How 'The American Sportsman' was born

Hi, folks. You know, once upon a time in America, there were dozens of streams like La Paloma — a big, brawling, wild river that tumbles out of the Chilean Andes, flattens out below the foothills and meanders through a valley reminiscent of the American West a century or more ago. Days go by without the sighting of an engine-driven vehicle, on the ground or in the air. Oxen are the preferred source of energy, hauling two-wheeled carts across the river's shallower stretches. There are no bridges, no dams and no power lines.

It was on the timeless Paloma that my co-hosts Karen Graham and Jim Costolnick caught browns and rainbows up to eight pounds while filming two episodes for "CITGO In Search of Flywater," a new, critically acclaimed fishing series now in its second season on ESPN2.

If Graham and Costolnick are newcomers to the world of TV outdoors, they are no neophytes to flyfishing. When she isn't flyfishing in the Catskills, or on location for Winnercomm's "CITGO In Search of Flywater," the Mississippi-born-and-bred Karen is performing on Madision Avenue as a top fashion model for Estee Lauder. Jim Costolnick — known as "Coz" to his clients — is less visible. He's a top-rated fishing guide, whose specialty is running flyfishing trips down the Delaware River.

Although Coz and Karen come from distinctly different worlds, they speak a common language on a trout stream. It's my language as well, one filled with the joy of the moment when the most important concern is the drift of your fly in the dark, shifting current. A trout stream is timeless and has no geography.

In fact, the region fished by Karen and Coz is not perceptibly different than it was in 1964, when I took an ABC film crew down to Chile's neighboring country, Argentina. The breathtaking scenery reminded me of parts of Wyoming, where I grew up with a flyrod in one hand and, a little later, a radio mike in the other. I was raised in Laramie. My father, a railroad man, taught me how to handle a fly-rod while my mother engrained in me a love for books and journalism. Between those parental forces, my life as a fly-fishing sportscaster emerged.

I thank them for putting me in a position to fish in Argentina years later. Instead of the Rockies, I stood in the shadow of the Andes. With four film cameras capturing our images and two soundmen recording our words, I and world-famous angler Joe Brooks caught dozens of huge brookies, a few weighing over six pounds. It was the fishing experience of my young life, but there were to be equally exciting moments waiting in the years ahead, all over the world.

Anyway, we brought the film back to New York City, gave it to a team of great editors and a writer. A month later, ABC ran the 20-minute program on its famous anthology series, "The Wide World of Sports." The public response was so so strong that a new series was born. We called it "The American Sportsman." The show ran for three decades, winning millions of loyal viewers — and every conceivable industry award — as we covered the globe in search of the best fishing waters. The audience knew where to find us — Sundays at 3pm EST on ABC, January through March. Wherever they were, millions stopped what they doing, tuned in and sat back to watch the granddaddy of all fishing shows. It was the most loyal following of any weekend sports program.

Now the torch has been passed to ESPN's "In Search of Flywater." From what I have seen, the producers and crew are up to the challenge. I'll be there to help preserve the tradition of high quality and action begun by "The American Sportsman."

Tight lines, Folks. I'll write another memory soon.

CITGO In Search of Flywater airs Sundays at 7:30 a.m. ET and Thursdays at 6:00 a.m. ET during the months of July, August and September. A new Curt Gowdy memory appears in this space every other week.