Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Dubois, Clearfield County
A lifelong educator at Penn State University, George Harvey wrote a number of books on his field of expertise and passion: fly-fishing.
Awards: Spring Creek Heritage Award, Fly Fishing Hall of Fame
George Harvey was born November 14, 1911, in Dubois, Pennsylvania. He went to Dubois Area High School and later attended Penn State University from 1931-1935, graduating with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture. After his graduation and an attempt at making the Olympics, he accepted a teaching position at Mont Alto’s campus teaching physical education and horticulture courses, while also coaching soccer. He spent two summers teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and he accepted a position at Penn State University’s University Park campus. He taught over 35,000 students in his fly fishing course, and would later become the Head of the Required Physical Education classes at Penn State. He retired in 1972 and enjoyed writing, fishing, learning more about fly fishing, and staying active during his final years. He passed away on March 24, 2008, in State College, PA.
George W. Harvey was born on November 14, 1911, in Dubois, Pennsylvania. His parents, Archibald and Zora Harvey, raised their son George Harvey in the coal-mining town until one of the many coal strikes took place and their family was forced to move to Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where his father took a job as a stock farmer. This farm would be recognized later for providing Harvey the location where he discovered his love for the sport of fishing. Harvey recollected his first fishing memory on the farm: the small stream that ran through the farm's surroundings. His father broke off a stick and tied on a line and a hook and he enjoyed his first hook-up catching a few chubs that day.
His family moved back to Dubois because his father took a new job managing the Morningside Cemetery. Harvey spent most of his childhood assisting his father at the cemetery and when he was not helping his father, Harvey was most often either hunting, running, or knee deep in a stream fishing to provide dinner for his parents, brother (Charles) and sister (Hazel). Harvey’s fishing skills were matched by his ability to run. He and his childhood friends would race to almost anywhere they went, and during his junior and senior year of high school he never lost a single cross country or track contest. As the time came, Harvey and learned more about how to take over his father's job at the cemetery once he retired. Harvey applied to Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and was accepted for the fall semester of 1931.
At 19, Harvey began his first semester at Penn State. That year he made his decision based on the cemetery job that he would major in ornamental horticulture. He graduated in 1935, but there was certainly more that he accomplished at Penn State over those years. Harvey’s father gave him minimal amounts of money because he did not make that much, so he worked two jobs, waiting tables and taking care of his fraternity’s (Phi Kappa Sigma) furnace. Harvey was also the only athlete Penn State athlete to have ever captained the freshman and varsity track and cross country team. Over the span of his career as an athlete, he only lost two races; and it was argued that he actually won one of those races, but the officials saw it a different way. In 1936, he was offered the opportunity to compete in the USA Olympic Trials; however, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and did not get to compete.
Another event that took place in Harvey’s career at Penn State was his first encounter with the Dean of the Agriculture College, Dean Ralph Watts. Dean Watts gave a speech on agriculture and then he mentioned that if anyone ever wanted to learn about fishing, that he’d be glad to take them along and teach them. So Harvey went to see Dean Watts the day before the trout season opened. After struggling to get into a meeting with the Dean, Harvey was finally allowed to go in his office and asked if he could go fishing with him. The Dean agreed, picked him up the next morning, and by the end of that day Harvey had caught well over the limit of 25 fish. From that point on Harvey, was sought after among his professors and later created a fly fishing class in 1934. It was the first non-credited fly fishing course in the United States, and Harvey ended up teaching over 35,000 students in his lifetime. The same course was offered with credit in 1947, also giving Harvey the first credited fly fishing course in the United States.
Once Harvey was finished his education, he continued teaching his fly fishing course along with other Physical Education classes. During summers, he worked for the Fish Commission at Fisherman’s Paradise. He taught daily classed on casting and fly tying and then spent the rest of the day patrolling and helping other anglers. Another of his important summer jobs was studing brook trout in Kettle Creek.
In 1935, Harvey went to Penn State Mont Alto to establish a Physical Education program at their Forestry School. There Harvey taught all of the Physical Education and horticulture courses and coached soccer. He said he met his greatest catch in 1940, his wife Helen. They married after only a few months and never argued once throughour their 54-year marriage before she passed away. They had a daughter Susie, who lives in Arizona, and did everything together throughout their marriage, including tying flies on a nightly basis and earning enough money to pay off the mortgage on their home.
After working at Mont Alto’s branch campus of Penn State for seven years, Harvey moved to main campus in 1942 and began teaching Physical Education, but because he did not have a degree in Pphysical Education, was never employed as a full time professor. Instead, he worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming the Head of Required Physical Education at Penn State. He remained at Penn State University until his retirement in 1972, which was spent enjoying fly fishing and launching a literary career.
His first book, Techniques of Fly Tying and Trout Fishing, was published in 1976. He later rewrote, augmented, and re-released the book as Techniques of Trout Fishing and Fly Tying. He composed numerous articles with his findings and techniques in countless Fly Fishing Magazines and co-authored a biography of his life with Dan Shields, entitled George Harvey: Memories, Patterns and Tactics (1998). Harvey also enjoyed writing poetry; his most notable poem was “The Fly Fisherman.” Harvey’s name is listed in hundreds of publications regarding his contributions to the sport of fly fishing, fly tying, and other related techniques and advice. He gave talks in 68 cities in the state of Pennsylvania and lectured in hundreds of towns.
During his final years, Harvey enjoyed retirement in his home in the Park Forest neighborhood of State College, Pennsylvania. He remained heavily involved with the sport of fishing, giving lectures, writing columns, and doing interviews for fly fishing magazines. For many years, former President Jimmy Carter visited Harvey to embark on annual fishing trips to Spruce Creek, Centre County. Until a year before his passing, Harvey led a reasonably active life and will be remembered by many as “The Dean of Fly Fishing.” He passed away on March 24, 2008 in State College, PA.
Techniques of Trout Fishing and Fly Tying. Harrisburg, PA: The Pennsylvania Boat Commission, 1976.
Techniques of Fly Tying and Trout Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Pennsylvania Boat Commission, 1990.
George Harvey: Memories, Patterns and Tactics. Lemont, PA: DSL Enterprises, 1998
The Fly Fisherman. State College, PA: George Harvey, 1997.
“Cicadas on the Fly.” Fly Fisherman: 1992.
“Lore of the Lure.” Fly Fisherman: Oct. 2003
Harvey, George W. Techniques of Fly Tying and Trout Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Pennsylvania Fish Commission, 1976.
Harvey, George W., and Daniel L. Shields. George Harvey Memoirs, Patterns and Tactics. Lemont, PA: DLS Enterprises, 1998.