It’s a familiar story: writer buys home in the Catskills for [insert reason] and ends up losing heart, time and, no doubt a smidgeon of sanity to conservation, restoration and protection of these beloved mountains and its river network. For Stephen Sautner, the reason was a familiar one: fly fishing. An avid outdoorsman from boyhood, he decided to buy a fixer-upper cabin on the banks of a tributary and turn it into a “fish camp” for holidays and weekends until retirement. Well, that’s what he thought. Turns out Mother Nature had other plans for him and this portion of the river that ran through his 14-acre property, that he named simply “Six-Foot-Wide Stream”, but it was anything but simple. Several devastating floods, flora and fauna infestations and a scare over fracking gave him an all-consuming education he didn’t anticipate. But he would do it all over again, he says: “come spring, when the warblers have returned, and mayflies are hatching and brook trout are rising to them, and I’m siting on the front porch sipping coffee and watching it all, I believe I wouldn’t have changed a thing”.Continue reading
“Indeed, a certain quality of youth is indispensable to the successful angler, a certain unworldliness and readiness to invest yourself in an enterprise that doesn’t pay the current coin. Not only is the angler, like the poet, born and not made, as Walton says, but there is a deal of the poet in him, and he is to be judged no more harshly.” John Burroughs, Speckled Trout
Catskills residents enjoy liberties that they never take for granted: hunting and fishing are permitted here and, for many, these are reliable, cheap and honest ways to feed their family natural food. In the Catskills, fly fishing season begins on April 1st. Fishing permits are available for residents and visitors. A ceremonial casting usually takes place every year at Junction Pool in Roscoe, a body of water formed by the confluence of the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc rivers, where the fish linger a little too long, so the fishing is favorable. Roscoe is known as “Trout Town USA”, the birth place of fly fishing in this country.
The most popular place for Catskills fishing, however, is along the banks of the 65.4-mile Esopus Creek that originates at Winnisook Lake at the base of Slide Mountain, a favorite hiking spot of the local writer and naturalist John Burroughs who died about 100 years ago. Fishermen and women come from far and wide to fish this creek. From Slide, it runs alongside Route 47 to Big Indian, turns in a south-easterly arc and heads south alongside Route 28, until its impounded at the Ashokan Reservoir, so that New York City can have its drinking water, then heads north to the Hudson at Saugerties. There were few anglers spotted on the river today as this year’s gloomy opening morning coincided with the Easter holiday. Continue reading
On Monday’s radio show on WIOX, we’ll be exploring both history and the natural world: the local tradition of ice harvesting and fly fishing.
On the first half of the show, I’ll be talking to Lisa Wisely of Blue Spark Creative Services, together with Kajsa (pronounced Keesa) Harley of Hanford Mills Museum where the annual ice harvest will take place. Before refrigerators, we had ice houses, which were separate structures from a main house, sometimes built into a hill and in the shade, in which we kept ice in chunks. Lakes were a good source of ice and this ice was harvested and distributed every year.
Every spring, I invite a few local, famous fly fisherman on to the show to talk about this meditative art about which the only thing I can’t get behind is catch-and-release. I prefer not to torture the poor creatures. If I’m going fishing, I’ll be eating whatever I catch. My guest on Monday, in the second half of the show, will be Todd Spire of Esopus Creel.
This week I interviewed Roger and Lisa Menard on the subject of fly fishing and Roger read the remarks that he gave to the Angler’s Club of NY in New York City in November 2009 on fishing the River Esopus. Here’s the full transcript:
The Esopus The Way It Was by Roger Menard
It has been nearly fifty years since Keith Fulsher and I were invited to the Angler’s Club to show a film I had taken of Keith tying streamer flies. On that evening I had the pleasure of meeting Guy Jenkins, a correspondent and friend of Theodore Gordon, the father of the dry fly in America. Since I had previously met both Roy Steenrod and Herman Christian, for me this completed meeting Gordon’s circle of friends.
John Hoeko, a lifelong fly fisherman, owns Fur, Feathers and Steel in Fleischmanns. He’s writing a book about his life and times and his work with the Catskills waterways.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
My whole life, except for one day. I was born in Jamaica, Queens. My grandfather was Chief of Radiology in a hospital in Queens. He thought that the local hospital here in Margaretville, the old one, was too provincial. So he insisted I be born in New York City.
So you’ve lived here in Fleischmanns ever since?
Yes, my parents originally lived off Ellsworth Avenue, while they were building our house.
“…. but when I’m alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Black Foot River and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman McLean.
The ethereal magic of fly-fishing had hitherto failed to capture my heart or my interest until I recently gathered that it’s akin to Buddhism in that one desires the fish, but if it is not attained nobody (literally) has suffered. In fact, I stand corrected: remove all desire for the fish and you have the Buddhist ideal: it’s all about the joy of nature, being in the moment and not what you catch. No, it’s about standing knee-high in a stream, as fast as a boulder, while the water bifurcates around your legs and babbles past, twinkling in the early morning sun like a handful of glitter was tossed downstream with it. You’re meditatively casting, casting, casting… You are one with the line as you tempt the fish with the best flies you could find. Come late Autumn and the close of the season, fly-fisherman I know have, in conversation, wistfully lamented their absence from the stream, nodding their head ruefully, staring into the middle distance and conjuring the great Esopus in their minds. Don’t think I exaggerate.
Next week, you’ll catch anglers meditatively throwing their first casts of the season into local streams in quiet celebration of their beloved skill. “Trout season”, aka fishing season officially begins in the Catskills on April 1st, but the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, NY, has its “season opener” on Saturday April 11th. From their web page: