Ernest Schwiebert’s Son Writes Tribute

Yesterday Erik Schwiebert sent MidCurrent the tribute he wrote recently for the Ernest Schwiebert Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Ernest Schwiebert has made a major contribution to wild trout and salmon, their genetics and habitat in his writings, in lectures to conservation and fishing organizations and to educational institutions. This work, combined with his research into fishing-relevant stream entomology, has given generations of anglers and fisheries professionals new insights into the importance of wild salmonids.”
You can read the full tribute, which contains extensive biographical detail, in the extended entry.


Ernest George Schwiebert (known as ‘Ernie’ by many) was a writer, artist, architect, entomologist, fisheries biologist, conservationist and legendary fly-fisherman. As his son, he was larger than life because he had all this in his head and was all of these people at a very deep level. In the timeless movie, A River Runs Through It, one brother says to the other: “I want to be a professional fly-fisherman.” His brother replies: “You can’t do that, there is no such thing.” I want to believe that my father was as close as anyone can become without endorsement deals. It is his body of work that speaks for itself. Although no longer with us in body, he is with us in spirit and is wading the celestial stream in search of the stout trout, or, as he put it, “the mythic sword” that leaps from the river in search of its prey or while in the fight. He is with you as your Trout Unlimited chapter (that bears his name in tribute and remembrance) moves forward. Keep it moving forward and protect the New Jersey streams that he loved and that continue to fight against sprawl and unwanted impurities. My father cherished this TU chapter and was honored to be a part of it and have his name associated with it. Trust and know in that.
Ernest Schwiebert made scholarly contributions throughout his full and storied life in disciplines from writing in all forms, to architecture and planning, to the art and science and pursuit that is fly fishing for trout and salmon (and, on occasion, other game fish from fresh and saltwater). He wrote over 15 books about fly-fishing and architecture. In these two disciplines (and in the many others listed above) that he loved and pursued with passion, he was an independent thinker to the last. He was a complete philosopher and a champion of long-term vision from every angle, every side and every scenario.
My father was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 5th, 1931. His father, Ernest Schwiebert, Sr., Ph.D., was a noted historian on the life, times and teachings of Martin Luther and The Luther Reformation as an academic movement. He grew up following his parents from academic institution to institution, mostly in the Midwest. His family summered in Colorado and Michigan, where he was introduced to fishing. Ernest Schwiebert became a serious angler at the age of five when one of his first casts into a Michigan Creek surrendered a twelve-inch brown trout caught with a Light Cahill. He attended high school at New Trier, north of Chicago. He garnered a B.A. degree in architecture from The Ohio State University in 1956 and was heavily involved in the planning and building of The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO from 1956 to 1958. He was in the Air Force ROTC and commissioned with the Air Force during his time in Colorado at the Academy during its inception. Before he was thirty, my father had fished the major rivers of Europe and South America as well as the waters of the United States and Canada and gained worldwide recognition as an authoritative writer, conservationist, artist and angler.
Schwiebert was the Lowell Palmer fellow in architecture at Princeton University from 1958 to 1962 and received a Master’s degree (M.A. in Fine Arts in Architecture) and dual doctoral degrees (Ph.D. in Fine Arts in Architecture and Planning and a Ph.D. in the History of Architecture) from Princeton. His thesis dissertation, The Primitive Roots of Architecture, encompassed all of these degrees and was 5 volumes in length. He has been the subject of and has written countless articles in newspapers and magazines. His first book, Matching the Hatch, published in 1955 during his undergraduate years is considered a classic and was followed by many important books. These included (but are not limited to) Salmon of the World, Remembrances of Rivers Past, Nymphs, his monumental two-volume Trout, Death of a Riverkeeper, and a River for Christmas among selected others. As evidence of further competence and respect, Ernie has over twelve references in Arnold Gingrich’s book, The Fishing in Print and fourteen references in Paul Schullery’s American Fly Fishing, A History. Gingrich considered Schwiebert’s position impregnable as the leading angling author of our time and that he had an impressive ability to absorb entomological detail and convert it into pleasing prose for his readers. During this time, my father practiced architecture and planning (specializing in airport and military airbase design) for almost 15 years with a firm in New York, NY. His architectural work took him to places such as Chile, Pakistan, Tibet, Malaysia, Australia, and Argentina. He often took his fishing tackle with him.
Ernest Schwiebert has made a major contribution to wild trout and salmon, their genetics and habitat in his writings, in lectures to conservation and fishing organizations and to educational institutions. This work, combined with his research into fishing-relevant stream entomology, has given generations of anglers and fisheries professionals new insights into the importance of wild salmonids. My father was a pioneer in the fishery conservation movement and was involved in the founding of Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, the Federation of Fly Fishers, and the establishment of the American Museum of Fly Fishing. He has served as a Director of both Theodore Gordon Flyfishers and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and on the scientific advisory boards of TU, FFF and The Nature Conservancy. He was founder and president of the Henryville Flyfishers in Pennsylvania and a life member of the Spring Ridge Club of Pennsylvania among other angling clubs including the Anglers Club of New York and the Flyfishers of Boston. In recognition of his contributions, a Trout Unlimited Chapter in New Jersey, the Ernest Schwiebert Chapter of TU, is named for him. He cherished this chapter and his membership in these many important clubs and federations immensely.
His “Elegies and Epilogues” address as banquet speaker at the Wild Trout IV Symposium in September 1989, reported in the Symposium’s Proceeding, was eloquent and gave special meaning to scientific and management efforts for wild trout. Here, he was given the Aldo Starker Leopold Memorial Award from The National Park Service which he treasured immensely. My father was honored with numerous awards. Among them were the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, The Arnold Gingrich Literary Prize, and life memberships in numerous fishing institutions.
In 2005, he gave two important speeches to the opening of the American Museum of Fly Fishing at its new home in Manchester, Vermont and to the FFF Conclave in Livingston, Montana. They ended similarly and they are characterized best by letting my father do the talking:
I will conclude with a story.


My obsession with fishing began in childhood, watching bluegills and pumpkinseeds and perch under a rickety dock, below a simple cedar-shingled cottage in southern Michigan. My obsession with trout began there too, when my mother drove north into town for groceries, and took me along with the promise of chocolate ice cream. We crossed a stream that was utterly unlike those near Chicago, fetid and foul-smelling, or choked with the silts of farm-country tillage. It flowed swift and crystalline over the bottom of ochre cobblestones and pebbles and like Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” it mysteriously disappeared into thickets of cedar sweepers downstream.


And a man was fishing there.


The current was smooth, but it tumbled swiftly around his legs. It was a different kind of fishing, utterly unlike watching a red-and-white bobber on a tepid childhood pond, with its lilypad and cattail margins, and its callings of redwinged blackbirds. His amber line worked back and forth in the sunlight, and he dropped his fly on the water briefly, only to tease it free of the current, and strip the moisture from its barbules with more casting. It seemed more like the grace of ballet than fishing.


And then the man hooked a fish.


My mother called to the angler, and gave me permission to run and see his prize. I remember getting my feet muddy and wet, with a Biblical plague of cockleburrs at my ankles, but it did not matter. The fish was still in the man’s landing met, and he raised it dripping and shining in his hand. It was a brook trout of six inches, its dorsal surfaces drak with blue and olive vermiculations, and its flanks clouded with dusky parr markings. Its belly and lower fins were a bright tangerine, with edgings of alabaster and ebony, and it glowed like a jeweler’s tray of opals and moonstones and rubies. I had witnessed something beautiful, and I wanted to be part of it.


People often ask why I fish, and after seventy-odd years, I am beginning to understand.
I fish because of Beauty.


Everything about our sport (and our cause in terms of TU) is beautiful. Its more than five centuries of manuscript and books and folios are beautiful. Its artifacts of rods and beautifully machined reels are beautiful. Its old wading staffs and split-willow creels, and the delicate artifice of its flies, are beautiful. Dressing such confections of fur, feathers and steel is beautiful, and our worktables are littered with gorgeous scraps of tragopan and golden pheasant and blue chattered and Coq de Leon. The best of sporting art is beautiful. The riverscapes that sustain the fish are beautiful. Our methods of seeking them are beautiful, and we find ourselves enthralled with the quicksilver poetry of the fish.


And in our contentious time of partisan hubris, selfishness, and outright mendacity, Beauty itself may prove the most endangered thing of all.

— Ernest Schwiebert, Closing of Speeches to the American Museum of Fly Fishing and to the Federation of Flyfishers in 2005.
My father had battled and had overcome prostate cancer during these appearances. Not long after the FFF Conclave speech in August 2005, he fell very ill to a second, separate and fatal primary renal cancer. He died on December 10th, 2005, at his home in Princeton, N.J., surrounded by his books, books of others, and his many original drawings and with his wife, Sara, his son, Erik, and his brother-in-law (a true brother that he never had), Tom Mills. He was 74. He is survived by the above, by a daughter-in-law, Lisa (the daughter that he never had) and two wonderful grandchildren, Elisabeth, 6, and Turner, 4.
However, Ernest Schwiebert has more to say. Nymphs II is in the publishing pipeline with Lyons Press and The Globe Pequot Press in Connecticut. His entire family is collaborating on a book of his original drawings. Late in life, he also had other literary projects that are finished and ready for publication of subjects of his interest unrelated to fishing.
My father will be with us always. His son would ask that you go catch a stout trout or salmon for him at your earliest convenience (or any other game fish that is convenient now for the time and the weather. With a well-dressed and well-presented fly preferably. Have a thought for Ernest Schwiebert when you perform this task. His son also believes that his Dad would wish that all people approach his or their cherished disciplines with an open mind, with independent thought, and with a long-term view. And, by being mindful to the art and the science and the beauty of all things.
And, I would like to think that he earned a Ph.D. in fly-fishing to go with his dual Ph.D. degrees in architecture. He was both people and them some, and he pursued both disciplines fully.

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  • Richard Chelvan

    The Ernest G. Schwiebert I know about is a Lutheran historian of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Germany and Europe. He was also an Airforce officer and lived to the ripe old age of 104! He was born in 1895 and passed away in March of 2000.