Looking Back

The year is drawing to a close, my first full year at home in the Catskills. It was a fishing year, though I knew not what to expect as I ventured forth on those initial winter outings.

I had found my little house in July of 2018, looking forward to a summer of fishing between projects as I readied the new homestead for the final move from Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley. There were a handful of afternoons on the West Branch before the deluge.

Rainfall is vital for the health of wild trout and trout rivers, but the rainfall gracing the Catskill Mountains in late summer was relentless. The Delaware River reservoirs filled and spilled, and the rain kept coming. The idea of wading and fishing was washed from my mind by the torrent of swirling water encountered at every access on every river.

It was January before I dared set out to fish a little back channel on the West Branch, swinging soft hackles and small streamers with my “off-season” bamboo rod. The river still flowed at the reservoir’s maximum release, but it was possible to wade some of the shallowest water. It was refreshing to be on the water after months of high water, enjoying my first winter days on the rivers of my heart. There was even an occasional trout willing to interrupt the swing of my fly.

I continued my search for an affordable used drift boat, resolved not to be undone by high water again, but as spring beckoned the rivers rose again, and it seemed there was no boat to be had.

The Beaverkill finally came down to 1,000 cfs during the later part of the month, and I took my life in my hands to wade. Quill Gordons pouring off of a little riffle brought the year’s first rises and a 16″ brown to hand on a dry fly. I explored some new places along the river, finding a bit of wading, all the while hearing tales of hatches on the West Branch despite a flow thrice what could be considered wadeable.

The high flows demanded I work at my distance casting. With the right rod and line, and plenty of attention to line handling, I reached and exceeded the hundred foot mark, presenting a dry fly well enough to fool a number of larger browns. Long range fishing became somewhat of an addiction.

On a visit to the Neversink I made an unexpected contact that finally led me to that drift boat, and on April 29th a friend and I floated the West Branch from Deposit to Ball’s Eddy. The fishing proved less than memorable.

As my familiarity with rowing increased, the catches improved, and I enjoyed the new freedom, though I have never been a big fan of drift boat fishing. My best catches still came on wading days when the flows relaxed and I could stalk trophy trout with the stealth they demanded. It was my best spring in 25 years of fishing the Catskill rivers, provided by the freedom of retirement and the opportunity to call this region home.

My first Catskill winter included an unprecedented amount of time at the tying desk, and I began a log to keep track of new ideas, dubbing blends and patterns, and a few notes to chronicle the most interesting days on the water. I expect to have tallied 2,000 flies before the New year dawns. Professional fly tiers would yawn at my output, but these are flies for my own fishing, with a few shared with good friends.

Months of higher than normal flows, and my new obsession with long distance fishing kept my favorite bamboo rods out of my hands on too many days this year. That is something I will have to rectify in 2020. Cane rods have more personality than graphite or boron, and they demand a bit of courting to deliver their best. I feel there is a fly line out there that will coax an honest hundred foot cast out of one or two of them, at least if I can overcome the “graphite rush” and allow them the time to load when trying for that distant rise.

I need to allow myself more time for photography as well. My Nikon didn’t spend a day on the boat this year, and I never gave up an evening of fishing just to walk the river banks with my camera; something I had promised myself I would do.

It will officially be winter in a couple of days, and I hope to get out on the river before the New Year. Fishing and tying are priorities now that deer season and those golden October mornings in the grouse woods have passed. If the snow doesn’t leave the mountains too icy though, there are still some grouse to be hunted.

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