January 26, 2012 —
The uppermost wellspring of this river of time burst from the ground in 1948. I had borrowed a book from the Kingsbridge branch of the New York public library system titled “Trout,” by Ray Bergman. To a plug-casting bass fisherman, the hundreds of delicate flies shown in this book, painted by Dr. Edgar Burke, seemed too pretty to possibly catch fish. These flies came in every shade and color imaginable. Also, they had wonderful, magical names, such as the Queen of the Waters, Rio Grande King, Parmachenie Belle, Kingfisher, Light Edson Tiger and the Black Ghost. That these dainty flies were used to catch trout seemed unimaginable. In comparison with these flies, my bait casting lures, the Heddon River Runts and Creek Chub Pikie Minnows, suddenly seemed embarrassingly clumsy.
After reading this book, my wife Barbara Ann and I were both overwhelmed with a desire to become fly fishers. It seemed to us, as already married teenagers, that that which we desired, we would achieve. This, even though we did not own a fly rod or any other fly fishing equipment. Nor did we know anyone who fly fished. This did not deter us. We wished to explore this new world of delicate flies and long bamboo rods. Our first fly rods were inexpensive, purchased in 1949. We had no idea of what a difficult and sometimes discouraging journey we were about to embark on. Keep in mind there was no Federation of Flyfishers or Trout Unlimited to show us the way. We would have to learn by trial and error. We soon discovered that errors were lurking, hidden, in every pool and riffle on the small streams we would be fishing. On many a cast, bank-side trees would somehow stretch out their limbs to snatch away our flies.
Early in 1950, we made a wise decision. We abandoned our low-priced rods and purchased two beautiful rods, built by that renowned rod builder, Nat Uslan. These rods certainly enhanced our casting. However, the stream fish we caught were still only small sunfish. Then, on May 21, 1950, I “broke the ice.” This day, on Boyds outlet, I witnessed my first ever mayfly hatch. Trout were rising all around me. Despite all this feeding activity, the fish refused to take the flies I cast to them. In desperation, I put on a Brown Bivisible that I had tied from a kit, given to me by Barbara Ann.
Miraculously, a brown trout eight inches long rose and took that fly. My first fly-caught trout was soon in my creel. I had completed the first leg of my journey. Now, I longed to see what lay upstream, around the bend.
That August, we spent six days fishing the Beaverkill and Willowemoc. Barb’s first fly-caught trout was taken from the Beaverkill: A fat brown of 11 inches, that fell for a size-14 Leadwing Coachman wet fly. That particular fly accounted for over half of the fish we took that week. We did not realize it, but it was Isonychia time on both rivers. Dumb luck led us to use the proper fly for early August.
Neither of us realized what a long trail still lay ahead. It has gone uphill and down, yet it has been great fun all the way. Wherever you are, thank you Ray Bergman.