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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Collector: Dave Gunderson angles for the best

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes, a collection is more about who a person is than the items they collect.

That’s the case with Dave Gunderson. The lifelong fisherman has filled his home with things that reflect his passion for fly fishing.

“I have over 100 fly rods, many reels, nets, fly boxes, custom-made equipment containers and thousands of flies,” he said.

The fishing bug bit him hard as a kid in Hoquiam, Washington.

“My dad started taking me when I was 8 or 9,” Gunderson said. “He loved to hunt, but I loved fishing more, so he’d take me.”

The Whitworth University and University of Idaho grad pursued a career in secondary education, teaching and coaching for decades. But he didn’t let his job interfere with his hobby.

“There were years I fished 300 days a year,” he said. “I get off work on Friday afternoon, load up my truck and drive to Methow (River). I’d sleep in my truck, then get up and fish.”

Nowadays, he fishes about 50 days a year. His biggest challenge is choosing which rod and reel to take.

“My collection has aesthetic value, but I also use it.”

For many years, Gunderson represented the R. L. Winston Rod Co.

“Winston sends me the blanks, and I make the rods,” he said. “I made hundreds and just gave them away.”

Others like an E.F. Payne bamboo rod, he kept for his collection.

“The rod, plus a reel frame, was made by a guy who worked for Payne,” Gunderson said. “My wife got it for me.”

Sometimes, his items attract envy. While fishing the Big Hole River in Montana, another angler spotted his reel.

“It’s a Winston Perfect Reel made by Hardy in Great Britain,” he said. “A guy offered me $1,000 for it.”

The fellow wasn’t pleased to have his offer refused.

“I dislike guys who take everything for granted and feel like they’re owed things,” Gunderson said. “They cut fences and leave trash behind.”

After he retired from teaching, he opened a fly shop with area fly fishing legend John Propp.

“I sold out to him after several years because I wasn’t getting to fish enough.”

Gunderson is handy on a river with his prized collection. He’s fished the Steelhead Tournament on the Clearwater River four times and won it twice. Photos show him hefting two 20-pound specimens.

“I know guys who’ve fished for 20 years and never caught one,” he said.

When you have custom-made rods and reels, you need equally fine containers for them.

A highlight of this collection is a set of exquisitely handcrafted leather cases made by Ohio craftsman James Acord.

A shoulder strap streamside bag features the hand-painted face of Gunderson’s dog – the larger fly fishing case bears Gunderson’s likeness.

“Then I asked Jimmy for a case I could carry two reels in,” the collector said.

The artist obliged and created the Gunderson Double Reel Case.

“They’re selling like hotcakes!” he said.

In 2006, he asked Acord for a double rod case and the Gunderson Case debuted. It holds two rods with reels attached. Each rod is stored in its own aluminum tube with calfskin lining, and the reels are cushioned in a shearling lining inside the end piece.

Gunderson also owns several handmade wooden cases that hold his fly-tying tools. He no longer makes his own flies but said over the years he made 10,000 to 20,000 of them.

His passion for fly fishing is also reflected in his choice of art. Beautifully framed paintings of rivers, fish and anglers fill his northeast Spokane home.

“I’ve been told it’s the best collection of fly fishing art this side of the Mississippi,” he said.

He’s fished everywhere from Alaska to the Sea of Cortez.

His largest catch? A 129-pound halibut caught in Alaska.

But Gunderson’s best-loved fishing streams are found in Montana. He built a fishing lodge in Dillon and created a lifetime of memories there. Though he eventually sold the lodge, he still counts Montana’s Madison and Missouri rivers as his favorite places to cast.

As he looked over his expansive collection, it’s the items from the past that mean the most.

“I have some of my dad’s things from the ’40s and ’50s,” he said, pointing to a wicker fishing creel with leather straps and a Winona reel.

It’s more difficult for him to choose a favorite rod.

“A lot of the rods I made I haven’t used yet, but I’m still young,” Gunderson, 82, said.

Whether he fishes 300 days a year or 50, the allure remains.

“I love stream fishing – the peace, the quiet, the tranquility,” he said. “There’s nothing better.”