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July 24, 2014
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Preserving and reinventing tradition

Workshop session during the annual Catskill Rodmakers Gathering at the CFFCM

By Steven Schwartz

Long considered the birthplace of fly fishing in America, the Catskills offer dynamic opportunities to discover, rediscover and renew one’s interest in the sport. A unique combination of natural resources, proximity to urban areas and history leads to a bounty of hidden treasures, often in plain sight.

Since the 19th century when Theodore Gordon popularized the use of dry flies (artificial flies tied by hand that float on the surface; previously Catskill fishermen had used wet flies fished below the surface) for fishing Catskill streams such as the Willowemoc (aka Willow), Beaverkill, Esopus and Neversink, anglers have revered the area. Theodore Gordon himself wrote of rediscovering the effectiveness of the dry fly after having dabbled with English tied flies when he learned how to fish his own flies on the surface to rising fish and went on to invent the first flies designed to imitate local adult mayflies.

The oldest family-owned fly shop in America is located in Roscoe, NY. Dette Trout Flies, founded by Walt and Winnie Dette in 1928, has a direct lineage to the flies of Theodore Gordon and other innovators of his day. Today it is run by their daughter, Mary Dette and her grandson, Joe Fox. At 27, Joe is the only family member of his or his parents’ generation to take an active interest in the business. He maintains the tradition of his great-grandparents’ classic fly shop, where written files were kept to help fill standing orders for each individual customer’s dry fly preferences. Fox has brought innovation to the flourishing business through online sales of flies and other merchandise while still affording him time to get outdoors to fish 200 days a year.

Joe divides his beloved Willow into three sections: the section from Livingston Manor to the junction with the Beaverkill in Roscoe, the upper Willow from Mongaup Creek to Livingston Manor and the “upper upper Willow,” above Mongaup Creek, where there is lots of public access.

In the fall when the brown trout are spawning and the leaves are turning, Joe recommends an outing the whole family will enjoy—hiking in the public lands of the Willowemoc Wild Forest along the upper upper Willow and its tributaries Mongaup Creek and along spring-fed creeks like the Fir Brook. He also recommends hiking Russell Brook, a Beaverkill trib, in the Cherry Ridge (NY) Wild Forest.