CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's trout-fishing community will miss Ernie Nester.
Ernie died earlier this week at the far-too-early age of 75. Anglers throughout the state will remember him because he worked tirelessly to enhance fishing for wild, stream-grown trout. I'll remember him because he was a friend.
I met him at a Trout Unlimited meeting in 1978. He had an easy smile and an affable manner that put folks instantly at ease, and a manner of speaking that sounded very much as if someone had taken famed actor Jimmy Stewart's voice and transplanted it into a lanky civil engineer's body.
I had only just begun to fly fish for trout at the time, and I had a million questions.
The way Ernie answered them impressed me deeply. He never spoke hastily. He listened carefully, mulled each question over for a moment or two, and then answered clearly and directly.
I quickly learned (from others; Ernie never, ever tooted his own horn) that he taught civil engineering at West Virginia University Tech, helped found TU's Kanawha Valley Chapter, and served as West Virginia's first TU Council chairman and first national director.
He was a fisherman, and a darned good one, but focused his true passion on making trout fishing better for everyone.
He and several other Kanawha Valley members carried water-chemistry kits with them wherever they went. With those kits, they painstakingly measured the alkalinity and acidity of promising-looking streams that didn't yet contain trout. When one had the right combination of alkalinity and temperature, they stocked the stream with juvenile brown trout carried there in their own backpacks.
When Ernie thought a stream might have the potential to harbor native brook trout, he and a couple of trusted friends took matters into their own hands. They'd head for a well-populated creek, catch a limit of native brookies apiece and transport them to the candidate stream.