When I reminded him that most of us would be delighted to live to the age of 91 and live a full, productive and rewarding life as he had, he smiled and shook his head in affirmative agreement.
Bill often remarked that he was fortunate to be alive considering that as an American flier during World War II, he had survived more than 30 bombing runs over Germany at a time when the average number of successful missions for American fliers before being lost was less than 10
A day after my visit, Bill collapsed while closing up the shop on a Saturday afternoon, and after three days in a hospital, was transferred to a nearby convalescent hospital which is where I visited him after our return from vacation. Early on, there were a few good days when he held forth as if he was still in his chair at the the backroom of his shop. As visitors entered, he immediately recognized and warmly greeted them by name and steered the conversation in the direction of how they were doing while generally ignoring the elephant in the room, which was his steadily declining energy level, health and age related infirmities - and were taking steadily taking over.
After taking Gus for a run at the dog park this morning I went to visit Bill, who although always happy to see me, nonetheless would express palpable disappointment when I was not accompanied by Gus who would not be welcome in the convalescent hospital. I hoped against my better judgement that if Bill would somehow be having what the staff called "a good morning," we could get him into a wheelchair and down to an outside patio where Gus could be included in the visit. Stepping out of the elevator on the third floor, I walked down the hallway, turned into Room 302 and stopped abruptly when I saw that his bed was made and knew iimmediately what that meant.
As I made my way back to the truck, I could not help but think of what a great friend Bill had been to me for the last fourty years, how he had saved and energized the San Diego Fly Fishers and served the sport of fly fishing in Southern California as its most passionate ambassador.
I first met Bill at Whitey Perry's Sport Shop on University Avenue in the early 1970's. Perry's was just about the only place for 100 miles where you could buy fly tying materials, and it was not uncommon to see members of the Pasadena or Long Beach fly fishing clubs make the journey to visit Whitey, talk fly fishing and stock up on supplies.
When I met Bill, he and Whitey had an interesting symbiotic relationship. Bill handled rod and reel repairs that came into Whitey's shop at no charge, while absorbing everything he could about the fly fishing side of the tackle business from Whitey, who in turn made a little money off of Bill's repairs.
Bill and his wife Eileen were extraordinary saltwater anglers who rode local sportfishing boats a day or two each week for years, a passion that led them from the insurance business to the fishing tackle business with the purchase of a small storefront home at 1457 Morena Boulevard. Due in large part to Eileen's mastery of a meticulous and artistic technique known as the "diamond wrap," a decorative application to the butt section of rods, their small shop's business boomed with custom rods built for local skippers and top anglers. It was not uncommon for yacht owners to replace every rod on their boat with an array of custom wrapped and color matched rods from the Strouds.
Despite their experience and success in the world of conventional saltwater fishing, Eileen's heart belonged to fly fishing. As a young girl growing up as the daughter of an Oregon logger who was a skilled fly fisherman, she had learned to fly fish and tie flies at an early age. Now many years later and already in the saltwater tackle business where there was considerable competition, Bill and Eileen began another transition, this time in the direction of fly fishing as Whitey closed his shop, leaving the region without a business specific to fly fishing.
At that time, the membership of the local fly fishing club had declined considerably to fewer than 30 active members, most of whom were oriented toward fly fishing destinations and vacations rather than fishing locally. The club did not permit female members and as a result was at risk of losing agreements allowing it preferential use of city owned buildings in Balboa Park for meetings and a casting pool at Morley Field.
In concert with the development of their new fly fishing shop, the Strouds began to breathe life into the San Diego Fly Fishermen which became the San Diego Fly Fishers as women were permitted to join and more local fishing was emphasized. It was nearly impossible for customers to leave Stroud Tackle without signing up to become club members, and it was not long before a dwindling club of 30 members became an energized organization of over 300, the vast majority of them recruited and signed up at Stroud Tackle which in turn donated a table of raffle prizes for the club's monthly meetings. For many years, Bill served as President of the club and was an entertaining speaker and natural leader as someone who never forgot a face, name or joke.
To illustrate that point, I have a number of friends from outside of San Diego who I introduced to Bill at the shop and upon return visits months, and sometimes years later, were greeted by name when they returned to the shop.
The shop, along with the fly fishing business overall experienced less ups than downs in recent years, but the shop remained open on a full schedule until Eileen's death a few years ago. It became impossible emotionally for Bill to return to the shop without Eileen, but in time he managed to do so on a limited basis with in-store help from Rick Vorst and Craig Smith and the encouragement of dozens of friends.
With the shop only open from 10 until 2 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it resembled more of a clubhouse than business as Bill's legions of friends stopped by for a visit to swap stories, hear a joke or simply reminisce.
The face of fly fishing in these parts changed drastically and for the better with the arrival of Bill Stroud.
I know and fear that it will change again with his departure