ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

A soft spring rain

Posted 3/20/24

It was 60 degrees Fahrenheit at my home in the foothills of the Catskills the other day. Balmy for late February. Later, around 10 p.m., my friend Laurie called, very excited, and exclaimed, …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

A soft spring rain


It was 60 degrees Fahrenheit at my home in the foothills of the Catskills the other day. Balmy for late February. Later, around 10 p.m., my friend Laurie called, very excited, and exclaimed, “The peepers are peeping all over the back marsh!”

To be sure, it has been an abnormally warm winter, to the degree that the robins never left. Given that they’re worm eaters, I have no clue what they ate, but somehow they found enough sustenance to make it through. 

The next morning when I took Marley, my boxer, for her early walk, I noticed the snowdrops were in bloom, along with a few crocus, a few daffodils just showing their bright green heads. 

Once again, it was very warm for this time of year, a soft rain falling. All of these very early signs reminded me that true spring is not that far off. That soft rain and the early flowers already in bloom also reminded me of the early season trout fishing that we did back in the late 1950s.

It seemed that every time we went fishing, early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there was a soft rain falling. That was never a hindrance—in fact, it made fishing better, because the streams would rise a bit and become slightly off-color. Drifting a worm through a small pool almost always brought a strike. 

In those days, trout season opened the second Saturday in April, and our first fishing trips were to the local brook trout streams. There were four that fed New Croton Reservoir, one that fed Croton Falls Reservoir, one that fed West Branch Reservoir, and one that flowed into Cross River Reservoir. All were early-season fisheries. All held decent populations of wild eastern brook trout. Keep in mind that we’re talking self-sustaining brook trout populations within 25 miles of the skyscrapers of Manhattan, in Westchester and Putnam counties.

We generally fished these small streams until about the first week in May, before heading to the larger Catskill rivers, such as the Beaverkill, Willowemoc, Esopus and the Delaware. But sometimes after a good rain, even in July, we would return to one or more of these small streams, because the flows would rise, and pull brook trout upstream from the reservoirs, where they spent the warmer months.

The Fridays before our weekend fishing trips were dedicated to digging worms. That was mostly my job, but sometimes both my friend and his dad pitched in. The number of angle worms we went through over a weekend was in the hundreds! 

I had a good patch of earth in the forest near my home, which was full of small, white angle worms, the kind we preferred for brook trout fishing. Sometimes, we would choose the marshlands next to the parking area by the Croton Railroad station. Those, we learned, supported an excellent population of small red worms. We did not use nightcrawlers for small-stream brook trout fishing.

Our fishing trips began about 6 a.m. on Saturday and 7 a.m. on Sunday, an hour later because we had to attend 5:30 Mass. The rule in my house for Sundays was “No Mass, no fishing.”

All of these small streams were within 15 miles of where we lived, so it only took a few minutes to reach them. Then it was out of the car, hip boots on, worm cans attached to our belts, and creels hastily slung over our shoulders. We would then split up, each taking a short section of stream to fish.

It seemed as though every time we went fishing during these early weeks of the trout season, it always rained. Not hard—just a steady, light rain. All of these streams flowed through mixed hardwood forest in lowlands, where alders dominated the stream bank. Stealth was important while walking these small streams, because heavy footsteps would send shockwaves through the soft soil, advertising our presence.  

As I walked slowly along, moving toward the next small pool, the soft rain—combined with the past fall’s wet leaves, damp earth and newly sprouted vegetation—released a melange of smells that was truly unique. The skunk cabbage, fiddlehead ferns and wild ramps all added to the complex odors that only a new spring and soft rain could provide. 

There were always a few brookies, too, eight- and nine-inchers, little jewels with mottled backs, white bellies and red-tipped fins. Firm and cold in the hand from the cool waters of those little streams. Those were carefree days, happy days, and observing what I’m seeing now, with cell phones an addiction, they were better days for us kids. 

Those days are of course long gone, as are some of the small streams and the brook trout they harbored, all in the name of progress.

I went back one day, not so long ago, on a rainy April morning, to the little stream where I caught my first trout—an eight-inch brookie. It was not far from Millwood, NY, along Route 100, near an old railroad bridge. It held the smells and the memories of those long-lost years. The skunk cabbage was there, but the stream was a mere trickle and the trout were gone.

Sometimes fond memories of certain times are all we have. And sometimes it’s better not to go back and look for what we had, only to learn of what we lost.  

ramblings, catskill, flyfisher,


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