Lee Wulff – a renaissance man
Henry Leon Wulff was an artist, an inventor, an explorer, an author, a pilot and a filmmaker. Lee was born in Valdez, Alaska in 1905, where his father had gone to strike it rich in the gold fields – a goal that didn’t quite pan out. Lee was in Valdez for 10 years, where his father, Charles Wulff, had become the owner/publisher of the local newspaper. The family then moved back to Charles’s hometown of Brooklyn, New York for five years before finally settling in San Diego, where Lee graduated high school and, for two years, attended San Diego State College. After being a star athlete and an excellent student in San Diego, Lee transferred to and, in 1926 graduated from, Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He earned a degree in engineering, but had no intention of being an engineer – Lee got that degree to please his father. In fact, the day after graduation, Lee scraped up what money he could and traveled to Paris to take art classes. Lee saw himself, as others did as well, as an artist – a painter and a sculptor.
After more than a year in the City of Light taking classes and hosting exhibitions of his work, Lee moved to New York City where he served as an art director, primarily in advertising. But the pull of the outdoors, fishing and hunting was always luring him to lead another life. After dipping his toe in the water by writing articles and taking photographs of life in the outdoors, Lee decided to quit working for other people and devote his life to making public appearances, writing, photographing and filming adventures in the outdoors. He became a worldwide figure and was the person who, in 1939, wrote that a gamefish is too valuable to be caught only once, thus originating the concept of “catch-and-release.” He also was constantly challenging old and, as he proved, outmoded and often times completely false ideas and beliefs. In October of 1946 he debunked the accepted notion that if you fell in a river while wearing full waders and they filled with water, you would drown. While wearing full waders, he dove from a bridge into the waters of the Batten Kill River in Vermont, allowing his waders to fill with water, and then spent a good while swimming around and waving to people before he walked out of the water. And there are pictures to prove it.
Lee also debunked the myth that, in order to cast to, hook, play and land an Atlantic Salmon, you needed to use a long, strong two-handed rod. He knew better; he believed that not only didn’t you need a strong, long rod, you didn’t need a rod at all. In 1943 he stood on a rock in a river in Canada, and, using only a reel with a line on it – no rod at all – he cast with his arm, hooked an Atlantic salmon, played it and landed it using only his arm, hand and the reel with a line on it. He had photographs taken of the entire event.
In 1947, and in only a few weeks, Lee learned to fly a plane after taking possession of a J3 Piper Cub and, for the rest of his life, flew around North America, exploring, opening camps and lobbying countries on conservation, ecology and the protection of wildlife. He invented gear from reels to lines to landing equipment. He was a producer, a director and a writer of not only books but also of television shows. (And he did all this while being married five times – he was definitely a busy man.) He also set world records for hooking and landing different species of fish. As many people have stated, Lee Wulff was the outstanding outdoorsman of the 20th Century.