FISHING WITH VOLCKER You learn a lot about people on trout streams. You can even pick up clues to the enigmatic Fed chairman.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The big man flicked the fly out of the water and sent it back over his shoulder. For a magical moment the white fishing line was straightened out behind him; then it shot forward. The fly entered the water noiselessly, far up and across the stream, and drifted along the bottom to some shaded water near a sunken log. Chest-deep in water near the opposite bank, I was photographing the chairman of the Federal Reserve in action at Bright Creek, a trout stream in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. At the moment I had a better view of the trout taking the fly than did the chairman himself. But he is a veteran of many streams, and some sixth sense led him to set the hook in that microsecond before the fish could realize it was not natural food. After perhaps 45 seconds of struggle, Paul Volcker had a gleaming ten-inch trout in his hand. He quietly returned the fish to the water, straightened up, and smiled. ''Got lucky that time,'' was his overmodest evaluation. Volcker, 59, has been catching (and ordinarily releasing) trout on flies for more than 40 years. His little pal with the camera, also a chairman -- of Eberhard Faber Inc., the writing-instruments manufacturer -- has somewhat less seniority in the streams but claims to be no less passionate about trout. That is a large claim. The Fed chairman noted at one point that over the years he had spent a lot of time practicing by casting flies through a suspended rubber tire. A fringe benefit of his job is that he gets to try trout streams all over the world. I have heard him grumble about a conference in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where the meetings, parades, and ceremonies kept him away from the trout until 6 P.M. Our two-day visit to Bright Creek followed an invitation from Robert Landis, a senior partner of the Philadelphia law firm of Dechert Price & Rhoads and chairman of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank. (I had come to know both men from my own tour of duty as a director of the Philadelphia Fed.) It was a nice invitation to get: Bright Creek is eight or nine miles of superior trout water, bounded by pleasant guest lodges. Not only does Volcker like to fish, he also likes to talk and read about fishing. I noticed that his reading matter on this particular trip was mostly books and articles about trout fishing. A New York Times that materialized at one point engaged him for only about ten minutes. (He also gave about ten minutes to checking in with his office.) But he reminisced fondly about the days when his father had taught him fly-fishing for bass, and about an obviously well-spent youth fishing Pennsylvania lakes and rivers for smallmouth. That evening he looked over some flies I had given him that had been tied by my friend Stan Cooper Jr., a professional. Looking over the Grey Foxes, the March Browns, the Green Drakes, and the Blue Quills, Volcker seemed awestruck. ''They're so beautiful, I almost hate to use them,'' he observed, lamenting that when he ties flies himself, ''they wind up with glue on them.'' He added hastily, however, ''But they catch fish!'' I thought this would be a good time to ask whether this notoriously private man would stand for my taking some pictures of him the next day, and writing in FORTUNE about his encounters with the trout. I had trouble following his answer, delivered in a voice gravelly from years of cigar smoking, and I later asked some of those present whether he had said yes or no. Their judgment was that he hadn't exactly said either. The sequence gave me a new appreciation of his well-publicized talent for mystifying Congressmen and media people who keep hoping to get simple responses from the man when they ask about the direction of monetary policy. The next morning, however, he didn't object when I volunteered to fish with him, so I brought along my camera. Then we set off for one of the largest and best pools on the stream. I found myself having to trot to keep up with the chairman's long, purposeful strides. When we reached the pool, Volcker said he wanted to take a picture of me catching a fish. I demurred, but he insisted, saying that he wanted to rest and smoke a cigar anyway. (He never smokes while fishing.) What followed was maddening. With the eyes of the Federal Reserve chairman riveted on me, I couldn't catch a single fish. He then wandered off downstream, whereupon I changed flies and within 20 minutes took ten brook trout, three of them over 13 inches, in what may have been the best trout-fishing performance of my life. WHEN THE RUN ended, I raced excitedly after the chairman and found him at the still end of the pool. He had just lost a big one, which had snagged his leader around an underwater stump. It's an infuriating experience, but Volcker's demeanor was unchanged -- calm, quiet, courtly. When we were back at the lodge for lunch, some guests tried to engage the chairman in conversation about tax reform. His response, delivered through a haze of cigar smoke, was animated. With his eyes fixed on the stream some 50 yards away, he replied: ''Look at that! They're rising out there! That last one must have been 14 inches!'' ''Okay, Paul,'' I said after lunch, ''now you and I are going to take those fish on dry flies.'' Privately I worried about our prospects because the water in that big pool in front of the lodge is as still as a millpond, and the fish can take their time evaluating your fly. On the other hand, we were now being helped by the fisherman's best friend, an overcast sky (which makes it harder for the fish to see and be spooked by the fisherman). Our first effort was directed to a fish that had risen quietly to a shady patch under a hemlock tree some 30 feet away. With an adroit backhand roll cast, Volcker sent a Stan Cooper Grey Fox fluttering to the water in the vicinity of the rise. We held our breath as it sat there for what seemed like hours but was probably less than a minute. Then the fish took, Volcker hooked him, and we soon had a 13 1/2-inch brook trout in my net. The chairman never carries a creel or a net, since he releases almost all his fish, but he made an exception this time. ''I think we'll keep this one for Mrs. Volcker,'' he said. I think I learned a lot about Paul Volcker during our two days at Bright Creek. One thing I discovered is that he has a powerful streak of frugality. At one point, when we were fishing in the pool in front of the lodge, his badly battered Grey Fox got snagged in a tree on an errant backcast. In the circumstances, with the fish rising as they were, most fishermen would have impatiently snapped off the fly and tied on a new one. Instead, helped by his height (6 feet 7 inches) and my eight-foot graphite rod, Volcker went to work jiggling the Grey Fox loose. The fly ended up taking more than two dozen trout that afternoon before it finally unraveled, and the chairman ended up with a fair number deemed worthy of Mrs. Volcker. When my film finally ran out Paul insisted that I do some more fishing, and I didn't need much persuading this time. I fished two dry flies at once and picked up more than a dozen trout before it was time to leave. Together, I claim, we gave the fish quite a beating. Even when a late-afternoon rain washed over us, our concentration was uninterrupted. Finally, sadly, I had to leave. My tall friend walked me back to my car, we shook hands warmly, and we promised to do it all again some time. The last I saw of him, he was hastening back to the stream with that immense, purposeful stride. AS I DROVE HOME that evening I felt I had a new insight into a meeting I'd attended in Washington six years earlier, where Volcker had had the distinctly unpleasant task of confronting a group of angry, near-panicky bankers who were finding the war against inflation painful. Interest rates were climbing toward 20%, and the soaring cost of raising money was squeezing profits for many of the bankers. Volcker handled the session masterfully, I thought at the time. He calmed down the group without conceding anything; indeed, he repeatedly insisted that priority No. 1 had to be inflation. But turning this scene over in my mind after the fishing trip, I realized that the crucial ingredients were some qualities of Volcker's I had seen in the past couple of days. He is infinitely courteous. He is also a man of high seriousness. You can joke with him, but you are never in doubt that he knows what he wants and will not easily be deflected. Finally, behind the clouds of cigar smoke and the oracular pronouncements is a man who genuinely likes people. And also likes trout.