Summer, and the Great Debate

Ah the beauty of a Catskill summer! Though there will be some hot weather, you may count on plenty of glorious, sundrenched days in the seventies, a gentle breeze, and wild trout to be caught.

Summer hatches like the sulfur mayflies draw anglers on a daily basis whenever there is a substantial reservoir release. The cold water draws the hatch out over a month or two, sometimes more, and it is consistent. I have always felt it provided some of the most challenging fishing of the season, at least for those in pursuit of the Catskills’ trophy brown trout.

The best fishing is restricted to the upper reaches of rivers where the dam releases regulate river temperatures, keeping them in the forties and fifties on the hottest July afternoons, and that tends to create crowded fishing conditions. For years I would fish among the throngs for a few days, then head for some uninhabited reach for a little exploration and solitude. Most of the time I found little surface activity, and turned to fishing terrestrials in the style of the Pennsylvania limestone springs that I lived near and haunted regularly.

During those travelling years my time was invariably much too short, and those exploratory days consequently few, the fishing most often leaving me wanting for the pods of rising trout in the crowded zones. Terrestrials would produce a trout here and there and I oft debated their general lack of effectiveness with a fellow Keystone expatriate in a local fly shop. The gentleman always maintained that the trophy fish disappeared after the Green Drakes and the abundance of “Bug Week”.

The debate never turned either way, each of us maintaining his position, and unable to prove his theories. If anything my lack of terrestrial trophies lent more credence to my adversary’s position, though I always believed my limited time was the deciding factor.

Last year I bought my house here and explored a bit before the rains came in August and drowned the rest of my first summer as a Catskill resident. One steamy morning I stalked a familiar reach with my Baby Cricket knotted to me leader, determined to unlock the mystery. My go to summer fly for the Cumberland Valley produced a pair of 19″ brown trout that morning, convincing me that the better fish did not disappear. One morning did not prove the theory, but the rains turned the tables on me before I could wander further afield.

The spring and summer hatches this year seemed chaotic, and before the river stabilized July had arrived. The sulfurs drew the big crowds, bigger than usual to my mind, and the fishing became frustrating. I took a break from the madness late in the month, packed my terrestrial box and a light rod and resumed my quest.

There is a certain joy wading a quiet reach of water and being completely alone. I wrapped myself in that feeling, picked the best times of day for the rivers I visited, and began to take those wonderfully invisible browns on terrestrials. The numbers weren’t springtime numbers, as there were no significant hatches to bring trout to the surface with any regularity; but the trout themselves regularly passed that special 20 inch mark!

I enjoyed a month of some of my favorite kind of dry fly fishing: hunting and stalking the trout most anglers pass unaware. It was sublime. This summer was as dry as last year’s was wet, and September didn’t offer good fishing. Flows became quite low and water temperatures high, shutting down much of the water I had enjoyed fishing.

Relief finally arrived in October, and the terrestrial fishing blossomed again after the rivers receded from the storm. Between walks through the grouse covers, I was back to picking my spots and times of day, and catching gorgeous browns from mirrored pools flanked by the autumn blaze on the mountainsides.

One afternoon my good friend Dennis Menscer stopped by with one of his beautiful creations: 7 1/2 feet of flamed bamboo begging for a four weight line and one of those spectacular pools of bright water. I answered the call and christened that masterpiece fly rod with a 20″ autumn brownie. Perfection!

A bit more than two feet of Catskill Brown

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