Remembering Press Powell

PRESS FOR PRESS In 2001, Press Powell was photographed for a News & Review cover story about the rod-making family business and its alleged takeover by stockbroker Charles Schwab.

PRESS FOR PRESS In 2001, Press Powell was photographed for a News & Review cover story about the rod-making family business and its alleged takeover by stockbroker Charles Schwab.

The flower arrangements were appropriately accented with bamboo rods, as a standing-room-only crowd filled the East Avenue Community Church to remember the life of Press Powell.

At the March 15 service, speakers ranging from young children to an octogenarian praised the Chico man, best known for his work with fly rods, who died March 11 at the age of 57.

Powell had aggressively fought colon cancer since 2000, hoping to live to see his teenaged sons grow up. He’d been married to Martha Powell since 1970.

Gary Moore, a Yuba City pastor and high-school friend, led the service and described Powell, no pun intended, as “irrepressible.”

“It was really hard to get him down,” Moore said. “No matter what happened, he would smile through it.”

Although Powell earned fame as a third-generation successful fly-rod maker and fisherman, his friends described him as first and foremost someone who lived to make others feel special. Powell was slow to anger, quick to laugh and never limited his friendships to any clique or class of person.

Friends told of Little League pitching acumen and Chico High antics and, later, duck-hunting and tennis matches at the racquet club. Powell also helped start the Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs children’s event.

Jay Fair, an expert fisherman and guide who considered Powell a great friend, said that in his 80 years he’d known few people of Powell’s character.

“He,” said Fair, his voice trembling, “was a real gentleman.”

Powell had recently undergone yet another procedure he hoped would thwart the cancer but succumbed to his illness at Enloe Medical Center.

The News & Review featured Press Powell in an August 2001 cover story that was largely about the lawsuit his late father, Walton Powell, filed against stockbroker giant Charles Schwab. Schwab, the suit charged, tricked Powell in 1996 into signing over the family name and then moved the company from Chico, forced the Powells out and ran it into the ground. The case was later settled, as was a similar suit filed by Press’s brother, John.

His health failing, Press Powell sold the renamed Chico Fly Shop to longtime employees in 2002. Powell, who had been forbidden to build and sell rods with the Powell name under the agreement with Schwab, was later sued by Schwab—a case that was resolved when Schwab’s company agreed to buy Press’ stock, said Jeffrey Wagner, a Powell family attorney. Wagner added that Schwab has not yet paid all of the money owed, and it is now due to Powell’s estate.

Powell had graduated from Chico State University with degrees in biology and agricultural science and capped that off with a master’s degree at UC Davis before taking a teaching job. In 1977, his mother convinced him to come back to Chico and rejoin the family business.

Following the tradition of E. C. Powell in the 1930s, his son, Walt, became skilled at constructing bamboo fly rods and experimented with fiberglass and graphite. Press Powell’s mother, Earline, was an expert at tying flies. But Press took rod-building to the next level, respecting the bamboo tradition but expanding the family’s product line to include top-quality graphite rods. It was also Press Powell who urged his family to begin selling its wares in retail stores through dealers, rather than just direct-to-customer. He traveled the world promoting the rods.

He built rods for heads of state and Hollywood stars but also made time to take neighbor boys fishing. One of them came to the church microphone in tears to share a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” fishing with the master.

“I miss him so much, because he’s such a good guy," the boy said.