February 27, 2014 —
[Editor’s note: The River Reporter welcomes Andy Boyar, one of the most passionate fishers we know, as our new fishing columnist. His column will run during the fourth week of every month in the winter months and twice a month—the second and fourth weeks—once the fishing season starts. Welcome aboard, Andy!]
This has been, by any standard, a cruel winter. It is little consolation that Candlemas Day (February 2) marked the midpoint of winter. Even at mid-month when we had Valentine’s Day, it is still a slow slog to the start of fishing. February is the time to put last season behind us, and to begin thinking optimistically about first casts to come. Now is the time to replace and replenish the flies we lost last season, to organize our boxes and vests and to get our gear in order.
All this is rather fitting as the word “February” comes to us from the word “februa,” which means cleansing or purification and reflects ancient rituals undertaken before spring. Carefully reading through the catalogues just to make sure we have everything we could possibly need and reorganizing our disheveled fly boxes are just such rituals.
This time of year is also a fine time to catch up on our reading. Other than cookbooks, there are more books on fishing than any other topic. I once saw a bumper sticker that said “EAT, FISH, SLEEP,” with “sleep” crossed out. Talk about getting down to basics. There are thousands of fishing titles to choose from and winter is the best time to read some of them. My taste (food is never far from my mind) runs toward the books connected to or written about our local waters. The cradle of fly-fishing in America is right here in Sullivan County, beginning with Theodore Gordon. So after the essential book “Trout,” by Bergman, I go to “Fishless Days, Angling Nights,” by Sparse Grey Hackle for the classic stories of the golden age of angling. My all-time favorite is “Land of Little Rivers: A Story in Photos of Catskill Fly Fishing,” by Austin “Mac” Francis. For fly tiers, the cardinal reads are “Catskill Flytier,” by Darbee with Francis, and “The Dettes: A Catskill Legend,” by Eric Leiser. By the way, the Dette Fly Shop remains in business in Roscoe, NY, as the oldest continually operated, family-owned fly shop in America, with great-grandson Joe Fox at the fly-tying vise. Stop by and visit him.
Now is also the time to partake in the winter gatherings. The amazing Somerset Fly Show in January and the Fly Fest at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in February are two of the best. It is always better to go with a fishing partner or buddy. Theodore Gordon often fished with a “best chum.” This year, I got to introduce 16-year-old fly fisher Louis to the Somerset (NJ) Fly Fishing Show, where he met eight-time World Casting Champion Steve Rajeff, an experience I imagine he will not soon forget. (See the photo at www.riverreporter.com;  click on Arts and Leisure, then on Outdoors to find The Incomplete Tangler column "Thoughts on February.")
Speaking of partners, I’d be remiss if I did not mention my esteemed predecessor in this column, Clem Fullerton. Without fail, Clem’s stories were dependably interesting and amusing. Clem always mentioned his lifelong fishing partner Barbara, who also happens to be his wife and Valentine. These two are proof positive that sharing our experiences makes those experiences that much richer. Of all of the points made in Clem’s fine stories, the banter and sharing between Clem and Barbara may have been the very best parts. Thank you, Clem for all your wonderful stories.
Lastly, here’s a final thought about February: For me, the best part of February has come at last. It’s OVER!