Tag Archives: Catskills

Spring Rises

If you live in the New York metro area, Trout fishing in the Catskills is a traditional rite of spring. Specifically, many of us head up to “Trout Town USA” or Roscoe, NY on most modern maps. Roscoe has been famous for Trout fishing since the 1800’s when the Ontario and Western Railroad brought people up here to Fly Fish. The first dry fly fishing in America happened on fabled streams in the area. I had been to Roscoe on opening day in order to attend several events including the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s, “Catskill Legends Dinner” along with their first cast event. The following day I attended the “Two Headed Trout Dinner,” hosted by the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce. At that event I was the winning bid on a silent auction for a weekend at a guesthouse in Roscoe. All of these events are a fine time and I recommend checking them out next year.

Mark practices casting his new Cabela's Fly Rod on the banks of the West Branch.
Mark practices casting his new Cabela’s Fly Rod on the banks of the West Branch.

The West Branch

This fine stream, starting out in Stamford, NY and running all the way to where it meets the East Branch at Junction Pool in Hancock, NY is one of the best wild Trout fisheries in the State of New York. The river was dammed in the 1960s to create the Cannonsville Reservoir, storing additional water supply for New York City. Though it cost Trout anglers many miles of stream the dam created a steady cold-water release on the Delaware. The East Branch is also dammed to create the Pepacton Reservoir however; the releases from this branch are less consistent because the clean water is more highly valued for drinking purposes.

Always use the rubber coated net to protect the fish's protective coating.
Always use the rubber coated net to protect the fish’s protective coating.

Mark and I secured guide Ray Ottulich through The Beaverkill Angler Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY. We met around 11AM at the shop and motored on up the 17 Quickway to a boat put in on the West Branch. This was the first time I floated an eastern river since my trip with dad up to the Andro in Maine a few falls back. I peaked with excitement at the prospect of floating the West Branch for Trout instead of plying the Main Stem for Smallmouth from shore. Fly Fishing from a drift boat is a superior method of fishing as far as I am concerned.

Seeking the Hatch

The Catskills are renowned for their Dry Fly Fishing; this does not mean that deploying the dry fly is the only way to prospect for Trout. This may sound sacrilege however, I remind you the reader; I convinced Mark a spin fishing only man to hang up the ole bait pole and give Fly Fishing a chance. He did, point of the story, sometimes you need to be open minded about fishing. Prime hatches occur on cloudy days or in the morning and evening, this forces us to go down deep with nymphs or fish streamers in rising water when there is no hatch.

First fish on the dry fly and Fly Rod ever!
First fish on the dry fly and Fly Rod ever!

The fishing reports all indicated March Browns and some Blue Wing Olives at dawn or dusk. Setting out a noon is standard procedure in these parts to ensure that you secure the productive water at dusk when the hatches do go off. I started plying the deepwater edges with a streamer to no avail. Then we all switched over to pheasant tail nymphs in the shallow fast water, where the Rainbow Trout stage to eat the Blue Wing Olives nymphs. Mark managed to hook one repeatedly working a stretch of fast water. This period of time did allow us all to hone in our casting for when the actual bugs started coming off of the water.

Sometimes the captain needs to back row to keep you in productive water.
Sometimes the captain needs to back row to keep you in productive water.

Pods of Fish

The sun began to cast long shadows and the noses of Trout touching the top of the water brightened our smiles. Sporadically at first, you could detect feeding Trout by a feint splash or a glint in the water. Tying on the March Brown and an emerger enticed strikes from wary Trout. A few more missed hook ups and we pulled the boat next to a trailer park, boom Mark hooks his first fish on the Dry, a 15-inch Brown Trout! While Mark was busy fighting his Trout I was busy not landing Trout. For some reason I had a major mental block to actually set a dry fly…very frustrating.

Mark's second fish on a Fly Rod, lucky guy!
Mark’s second fish on a Fly Rod, lucky guy!

We continued our leisurely float down the West Branch, picking up speed through some rapids; unfortunately the bug activity was much lighter than expected. This season has been a strange one, very warm in March followed by a snowstorm on opening weekend that has kept the water very cool and delayed the season. As our boat rounded the Hancock 191 Bridge we again were treated to intermittent rises. Again Mark hooks a 17-inch Brown Trout on the dry fly! Lets talk about beginner’s luck…

Famous Pools

The Beaverkill along with the Willowemoc are two of the only undammed major Catskill streams. All of the other’s have had some sort of influence by man, negative (the Esopus) or positive (the West Branch tail water). The Beaverkill northeast of Roscoe to its source is a pristine valley, is less populated and less industrialized than it was one hundred years ago. The public water is limited, sometimes forcing you to wait your turn, however even on a busy fishing weekend in prime season, glorious lonesome water was found.

A Wild Brown Trout from the Beaverkill River.
A Wild Brown Trout from the Beaverkill River.

Saturday was a cloudy day with a bit of humidity and intermittent sprinkles. Perfect weather for a Blue Wing Olive hatch and we were treated to one. Arriving at a secluded though popular pool in the upper Beaverkil we were treated to an empty parking area. I quickly tied on some Blue Wing Olives I had purchases twenty minutes before and the fish were keyed on. Again, I had a lot of action but they fish kept getting a clean release.

Things to Do

Combined the towns of Roscoe and Rockland have plenty of entertainment for anglers when they are not on the river. Rockland has three great establishments we stopped in the Trout Town Brewery, the Rockland House and the Courtyard Tavern. Roscoe has a the popular diner aptly named the Roscoe Diner along with a bistro and a Pizza place. There are five fishing outfitters (fly or spin) in this town and some nice cabins for rent throughout. We are looking forward to the next summer adventure up this way, which will likely be a camping trip.

The Trout Town Brewery in all of her glory.
The Trout Town Brewery in all of her glory.

 

Feathers, Flies and All Things Unimportant

I must have been eight years old when I first witnessed a fly fisherman, plying the placid waters of New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee. I watched in amazement as his line danced through the sky and his casts landed eloquently with the precision and purpose. I quickly asked my father what the man was doing and was told that he was fly fishing. I was truly intrigued and, in my vigor to learn, asked my father how the man was able to catch the flies he was using for bait. With a strange look, my father simply shook his head and walked away. Thus began my romanticism with feathers, flies and all things unimportant to the rational world.

As a young man, I was ready to take on fly fishing full steam. My father purchased a cheap combo from the local department store, assuring that if the wand or my spirit had broken early in the foray, he wouldn’t be out a significant sum of money. My flies consisted of poorly tied blobs of fur on a hook, little foam spiders and a few of my own creations, which were nothing more than sewing thread hanging off a hook. Needless to say, between my belabored casting technique and my fly selection, fishing became more of an attempt not to hook myself or anyone else within casting range.

SteelheadI was blessed to grow up on the banks of the Passaic River, at the time the ninth most polluted river in the United States. The fishery was diverse, with carp, catfish and car parts as my quarry. Although I could not get any of the behemoths to take my flies, I did occasionally slip a piece of crusted bagel on the hook to entice fish to look at my offerings. This was fly fishing at its finest.

Next came the finer points of entomology and the three main classes of aquatic insects; mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. Well, not to get ahead of myself, my classifications were more loosely defined as green bugs, brown bugs and black bugs. When in doubt, a combination of all three was thoroughly explored.

My thirst for knowledge was boundless and I sought out the writings of greats like Art Flick, Joe Brooks and Lee Wulff, all who seemingly could go into great detail about which goop would allow your fly to float the highest or sink the deepest and which color fly line would deter or attract the greatest amount of fish. And I thought fly line color was all about personal preference.

Then came the feathers….those magical materials that cost so much but could be found near every duck pond in New Jersey. There were necks and capes, roosters and hens and flanks aplenty. Then came the grades.

I did fairly well in school and knew that a grade of A was certainly better that of an F. I also knew that I was rewarded when the grades on my report card came back higher than anticipated but found this logic flawed when it came to feathers. Those D grade feathers that littered my bag seemed much friendlier to my wallet than the snobbish A grade feathers hung so high up on the shop’s wall. Perhaps they were like the rare A plus I brought home on one of my many math tests, which hung high on my parent’s refrigerator so proudly for many years.  In any event, I was happy to have my mallard feathers, goose quills and dog tail, a proprietary shop mixture, to adorn my hooks.

Somewhere along the journey, my technique was refined, insects were identified by their Latin names and goop became dessicant powder. My flies began to take on more of the size and shape of the naturals and I even had a few fish willing to grace me with their presence.

In near 30 years of fly fishing, I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful equipment and stand on some majestic banks of a few famed rivers. I have caught some grand fish and lost more than I care to remember. I have met some wonderful friends and mourned those I have lost silently out on the river.

All those years ago, I took up fly fishing as a way to become a better fisherman, to challenge myself, test my abilities, my patience and my sanity. All these years later, I realize that fly fishing has made me a better man. It has taught me to appreciate what I have, it has made me realize that catching the fish is not the sole objective, it has reminded me that all living things around us have meaning and purpose and has taught me to be humble and accept what life has to offer.

Some of my fondest moments were trying to take random knowledge, mismatched materials and salvaged tackle to have some fun and catch a few fish while doing it.

My life is still filled with feathers, flies and many things unimportant but it is also those very same things that remind me what is.

Enjoy your passion and find passion in what you enjoy.

All the best!rod and reel

Back Where It All Began

Willowemoc at sunrise.
Willowemoc at sunrise.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, Brenton and I learned to fish on a babbling brook in Mamakating New York. Gumaer Brook, a freestone stream, originated high in the mountains, meandered past our farm, down a one lane-dead end dirt road; peacefully nestled at the base of the Shawangunk Mountain Range.

1993 - Christopher, Brenton and our neighbor Little Nick.
1993 – Christopher, Brenton and our neighbor Little Nick.

Uncle Joe (Zombo), Keith, Mike and father would take us out by the rickety bridge across the brook for Trout or over on the old D&H Canal to catch Bullhead and Pickerel. If we were lucky, Bandit (German Shephard) or Oliver (Black Lab) would avoid cooling off in the water and the fish would bite.

1994 - Christopher, Brenton and Little Mike demonstrate the Trout they caught. Credit to Big Mike for his culinary skills.
1994 – Christopher, Brenton and Little Mike demonstrate the Trout they caught. Credit to Big Mike for his culinary skills.

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.”  ~William Faulkner

1999 - The Lazy K Ranch, Kuhn and Marello families.
1999 – The Lazy K Ranch, Kuhn and Marello families.

Similarly, Fly Fishing in America kicked off about twenty miles north of the farm where we learned to fish. In the early 19th century, New York City developed into the financial and cultural center of the United States, along with this rapid expansion came an influx of immigrants and urban strife. The invention of the Steamboat and Steam Locomotive gave the wealthier residents an option to escape to the bucolic bliss of mountain life if only for the weekends or the entire summer. The city was a cesspool of garbage, disease and humidity during its long summers.

The abandoned Paramount Hotel, a remnant of better days.
The abandoned Paramount Hotel, a remnant of better days.

In the early days, weary travelers had to brave rugged stagecoach rides to access the remote northern section of Sullivan County, the land where the Beaverkill, Willowemoc and Neversink flow. The New York Ontario and Western Railway erased the difficulty in transport, offering service from Weehawken, NJ through Orange County, Sullivan County and beyond. They even went as far as to develop a publication, “Summer Homes” and offer the free transport of building materials for new summer home construction.

Covered bridges of Sullivan County.
Covered bridges of Sullivan County.

People and access to rugged terrain was not the railroad’s only contribution to American Fly Fishing, they worked to pioneer stocking programs in rivers along their lines. In 1878 O&W Management stocked over 1.5 million Trout. Their commitment to Trout fishing went as far as to spend over $4,231 in 1891 to build a Trout car. A replica of this car is now parked at the Roscoe, NY O&W museum.

Long closed this acid factory used to cause havoc on the Trout population.
Long closed this acid factory used to cause havoc on the Trout population.

Sourced broadly from: “To the Mountains by Rail,” by Manville B. Wakefield

Present Day – Livingston Manor, NY

The Willowemoc Wild Forest is a 14,800 acre protected track of land encompassing nearly the entire headwaters of the Willowemoc. There are five spring fed lakes and ponds along with wild Brook Trout streams. Camping accommodations are available at Mongaup Pond, lean tos and other primitive camping areas. Further note, there is the Willowemoc Campgrounds at the confluence of Fir Brook and the Willowemoc. Every available option leaves you in peaceful serenity within two hours from Manhattan.

Hemlock Bogs are great habitat for Brook Trout.
Hemlock Bogs are great habitat for Brook Trout.

Friday Night

On the ride up, Mark and I stopped in at Fur, Fin and Feather Sport Shop on Debruce road in Livingston Manor to purchase fishing licenses. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that last weekend was free fishing weekend. Next on the way was a quick pit stop at Peck’s Market to purchase some firewood, Summer Shandy and Sam’s Summer Ale. I love the opportunity to explore all the little businesses located on the roads less travelled; my search for authenticity is a ceaseless quest. Soon enough, the two Toyota Trucks (#truckyeah) were bumping their way up the dirt mountain roads in Willowemoc to a primitive campsite. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived, storm clouds were blew in fast over the mountains, the radio was blaring warnings storm warnings.

Wild Turkeys were everywhere.
Wild Turkeys were everywhere.

Mark and I quickly threw up the tent and lit a smoky fire with what dry wood we had. At least camp was made before the thunderstorms rolled through. The air was thick and hot, a little rain felt good especially combined with the summer ales. Once the rain ceased, I whipped up a chicken stir-fry on the camp stove and settled in to a few more summer ales before bed.

#truckyeah
The Greatest Campsite Ever! Another reason why we love America.

Saturday

The feeling of waking up to sunlight on beautiful day with the sounds of a wild Brook Trout stream in the background is unparalleled. With so many fishing options available to us for the day, I opted to fry up some Taylor Ham and Eggs for protein, coffee for energy and get a head start on the day of hiking. The strategy was to hoof it around the park looking for Trout in the tiny head-water streams. After a cup of Cowboy Coffee (percolate and add American Whiskey) we were off.

Pork Roll and Egg Sandwich, the breakfast of a New Jersey champion.
Pork Roll and Egg Sandwich, the breakfast of a New Jersey champion.

Wild Brook Trout hit aggressively, they are especially driven to strike traditional attractor patterns or terrestrials in the summer. This is Dry-Dropper or Hopper-Dropper season and you need to take advantage of that! I rigged up my virgin L.L. Bean Pocket Water 3WT 6’6” rod with a 7ft 5X tapered leader. On the end of the leader I tied on a #14 Royal Coachman, trailing 15 or so inches behind was a Brassie. I intermittently would change up the Brassie with a Bead Head Hare’s Ear.

Colorful wild Brookie
Colorful wild Brookie

The key to locating the wild Trout is to find well-oxygenated water between one and two feet deep. Anything shallower and the Trout cannot find adequate cover, deeper and the run is too slow, in the summer Brookies enjoy running water. We found some great pools and runs under the thick Hemlock understory.

Tiny but amazing.
Tiny but amazing.

After a strong morning, the fishing died off by midday. Mark and I began a “forced march” up through the Wild Forest on a quest to locate Long Pond. This “walk” was much worse than I had led Mark to believe. When hiking with other people, I like to use a Kuhn mile; this being a unique measure, one Kuhn mile equals two normal miles. I find it drives people to follow for absurdly long distances.  Eventually we stumbled into the Long Pond Lean To and laid down flat to deal with the pain. Later we made the final three-mile trek to camp and sat/laid, for an hour. All told, we marched between 12 and 14 miles.

The "Forced March" gets the best of Mark. "The Baton Death March was much worse!" said I.
The “Forced March” gets the best of Mark. “The Baton Death March was much worse!” said I.
The infamous Long Pond, 14 miles later.
The infamous Long Pond, 14 miles later.

The onset of dusk brought a renewed quest in catching another wild Trout. Due to the difficulty in spotting a Dry Fly in the prevailing light conditions, I switched over to my Brown and Coffee Woolly Bugger. Dead drifting this deadly pattern down the deeper runs pulled out another wild Brookie from under a bridge.

We walked from Willowemoc to Denning and back.
We walked from Willowemoc to Denning and back.

We returned to camp, located the firewood and set to the evening festivities. Other campers across the road were juggling flaming sticks to a laser light show, a strange sight to say the least, deep down this dirt road in the woods as we were. Another kid was driving around seeking his buddies in a Kia that had no business down the trail he was on.

Campfires of Summer
Campfires of Summer

Sunday

This pond, next to the acid factory site, held many Pickerel.
This pond, next to the acid factory site, held many Pickerel.

The sky was clear and the sun bright in the morning, this was going to result in shadows being cast on the water. Today was a day that the fish could see the angler that sought after it. As expected, fishing was difficult; I only had a few hits before the thunderstorms blew in. Mark was able to land a nice Brown Trout on the Panther Martin. Further in one of the feeder ponds he landed a few Pickerel on the same lure. We eventually cleaned up camp and headed out.

Mark caught this Brown Trout on a Panther Martin.
Mark caught this Brown Trout on a Panther Martin.

Catskill Fly Fishing Center

The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum
The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum

 

Located across a bridge from “Wulff Run,” the Catskill Fly Fishing Center has a wealth of classic displays celebrating the yesteryear of Fly-Fishing. Historically the Catskills was home to the original 19th century celebrity anglers including Theodore Gordon, “Uncle Thad” Norris, Edward R. Hewitt and George LaBranche.

Art Flick's Artifacts
Art Flick’s Artifacts

Later in the 1930’s another school of famous Fly Anglers included Herman Christian, Roy Steenrod, Reuben Cross, Hiram Leonard, Preston Jennings, Art Flick, Winnie and Walt Dette, Elsie and Harry Darbee, Ray Bergman, and Sparse Gray Hackle.

The classic Darbee sign.
The classic Darbee sign.

Modern contributors to the museum include Joan and Lee Wulff,  Poul Jorgensen and Mary Dette Clark coming of age in the 1970′s; these individuals donated many of the materials on display.

Joan Wulff Gear
Joan Wulff Gear

Final Thoughts

If you are a Daniel Boone at heart, anchored in the New York Metro area, by gainful employment, a pretty girl, and enjoyment of the big city life or all of the above, the Catskills are a fine place to let your inner spirit out. The land is semi-wild, the water so pure, it is not even filtered before it flows downstate.

Long Pond Lean To
Long Pond Lean To