Gordon’s Quill

An old photo from an early trip to the sparkling Neversink, nearly twenty years ago. Low resolution perhaps, (I mean digital cameras were what, two megapixels back then?) though triggering fond memories. (Courtesy M.J. Saylor)

Ah the Neversink, thinking of that lovely river always makes me think of Gordon. Their legends are so inextricably entwined! The photo marks my first trip there, fishing the tailwater reach below Neversink Reservoir, that early quencher of the city’s thirst that drowned the prime historic waters haunted by Gordon, Christian, Steenrod and Cross, as well as old Ed Hewitt and his Rods. My heart aches that I cannot fish those miles of river today!

As a travelling fisher of the Catskills, I headquartered at West Branch Angler for nigh on a quarter of a century, and the Neversink was more than an hour distant from that second home. There were many miles of rivers between, and a great deal of wonderful fishing, so I heeded the call of the Neversink mostly under emergency conditions. That river would tend to be fishable when every mile of the Delawares and Beaverkill ran dangerously high in early season thus, when I encountered bad weather on those first spring journeys, I routinely checked the Neversink gages with hope in my heart.

My late friend, Dennis Skarka directed Michael and I to the tailwater reaches of his Neversink when we stopped at his wonderful Catskill Flies shop that chilly May morning in 2003. We found the river crystal clear as pictured, with a good hatch of Hendricksons bringing wild browns to the surface. We enjoyed a fine afternoon, catching a number of very nice trout on dry flies, despite the little handicap that unfamiliarity dealt us. We had come down the bank to find a large pool with duns on the drift and rises popping from mid-river to our bank. We quickly determined we were on the wrong side where it was too deep to cross, so we fished close from the bank until we caught the bankside risers, then worked our way out from the edge.

Though I have many memories of Hendricksons on the Neversink from those long-ago days, it is of course Epeorus pleuralis that is associated with Theodore Gordon’s namesake dry fly, the Quill Gordon. Students of Catskill angling history know that Gordon tied light and dark variations of his dun hackled peacock quill masterpiece to match any number of spring hatches, though the April Epeorus mayfly is the one hatch commonly called the Quill Gordon.

Though I have cast Gordon’s Quill on the Neversink, the better hatches of the mayfly I have fished have been on the West Branch Delaware and the hallowed Beaverkill. I recall one April when the Cannonsville Reservoir began to spill while I was driving the four hours from Chambersburg, so that I arrived to face higher flows than expected when I left home in the darkness.

With the river steadily rising, wading was a tricky proposition, until I eased into a backwater area on the West. There were large, dark mayflies on the subdued flows there, and good trout began to rise. I tied a size 12 Quill Gordon to my 4X tippet and stalked slowly upstream. I took three or four fine browns, trout from sixteen to eighteen inches long, until I reached a protruding rock and a more subdued, bulging rise that promised more. Several casts were required to bring a rise, as the trout seemed to move left and right in his lair behind the rock. At last, my fly and the fish met in the same line of drift, and the excitement increased.

The fight lasted about sixty yards, as the great fish turned and headed downstream on a slow, powerful run. This was a heavy fish, and I tightened the drag on my reel when he was halfway down the backwater. I knew if he reached the heavy current of the main river, it would be over. There was no stopping that fish and, when I tightened further just above the heavy current, he simply kept on going until my line went slack. The hook bend was bent wide open when I retrieved my line. No thrashing, no boiling, just a straight pull. I managed another pair of quality brownies before the hatch petered out, though I will never shake the memory of that one unseen trout, motoring south in spite of me.

At the beginning of my first full post retirement spring, I encountered a nice hatch of Quill Gordons on the high, rushing Beaverkill. The river was flowing over one thousand CFS, and there was very little in the way of wading available. I plucked a couple of the slate winged mayflies from the surface as they fluttered past my feet. While barred with dark grey, the lighter segments of their abdomens were a strong, dirty yellow. I took my first pair of brown trout for the season on a Catskill tie. No others rose to the hatch.

Back at my tying bench I remembered the stash of yellow dyed turkey biots JA had given me decades before, and created my own dubbing blend to match the Beaverkill Quill Gordons. They have since become consistent producers when Epeorus pleuralis is on the water.

It is my nature to experiment with fly patterns, and I have expanded my Quill Gordon collection with dubbed and biot bodied CDC Duns and my Theodore Gordon inspired 100-Year Dun. All have become staples in the early season fly box I’ve marked Gordons & Quills. The soft hackle is this afternoon’s creation, inspired by the success of the related patterns and my growing interest in England’s North Country flies. Since the Epeorus duns emerge near the stream bottom and make their way to the surface I included a sparse woodduck tail to provide the correct profile and a hint of motion. The hackle is a dark dun colored covert feather from a Mallard wing.

There are a few flies yet to be added to that fly box before it is slid into the pocket of my vest. I have hope for a crisp, breezy April afternoon with a perfect wading flow, and Gordon’s Quill fluttering upon the surface of bright water!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s