Looking Back

Hendrickson’s Pool on the Beaverkill

It was May of 1993, and life was a bit of a whirlwind. The economic downturn of the previous year threw a wrench in my career and I had found a part-time gig working at the local Orvis shop. I enjoyed fly fishing for trout so completely that I discovered how much fun it was to work at the shop and talk fishing to the customers, and I resolved to open my own shop. I set a meeting with the Orvis Company in Manchester, Vermont and headed north from central Maryland. Along the way, I finally had an opportunity to visit the Catskills and fish the hallowed waters of the Beaverkill.

I had read a great deal about the Beaverkill and the magic of the Catskill rivers. Stories from the Golden Age of fly fishing had captivated me, and I had longed to wade the limpid, cobblestoned pools where a legion of great angling writers had become inspired, bewildered and seduced. I was positively giddy when I got my first glimpses of the rivers from the drive along the Quickway!

The Hendrickson hatch had concluded when I arrived in Roscoe, and my first steps into the lovely river introduced me to the Shad Fly caddis. They were everywhere, flying around in the bushes and over the water by the millions, but there were no trout eating them. The main hatch had come off of course and the egg laying wasn’t happening just yet, so the flies simply weren’t on the water where the Beaverkill trout could get at them. The sight was impressive though!

I recall making the rounds in Roscoe: the Dette fly shop, the Beaverkill Angler, Hendrickson’s Pool, Horse Brook Run, Ferdun’s and Barnharts. I stalked the wide, glassy length of Barnhart’s Pool and witnessed a powerful rise along a shady bank. I approached as stealthily as I could despite the nervous anticipation, and made my pitch. When my little dry fly was taken, all those nerves exploded in far too quick a hookset. I only pricked leviathan, the water exploded in a tremendous boil and then he was gone. So close to Valhalla!

My senses were full those first two days, overpowered by the brilliant sunshine, the beauty of the Catskills and the mystery and history that surrounded me. I just needed to connect with the beautiful trout that had drawn me to Mecca.

Some clouds gathered that second afternoon, and Mary Dette kindly pointed me to a nearby reach of the Willowemoc where I found my rising trout. There were 6 or 7 of them, feeding steadily, and ignoring my flies. I bent down to scan the surface over and over, but saw nothing. Finally I remembered my little telescoping insect net and retrieved it, sifting the current for an answer to the puzzle. Sticks, pieces of leaf matter, seeds, bubbles…bubbles? I dissected one clump of bubbles and then another, finding blobs of olive green, brown and blue gray: half emerged, drowned blue winged olives! My early CDC mayfly ties, hidden away in a small fly box, proved to be a perfectly blobish match and I caught those trout!

I still hadn’t found any fishing to those millions of Shad Fly caddis, so I kept exploring new reaches of the river. At Horton I finally found a few of them hatching in the Acid Factory Run. I tried my own elk hair caddis, and the flies I had purchased at Dette’s, but I only managed a couple of strikes in the churning white water of the run. The hatch ended and I had one small trout to show for my efforts.

Encouraged by the late morning hatch, I spent some time on the porch of the old Victorian bed and breakfast the next morning and tied myself a couple of flies. Gary LaFontaine had showed me how to tie his Emergent Sparkle Pupa a couple of years before, so I used my travel kit to blend a bit of fur and Antron yarn to copy the mixture of caramel tan and apple green I saw in those caddisflies. The two size 16 flies looked rough and shimmery, just as Gary instructed, so I placed them in my fly box and headed back to the Acid Factory Run.

It was Saturday morning, and I found a line of a dozen anglers already standing in the Run and extending well downstream. There was no one in the head of the run just below the mouth of Horton Brook, perhaps due to the bounding whitecaps where the riffle became a run. I waded in and tied one of my emergents to my tippet, and waited.

The hatch began around ten o’clock, just as it had on Friday, and the trout soon began to slash at the flies as they launched themselves from the frothy surface. I ended up wishing I had allowed myself more time to tie a few more flies.

The Emergent Sparkle Pupa in my customized caramel apple color fooled a lot of trout that morning, while a dozen anglers cast and cast, shook their heads and changed flies to no avail. Several waded out of the river and walked up to ask me what I was using while I landed a dozen brows and one very nice 14″ wild brook trout. I told them what fly was working, I showed them too between casts, but all I could do was apologize for having only those two flies.

I needed that second fly as it turned out, for at least twice as many trout as I landed had slashed at my little emergent then came off in mid air, or shaken the hook as they tumbled back into the foamy chute. I fished that first fly until nothing remained of its stubby deer hair wing but three fibers of sodden hair, then exchanged it by necessity for the second one. I became a disciple of LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa that morning.

I fell completely in love with the Beaverkill during that handful of lovely days in May. She had smiled upon me, teased me with her beauty and the mystery of her ways, kissed me shyly and stolen my heart.

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