were known to people all over the country.
They built a cabin on the Main Stream of the Au Sable and later had one on the North Branch. It was now said of Paul that he knew the names of every bird and plant.
Paul had seen his first fly rod in Arkansas when some Michiganders who’d moved there found no use for them there and gave them to him and Cy, who was then in his teens. Once Paul discovered the Au Sable, he bought a book on fly-fishing and studied it thoroughly, then tried out rods made by the big names of the time. He had an instinctive knowledge of rod actions required for various types of casting and fishing, and began modifying the nine and ten-foot wet fly rods then in use, making shorter rods and redesigning the top sections, giving them an action more suited for dry flies and the upstream nymph, which was his and Martha’s personal preference. By 1927 he was selling his own compound-taper rods.
In 1933 he wrote a slim book called Making and Using the Dry Fly, which he changed to Making and Using the Fly and Leader in 1935. It introduced readers to casting by asking them to imagine they had an apple or lump of coal on a stick and were desirous of tossing it over a house behind them. He covered the nymph in great detail, and explained with drawings the tying of several flies. He printed an updated version in 1945. His natural relaxed and bemused personality came through in his writing, making many feel they were with a friend. He wrote of how he and his wife and sons put spent flies in a box on the fireplace mantle all spring and summer and on a cold blustery day would get it down and rejuvenate each fly by directing steam at it from a teapot with a funnel, adding spots of varnish and retying damaged areas. Then the fly’s owner would tell the story of the fish he or she caught, or didn’t, and the fly would go back to his or her personal fly box. Paul was especially fond of the gleaming hooks he called "polished by fish yaps". He also told in this last edition how his sons, on leave from WW2, were teaching wounded veterans to tie flies as they convalesced, and shed some light on why he may have been so well-regarded by the men who founded what was then called "Trout, Unlimited." that a chapter was named for him: he asked fishermen to give a percentage of the time or money they put into fishing toward the restoration of trout habitat and preservation of trout fishing.
Paul worked constantly to lighten his own designs, and specialized in two-piece rods, using the spiral-node method of construction that Payne had. His split-cane was flame treated by hand and, after a delay caused by the advent of WW2, and with the aid of a retired General Motors engineer named August Pernack, designed a milling machine giving a tolerance to his individual bamboo segments of one-thousandth of an inch.
He water-proofed and varnished his rods in a bath of synthetic varnish gum in a special solvent which made his rods as impervious to wear and water as those treated with the impregnation process. He offered a dry-fly tip and a wet-fly tip and even a tip for heavy lures all perfectly matched to one butt section. In 1933 he made a list of rods he owned and fished with: 8 Paynes, 5 Thomases, five Crosses, 1 Leonard, and 11 Youngs.
Paul and Martha took off whenever they could to fish, Paul always also busily studying the Caddis and Mayfly nymphs and investigating fly lines and leaders. He advocated double taper lines with short tapers and leaders up to 12 feet , with butt diameters at least half that of the fly-line end.
Paul loved the delectable pink meat of the brook trout best, and in order for the generations after him to get to try it–with the Bear Lake clan in mind–he was a proponent of catch-and-release.When he noticed that Chauncy Lively had barbless flies, he tried to order some hooks from the company that made them, but they would not fulfill orders as small as he could afford, so he instead bought up a bunch of the barbless flies, stripped them to their hooks, and made his own flies on them.
America began to catch on. Laws were by now in effect preventing commercial sales of venison and passenger pigeons and the killing of "the spotted deer." One of Paul's "Bibles" was the book "A Trout and Salmon Fisherman for Seventy-Five Years", published in 1948 by Edward R. Hewitt. Hewitt had explored a lot of angles concerning angling, and one concern of his was the anemic- looking trout with big heads and short bodies in many New Jersey mountain streams. By stripping their eggs and growing their fry, Hewitt knew they were not a stunted breed of trout but brought up on hatchery food and had not acquired the habit of plankton feeding. Hatchery fish who do not eat these microscopic organisms don't find enough food in wild streams and starve. Hewitt felt that rather than stocking streams, the only way to make better trout fishing for everyone was to reduce the amount of fish each fisherman took per day and season: caught trout, he said, could be returned to the water with very small loss of fish and the fishermen could catch their fish, return them to the water, and have them to catch another day. He felt that good or even passable trout fishing through a season could be obtained in no other way. His findings regarding trout feeding and nymph behavior influenced Paul greatly. In his younger days Paul had seemed to be influenced by his Grandpa Ben, whom he had never met– his attempt to get a degree in agriculture, working where he nightly saw the lights of ships on the horizon of a Great Lake, farming in Canada, and building a log cabin in the same cold, under-populated deep woods of Michigan that the Manistee and Au Sable both ran through. But then his genius took its own bent, and by the mid-fifties he was creating ultra-light rods like the Midge, which became a generic term for the ultra-lights that followed.
One final puzzle piece was left to put in to place, and it happened when the new people across the river from his cabin brought along a motor boat and cleared all the sunken logs, big rocks, cedar sweepers and tree debris that might harm their boat motor –the natural nooks the big trout liked to hide amongst. Such logs, and stones a big as grapefruit, made eddy currents on the bottom, giving trout slow water to lie in. Fine gravel bottoms resulted in swifter waters as gravel riverbeds had the same current throughout--and the trout had to swim too hard to stay there and became exhausted. Trout can't swim continually but must rest most of the time.
Robbed of all their special fishing spots, Paul and Martha decided to write off the Au Sable and traveled the country fishing with friends and customers, learning about the flies and nymphs particular to other areas and making sure they carried rods and flies suitable for these other areas. But they found wilderness trout in the Rocky Mountain States so easy to take that it resembled work more than trout fishing, and they returned to the river and region they loved. Paul was then able to busy himself with the types of flies and fishing in other kinds of waters and satisfy customers around the globe with their particular needs. Paul made more examples of his Midge rod for fishermen on the Letort and the Yellow Breeches, in the area around Carlisle and Harrisburg, than for all the rest of the trout areas of the country put together.
The Midge, a 6 1/4 foot rod with an average weight of one and three- quarter ounces , for use with No. 4 line, 5x and 6x leaders, and size 18-24 flies, was developed for the limestone streams of Pennsylvania. When Paul learned that Arnold Gingrich was using his Midge to catch salmon he raged, considering it as being exploited for purposes he didn’t consider suitable–and he thought of each rod he made as his. Eventually he was convinced that it was alright, but he firmly denied having invented the small rod craze.
His hope for future fishermen, who would not be able to fill their creels as he once had, was that the Au Sable and other beloved trout streams would furnish as many good sportsmen and as much recreational value in the future as they had in the past. He hoped we’d understand that fishing was the aim, the noble ambition–not carrying home the most dead fish. And Trout Unlimited, which he did not live to see let alone the nation-wide expansion of it, has proved that we do.