Gordon Wickstrom took the time some years ago to talk about Hank. I fondly remember the ladies in the back and the housewives in Boulder who tied flies for Hank. I recall the cabinets where he kept wet flies on snelled gut leaders....it 47 years ago and it seems like yesterday. Boulder, and the Front Range was a far cry from what it is today.
Wickstrom: The Hank Roberts legacy, 1914-2002
That's because back in the 1950s, a slew of scientists arrived in Boulder for the new National Bureau of Standards. Add the increasing scientific emphasis at the University of Colorado and the I.M. Pei-designed housing for the new talent at NCAR, and a fire was lit in the cultural and intellectual life of our lovely, but dry and quiet little town.
Boulder's exciting development spread to downtown when a recently arrived, dare I say, "hot shot," Texan began to raise Boulder to prominence in American angling and its industry.
Hank Roberts came to Boulder with his wife Chalones from Lubbock, Tex., in 1946. Hank had, in his ingrained entrepreneurial way, already gotten himself into the fishing-equipment business as early as 1939.
Once in Boulder, he went to work for the Public Service Company, up front in the headquarters on Broadway near Pearl Street, selling appliances. Between customers he tied tapered leaders. That's where I first ran into this fascinating "new" sort of person. To his line of leaders, he soon added snelled hooks, and, inevitably, trout flies.
Hank rapidly outgrew Public Service, and in 1953, just when Boulder began bursting with new life, he founded Hank Roberts, Inc., for the manufacture of his growing line of fishing tackle. In 1961, at 1033 Walnut St., now subsumed in the Daily Camera building, he debuted his then extraordinary Hank Roberts "fly shop."
Nothing like it had been seen before, nothing so stylish and carefully designed. Everything bespoke quality and class. His new and innovative flies were the centerpiece. Upstairs over the shop, Boulder women tied countless western flies for "western fishermen" — Hank was, I think, the first to take up that marketing battle cry: "Western Tackle for Western Fishermen."
This shop was altogether different from the thrown-together, haphazard displays of basic fishing tackle found in the ubiquitous sporting goods stores. This ultra-smart store may well have been the national prototype for fly shops as we know them today. It was a wonderful place to spend an hour browsing and indulging fantasies of trout.
And Hank was usually there to jawbone the customer in his cordially sardonic way. No one wore gabardine slacks with a Pendleton woolen shirt with as much panache. He was irrepressible, dashing and fast becoming a Boulder celebrity.
Hank's shop, in addition to flies, high-end rods and reels, and attractive accessories, included a modest assortment of fine doubleguns and upscale hunting gear. His captivating and imaginative wife Chalones managed antiques and art works as an added attraction in an adjoining space. It was a sophisticated operation.
Hank and Chalones invented the idea, now widely practiced, of having flies tied outside the United States. They went to Guatemala, found things right for their purposes, and Chalones set about teaching the local women to tie flies — the first out-sourcing of flies in the industry. Hank's signature woven-body flies were becoming nationally famous. His flies became a national name and company.
The city of Boulder, in its enthusiasm for Hank, named old East Deggues Lake in his honor. Now often dry, it lies just north of town, east of U.S. 36 and is now noted on open-space maps as "Mesa Res."
Hank was also one of the founders of the Boulder Flycasters. The founding fathers first met upstairs over Hank's shop back in 1968 and affiliated with The Federation of Fly Fishermen before becoming a chapter of Trout Unlimited. Hank also served on the Colorado State Wildlife Commission from 1951 to 1957, with a term as its president. One of Hank's commercial displays of his flies is on display at the Boulder Museum of History as a significant artifact in Boulder's sporting and industrial history.
Hank sold his Boulder enterprise in 1983, and moved to Lake City where he lived in semi-retirement rather as the grand old man, once again tying leaders to the trade until his death on March 30, 2002. His daughter Penny Roberts Sinclair of Lyons and son Dr. William Roberts remain here.
There can be no doubt of the rich and valuable Hank Roberts legacy in Boulder. Certainly he helped advance the crafts and practice of fly fishing in mid-century America. Just as certainly, Hank gave a distinct personal as well as commercial luster to Boulder at just the right moment in its development into the "New Boulder." He was some guy.