Last weekend was the 10th annual Orvis Game Fair at Sandannona in Millbrook, NY. Orvis Sandonona Shooting Grounds is the oldest permitted shooting preserve in the United States. These grounds have a lot of history on them and it is a special treat to visit every year. The last two years have witnessed warm beginnings to the autumn, as you would expect this delay of cool weather and rain adversely impacts the fall Trout fishing season.
This year a group of us grabbed a few campsites at the Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park off of the Taconic State Parkway. The park is over fourteen thousand acres and features two bodies of water, Canopus Lake and Pelton Pond. The location was perfectly situated between the West Branch of the Croton and Dutchess County rivers. Our logic was that we needed to focus on the tail waters of the Croton watershed due to the low level drought.
The West Branch of the Croton below Boyd’s Corner was fishable, however mostly warm water species were hitting and flows were low. Mark had a swing and a miss out of the reservoir by a Brown Trout. The freestone streams of Dutchess County were all the lowest I have seen them over the past five years. They are still fishable for Smallmouth Bass when they are very low. I even managed to find a few Trout in one deep and cool pool.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Robert Frost ~ excerpt from, “The Road Less Traveled”
The inaugural summer trip I took up to Vermont was in August of 2008 with my good friend Brandon. I always used to go up to this scenic paradise for snowboarding and skiing but not for summer time fun. By 2008, I had largely wrapped up the most difficult part of graduate school and again had time to start Fly Fishing and begin Dual Sport Riding again. In my college years, we completed many dirt miles on the rural roads of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Vermont exists on a whole different level of riding because of their unique Class IV seasonal roads.
So much has changed since our first trip up to Vermont. New houses, new jobs, new bikes, new people, marriages and now babies! However, Post Mills, Lake Fairlee, the surrounding forests and hills, they are timeless. The airport, the lake, trails, the hills and mountains it is all there each time you make it back.
During this trip we rented out a cottage on the lake for ourselves instead of staying at the airport. This new development made access to fishing on the lake much improved. Fly Fishing for warm water and cool water species is quite excellent in Lake Fairlee. The lake features some prominent drop offs and extensive shallow weed beds, which lend themselves quite well for fly-fishing.
Fly Fishing For Bass
Brandon paddles up the Middle Brook.
A lake is a vast expanse of water to read, comprehend and adequately explore for fish with a fly rod. However by working with the limitations of basic fly gear and Bass habitat you can reduce the size of the problem to a manageable puzzle. Fly gear will be most effective around structure in less than ten feet of water, near to the shore or weed beds.
Fly Fishing for bass is better in the early morning, late evenings or cloudy days. All of these factors contribute to bring Bass nearer to the surface and within reach of your fly tackle. If you fish near shore in the early mornings, late evenings or cloudy days, you should be able to rip a few ‘ole bucket mouths from the lake.
Fly Tackle For Lake Bass
I have fished with everything from 4WT to 8WT for Bass and other warm or cool water species. My favorite rod to use is my 7WT St. Croix Bank Robber, a rod designed to throw the heavier flies and streams that Bass like to eat. This rod equipped with weight forward Rio 7WT line and a Sage reel is a Bass lip ripper for sure. Alternatively, I have fished an 8WT Cabela’s salt-water rod and a 6WT Scott Radian, all function great, however, my preference if for the 7WT streamer rod.
The ride up to Vermont on Friday afternoon and evening was a long and soggy one. After departing work at around 4PM, I loaded the GMC 2500 and started driving. The rain I hit around Troy, NY certainly slowed me down as I drove through the Green Mountains in the pitch black. I did not arrive at the lake house until around 11:30PM. I suspected that as these rainstorms cleared, it would yield postfrontal conditions and negatively impact Bass fishing in the morning, I was proven incorrect.
After staying up late imbibing as the rest of the team arrived, we all hit the sack in the wee morning hours. Fortunately, the beautiful sunrise over the lake awoke me from my slumber and once I paddled out across the placid waters my head cleared and I was focused on the watery depths. I allowed to canoe to blow into a cove and quickly tied on my Thin Mint fly and some tapered Bass Leader.
This was to be my best day for fishing, the sun rising, burning off the fog; fish after fish chasing my fly. Mornings like these are why men and women have traveled to Vermont to escape for hundreds of years. For the hour and a half I stole away to fish, I landed ten fish and missed countless more. Of these fish, one was my first pickerel on the fly! A little fourteen-inch predator that came tearing out of a weed bed and took some line off of my reel.
The fish in Lake Fairlee were in post spawn hunger mode with a few stragglers remaining on nests. These conditions paired with the low light of sunrise and sunset bode well for catching a variety of fish, especially Smallmouth Bass. We were able to get out on the canoe or the rowboat equipped with a 6HP outboard every day until Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Eurasian Milfoil removal team interrupted our Tuesday morning fishing. Eurasian Milfoil is a highly invasive plant to North America that finds its way into lakes through non-cleaned boating gear. It is common in publicly accessible lakes and must be removed mechanically or with special herbicide. Always make sure your boat is dry and free of weeds or other debris when moving from lake to lake.
The Yellow Brick Road
One morning in 1940 New England, the entire population of a town, 572 souls walked up a winding logging trail into the wilderness and was never seen again. Or so says the fictional account of the American gothic style horror movie, “The Yellow Brick Road.” Exploring class IV roads of Vermont, it is not difficult to see the inspiration for this movie and others of the genre. Scattered along the trails and abandoned roads you will find in Vermont’s highlands stone foundations and cemeteries nestled deep in reforested pastures. Many of these farms were abandoned during the civil war, the owners or children who never returned from their crusade to preserve the Union.
Over the years, dual sport riding in the Green Mountain State we have experienced varieties of gnarly conditions. Be it massive mud puddles, logging roads that terminate at seemingly insurmountable rock faces, beaver dams in the middle of trails or off the grid hermit cabins inhabited by residents that don’t take kindly to visitors. Being out here on the trail is surreal and disappearing into the dense forest seems remotely possible. In fact, I recall one time while riding east of Dartmouth, New Hampshire, Brandon and I took a turn onto what we thought would be a semi-improved road. Several hours later around dusk, we finally made it off of this over ten-mile logging trail. “Trail” is a generous term for the animal path we were riding on.
Bike Troubles Resolved
Up to this year’s trip, the last time I had my bike running proper was right after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. That trip was fun, however in regards to dual sport riding it was somewhat of a failure. The XT 600 was all re built in October of 2012 and that trip was the maiden voyage. That year, the cards were not in favor of the XT’s operation, the stator shit the bed within minutes of cranking the ole girl up. Running on battery alone we made it about 15 miles before the bike needed a pickup truck ride home.
Fast-forward to today, three years later, one stator, one voltage regulator and a starter solenoid for good measure and the XT 600 is purring like it is 1992. Twenty-three years have passed since my father purchased this bike brand new from Action Cycle in Metuchen, NJ. This trip was an endurance test of all of the repairs we have completed to get this bike up and running like new again.
All told, we completed 91 miles of trail and class IV road riding over the four days. We did an additional 21 miles of improved road riding. Now this may not seem like many miles, however, when a 30-mile trail ride takes you four or five hours, it is an incredible amount of riding. I believe this was an adequate test of the XT’s abilities for now. When I get home, I fully intend to take her out again to explore some local terrain.
Each and every time we get out on our favorite familiar trails we try and locate new challenges and roads not taken. Without fail you tend to locate a new area to explore or a trail to try or even a hidden lake or historical oddity. This time we found the ATV/ Snowmobile trail up to Bald Top Mountain.
The trail started with a deep-water crossing caused by a beaver’s engineering handiwork. The trail continued to slowly meander around the base of Bald Top, gaining altitude as it went. There was a large rock, standing out against the landscape, which we had to crest, intimidating at first, not so much when you arrived at the top. The real trouble lay ahead, as we started to ascend Bald Top, the trail developed into a rocky and muddy path.
Brandon made it about 25% of the way up the final ascent, I was not ready to begin the real ascent and held down at the base. After a little bit of walking around and evaluating the various options, we decided this was a puzzle better solved on our next trip.
This Vermont adventure was unique in that it was the first trip we have taken with Brandon and Nicole’s new addition Wyatt! Also with us riding dual sport bikes was Dave and his wife Carly. Out there fishing and paddling with me was Bob who was also accompanied by his wife Steph and son Logan. This was one of the larger crowds since we attended the Vermonster back in 2011.
All in all it was an excellent trip and I cannot wait to go back again!
This past summer I was fortunate enough to get a drift boat. If you have never fished from one before, it’s a whole new addiction. Just seeing the river standing on a boat is incredible. Rowing the boat down the river and putting your friends into fish is just as good as hooking into the fish yourself. These are the highlights of my summer in photographs.
The world is a wonderful place and this is some kind of life.
The northern woods are abuzz with the sights and sounds of fall. Bow hunters have taken to their tree stands, Trout are recovering from the long summer and the evening winds are brisk and cool. Autumn is a welcome relief from hazy, hot and humid summer evenings. I believe in taking full advantage of every weekend opportunity to either get out on the motorcycle or Fly Fishing. It is also a fine opportunity to get in an extra camping trip or two.
The Open Road
The East Coast Gypsy Run is a non-traditional motorcycle rally that starts down in Brooklyn with a Thursday night party, before heading up through scenic Ulster and Sullivan Counties in upstate New York. This year the ride set out on Friday the 13th, unfortunately we were unable to make it. On Thursday evening a ferocious storm blew through the county, leaving a path of downed trees and power outages through the Township.
Brandon and I decided to follow the run up through Route 52 in Sullivan County and into Ulster County on Route 55. We made some modifications to the route including a cruise through Walpack Center and the Delaware Water Gap along with Hawk’s Nest and a stop at the Roebling Aqueduct.
In the Wild Forest designated areas within the Catskill Park there are remote roadside sites to camp at. This recreates the true freeborn man effect for a weekend warrior such as Brandon and myself. Cruiser bikes are a fine form of transportation; the saddlebags offer a place to store some of your gear and the seats are comfortable.
En route, we found the Blue Hill Café located in the sparsely inhabited mountain town of Claryville, New York. The café has a nicely renovated interior, they are a restaurant, bar, deli and small grocery. When we stopped in we met Irena, the owner and her bus girl Tishana. I had a delicious seafood feast washed down with a few Russian beers.
As a boy, the family had a farm in Wurtsboro, NY on McDonald Road. It was a great place and one of the reasons I enjoy the outdoors. We no longer own the farm; we sold it a few years back. Wurtsboro remains one of my preferred destinations for a motorcycle ride; the Shawangunk Range running parallel with RT 209 town makes it beautiful country.
There are two stops that a rider should make when hammering down through Wurtsboro; the first is the Wurtsboro Airport. The airport is the oldest operating glider port in the USA, it was owned by the Barone Family since the 1940’s. The site of the airport was a large family homestead and the final resting place of the first non-Indian settler in Mamakating Township. Filled with storied history, the airport is under new ownership, the grounds are home to two Cessna Bird Dogs, gliders and several other historically significant airplanes.
Private aviation boomed after World War II, thousands of Americans were trained in the operation of the war birds; these pilots are the individuals who made America the great nation that it is. Recently aviation has fallen on difficult times, the Greatest Generation has retired, the housing boom destroyed airports to make way for subdivisions and the collapse of the housing boom wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings. Hopefully soon we will see a return to the pre-recession economy.
Danny’s is my other recommended stop in Wurtsboro; popular with bikers, sportsmen and any red blooded American this is a fine roadhouse. America’s watering holes disappear all the time as our nation becomes successively more urbanized and suburban growth destroys each place’s unique heritage. Pretty much, this is the opposite of your average boring suburb’s Applebee’s, the building dates to the 1800s when the primary means of transportation through town was a canal. Over the years the establishment has been upgraded but you can still rest your kick stand less dirt bike against the pillar here and tie one on… now that’s America!
That about wraps up the open road adventure, our time living as freeborn men. Like any weekend warrior, Monday is a fine opportunity to focus on numbers work and nurse the injuries of the adventure. It is a jam-packed fall and next weekend we will be at the Orvis Game Fair and Country Sporting Weekend along with Fly Fishing adventures in the Hudson Valley.
MKFF last visited the wilds of Maine during a 2011 float trip with Fly Fishing guide Kate Farnham. Depending on where you are headed to in Maine, the drive is in excess of seven hours, a distance by any measure. It would be quicker and simpler via floatplane, bush plane or some other awesome means of transportation. Having not attained enough wealth at this point in my life for such luxuries, we hopped in the FJ on Friday after jamming the truck full of gear and headed up.
Pleasant River Campground
I prefer to camp in a primitive setting, doing so allows you to disappear far away from civilization at no cost. In addition, its more fun to escape in the woods and imagine you are Danielle Boone. Either way, you leave civilization and its burden’s for a short time and check out high quality cold-water fisheries.
The Pleasant River Campground features secluded wooded sites along the Pleasant River, a tributary of the Androscoggin. The bathrooms are of high quality and the place is generally quiet. The owner rents out Canoes and Kayaks while providing popular amenities like a swimming pool and horseshoe pit.
“Home of the world’s worst weather,” Mt. Washington, at 6,288 feet, is the highest peak in the northeastern United States. Mount Washington holds the record for highest wind ever recorded by man, a speed of 231MPH on April 12, 1934. This record was surpassed in 1996 though a human being did not actually stand there and record the wind speed as was customary in 1934. At one time, people were stationed on top of the mountain all season to record the weather.
In present day, anybody can drive to the summit on the Mt Washington Auto Road. The auto road is a 7.6-mile road that climbs Mount Washington. The road was completed in 1861 to serve carriages. The roadway has an average gradient of 11.6%; it is so taxing on your transmission that the road operators have created certain vehicle restrictions. In a future expedition, I think actually hiking Mount Washington would be interesting.
The upper Andro is a big east coast stream that consistently delivers larger than average sized Trout. Based upon Sunday’s float, there is also a population of Smallmouth Bass and Chub during the summer months. I floated the river with a kayak and used a Rapala floater on my LL Bean spin rod. The total catch was one Rainbow Trout, three Smallmouth Bass and five Chubs. I also had an air jaws on the line during a sudden summer thunderstorm that blew through. Eagles are common in these parts, they feast on the Trout and we did see one of them enjoying a meal.
Home of L.L. Bean, the giant boot and a collection of outlet shops; Freeport, Maine rose to notoriety starting in 1912 when Leon Leonwood Bean created the Maine Hunting Shoe or Bean Boot.
L.L. Bean has grown into a global retailer and manufacturer while remaining one of the last US retailers to maintain a manufacturing presence in the USA. Its reputation for quality and customer service is unparalleled and often studied in business school.
The largest city in Maine has the 19th century industrial ambiance common throughout New England. The city is a change from the lakes, rivers and forests of Maine while still maintaining the New England small town ambiance.
On the ride up it was agreed that we would all order the largest Lobster available in Maine. The cab driver recommended J’s Oyster; I ordered a heaping pile of Steamers and a Lobster. The platter was delicious although the sizes of Lobsters were fairly consistent.
The next stop was Bull Feeney’s Irish Bar; I was enthralled with their slogan and sign, “Lobsters Love Guinness.” Another excellent point about Bull Feeney’s is that they have, “Maine’s most extensive selection of single malt Scotch and Irish whiskies.”
The Long Ride Home
The trip home always seems shorter than the haul up. The problem with this is you are leaving the beautiful scenery, camping and fishing of Maine and New England in general. The drive provides ample opportunity to stare out at the many fish filled rivers of New England and hope for more good days of fishing. I hope to get back sooner rather than later!
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.
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.
“The past is never dead, it is not even past.” ~William Faulkner
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.