Tom Mannion became hooked on fly fishing at age 12. More than half a century later, the longtime Rolla resident hasn't missed a chance to cast a line out.

Tom Mannion became hooked on fly fishing at age 12. More than half a century later, the longtime Rolla resident hasn't missed a chance to cast a line out.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Mannion in regards to his introduction to fly fishing from a wise, older man in rural Pennsylvania.
"I went to spend time with my best friend, Tommy Behrenger, who had recently moved from our hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh,” said Mannion. “His dad worked for a glass company and had taken a new job in DuBois, Pennsylvania, (around 120 miles north). One day we ended up getting a crash course in fly fishing from this older gentleman (whom never saw again) and I got the bug."
While many people go through numerous hobbies and interests in their lives, Mannion noted that his passion for fly fishing has never weaned nor waned.
His first fly rod was a white, Shakespeare glass rod, complete with an automatic reel on it.
"It was a real piece of junk compared to what we have to day," he said with a smile.
He bought it with money from his newspaper route and filled his tackle box with any other spare change he could scrounge up.
After high school, Mannion went on to Penn State College and majored in forestry. He was stunned to learn that he could get one or two college credits for taking fly fishing as a physical education requirement his freshman year.
"I had been rod-and-reel fishing before but there is something about the ambiance or scenery of fly fishing that makes it so attractive," he said.
It was the best college course he ever took as he got a chance to hone his skills during his “classes” on nearby Spring Creek.
Upon graduation, he was drafted and did a two-year stint in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After his tour of duty, he became a fly fishing guide at Bodmer’s Fly Shop – a well-known fishing stop in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"It was there that I learned to tie flies and taught fly fishing," he said. "In my prime, I was tying 10 to 12 dozen of particular flies a day."

The trout cave
The basement of the Mannion house is a tribute to all things trout. Hand-painted prints of fisherman in waders whipping out flies on pristine streams hang on the walls. There are trout pillows and blankets and a number of mounted trout of all sizes and shapes. He flips through a stack of photo albums which document his fishing escapades from around the nation.
"Here is former governor of Alaska Tommy Knowles,” Mannion shared while peering over his glasses. "I took John Denver fishing and I even had a chance to take Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight for an afternoon of fishing on the Meramec. He was a competent fly fisher. In addition, he was very gracious and wrote a letter thanking me for my hospitality and expertise. I still have that letter to this day.”
Then there is the fly-tying room. Front and center is an aged desk with a number of slots to keep his tools of the trade. Hooks, bobbins and a colorful display of feathers among other items are scattered before him.
"My wife stays out of here," he said with a wink.
As he put the finishing touches on a Woolly Bugger fly, he said that a good tied fly is one that imitates mayflies, stoneflies and damselflies — all of which trout feed on.
"The beauty of fly tying is you can tie a tried and true pattern or invent your own," shared Mannion. "I have a fly that I call the "Mannionator" — a take-off on my name and a play on words with ‘the terminator.’ It is a soft hackle emerging mayfly. It is a very effective pattern and a proven producer."
He related that when he first started fishing, it was the norm that fly fishermen made their own flies. That is not so much the case these days as the sport has become commercialized.

The “lunker”
Since college, Mannion has kept a fishing journal. His basement has boxes of them.
"When I started (writing), everything was technical. I noted that air and water temperature and things like which insects were hatching," he said. "Now my entries are more philosophical."
One journal entry that he recalls with pride is the one dated May 22, 1996. It reads:
"North Fork of the White River just below Highway PP...this evening a lifelong dream was fulfilled...felt unmistakable throb...fish on! I move quickly to the shallow water. After 10 minutes, I called the fight and bring him into the water...a brown (trout) so deep in girth that 6 inches of water puts him on his side. My only witness is my camera...kneeling on the gravel bar in shallow water, my prize before me — a 29-and-a-quarter-inch perfect brown trout. This is indeed the substance of which dreams are made. He (the trout) eclipses the many memories of ones caught in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana and on the myriad of these fabled streams in these trout fishing meccas. Congrats to me! I will savor this memory. "
Having developed a great respect for trout and a belief that they do not belong in a frying pan, Mannion said he let that catch of a lifetime go. Thanks to the wonders of modern taxidermy, a replica of that brown trout is mounted on a polished wood base in his basement.
Today, the 66-year-old is a vice president of construction management with Nexus, a spin-off of Bloomsdale Excavating, which has an office in Rolla. He says he tries to get out with his fly rod and reel as much as he can.
While he has fished some of the most pristine trout streams in Alaska, Montana and Colorado, just to name a few prime locations, he says nothing beats a crisp morning on a Missouri stream. His favorites continue to be the Current River in Shannon County and the North Fork of the White River, located  near Dora, south of Cabool.
"Fly fishing is a contemplative experience,” he surmised. "I have found no other sport, leisure or pastime that has its power to recreate. It has a mystical dimension that seizes me with irresistible charm. It is and continues to be a most enduring passion."