Gone Fishing

In Honor of “Go Fishing Day,” We Remember a Faculty Member Who Left Physics for Fishing

In 1936, during a break between semesters, Dan Bailey, a young instructor at what was then known as the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, took his new bride on an outdoorsy honeymoon in Montana. They spent the summer camping and fishing on the Madison and Gallatin Rivers and enjoyed it so much they returned in 1937.

Photo credit: dan-bailey.com

Photo credit: dan-bailey.com

Family lore has it that they accidentally drove off the road that year, and as they waited for their car to be repaired in the town of Livingston, they discovered a small, vacant storefront that was renting for $20 a month. Dan, an avid fly fisherman, had run into difficulty obtaining supplies in the area so he hit upon the idea of opening his own shop.

Although he had been working on a doctoral degree in atomic science in addition to his teaching duties, he returned to Brooklyn only long enough to wrap up his courses and exams — and to create a mail-order ad for his hand-tied fishing flies that read: “Trial assortment, 5 for $1.00. Dan Bailey, 217 West 10th Street, New York City. After July First, send mail to Ennis, Montana.”

By the late 1950s, thanks to his efforts, Livingston had become a respected and well-known fly-fishing destination, and by the 1980s, his company had become the largest manufacturer of artificial fishing flies in the United States, producing more than 750,000 annually. (Many of the most popular models, including the Mossback Nymph and Bailey Wulff, were his own innovations.)

Observers have pointed out that had Bailey completed his doctoral degree, he might have, in all likelihood, become involved in the Manhattan Project and gone on to some renown in that arena. Generations of fly fisherman are grateful he took a different path.