Pondering the Golden Age

Dana Lamb’s “Pigpen Pool” on the hallowed Beaverkill River above Roscoe, New York.

It is no secret to those who know me well that I am somewhat of a lost child of the Golden Age, born too late to angle the Catskill rivers with the likes of Dana Lamb, Edward R. Hewitt and Sparse Gray Hackle. My shelves of angling books sag a bit from its load, and my favorites of all are the tales of those glorious years between the great wars.

How I would have loved to compare my Thomas rod to the Paynes and Leonards in lively discussions at Keener’s Pool, and offer my own tied flies to those “German Browns” many anglers so heartily disapproved of. Talking patterns over a drink in Harry Darbee’s front room seems a perfect way to spend an evening, once the mayflies have ceased their sky dance o’er the riffles.

Chilly fall and winter days draw me to that bookcase, where I can relax and take a walk back in time.

I began this year’s withdrawal from the dry fly season with my favorite author, the late Dana Lamb. His nine books required a bit of time and searching to acquire, but I relish our time together each autumn. The volumes are not readily available, for they were printed in small editions, though a complete collection is certainly attainable. For those who romanticize the angling of the Golden Age they are manna from heaven. Lamb spoke evocatively of the beauty of the rivers and the countryside, the importance of friendships, and the honor of the simple country people who boarded the visiting anglers and gunners when the Catskills were still wild.

I chanced a morning deer hunt early today with the expectation of a snowfall that failed to appear. When the rain had grown steady and soaked my gloves, I surrendered to the warmth of the car. Driving back along the hallowed private waters of the upper Beaverkill, I could not get Lamb’s words out of my mind, so I spent this afternoon with him as my companion, savoring the last of those nine little volumes.

Though much has changed in this last century, the Catskills are still a haven for natural beauty and wild trout. Skilled fingers still wind silk and wood duck flank, fox fur and cock’s hackles to form classic dry flies like the Hendrickson, the Light Cahill and the March Brown; and a few of us still cast them upon these bright waters with the old cane rods and English reels of the Golden Age.

Hendricksons

I sit and ponder the wonderous experiences missed being born a century too late. Those who have gone before tell similar tales though: both tales of great battles won and lost with magnificent trout, and tales of thoughtless greed and the destruction of their angling paradise. No age of man is without struggle.

Though there are vistas no longer visible in these mountains and river valleys, the beauty of the rivers remains, even if sometimes crisscrossed by the bedlam of massive highways. Conservation, in its infancy during the Golden Age, has advanced along with the popularity and accessibility of our hallowed fly-fishing waters. Beauty endures, though solitude must be hunted.

The final words from Dana Lamb’s last book form a vivid prayer for anglers:

“Come sit beside me at your favorite stretch of stream

The sun is off the water and the light wind dies

A hush comes on the valley and the birches are still

The shadows creep across the fields and up the hill

The dancing mayflies suddenly are gone; the daylight fades

The moon comes up; the tiny lanterns of the fire flies appear

Backwater bullfrogs croak as planets take their places in the sky

And toads commence their mournful music in the marsh.

May God forever guard our streams and keep them as they are tonight

For us and for our people still to come until the endless end of time,

God bless you all.”

Dana Lamb

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