ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Early-season trout fishing

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 4/20/22

In those days, the teenage years, trout fishing was strictly a weekend affair. Except during summer, when on occasion my friend Tony and I had the rare opportunity for a weekday adventure.

At the …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Early-season trout fishing

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In those days, the teenage years, trout fishing was strictly a weekend affair. Except during summer, when on occasion my friend Tony and I had the rare opportunity for a weekday adventure.

At the time, Tony’s father, who was also Tony, had a green 1953 Mercury four-door, with a three-speed manual shift mounted on the column. That was our fishing car. No all-wheel drive, no SUV, just a good old made-in-America family sedan. A few years later, in 1956, he purchased a two-tone, black-and-white, two-door Mercury.

He kept both cars in immaculate condition, so on all the fishing trips we took, the Mercuries performed flawlessly. Those two cars, over a period of four or five years, took us safely all over Westchester and Putnam counties, and later in the season into Ulster and Sullivan.

We usually left for our weekend trips around 6:30 in the morning. On Sunday it was after 5:30 Mass, which was a prerequisite to fishing. The rules in my house: no Mass; no fishing.

We followed a rather loose but organized schedule at the beginning of trout season. The first weeks we pretty much fished the little brooks that fed the Croton watershed reservoirs.

There were several brooks, which I named and alluded to in past columns. Those brooks all held wild brook trout, which in itself was a miracle, because all of these streams were well within 30 miles of New York City, in Westchester and Putnam. None of these brooks were more than 10 feet wide; most were about six feet wide. Some flowed thorough hardwood forests; others meandered through low marshy areas, with thick stands of alders and skunk cabbage as the main types of vegetation. At least three of the brooks had rocky bottoms with intermittent pools. One had a sandy bottom with soft undercut banks. All of the brooks had good canopies of assorted trees which, over the season, kept predators at bay and water temperatures cool, even during the summer.

Fishing these little brooks required a careful, stealthlike approach. Caution was imperative because heavy footfalls along the bank, or a visible silhouette, would spook even the most gullible brook trout.

There was no wading, other than to cross in order to reach another pool. Tony and I would leap-frog one another. We would each select a pool, fish it for a few minutes, then go around to the next pool.

The resident brook trout were not hard to catch. So we either hooked a trout right away or moved on. In those days, brook trout would run about eight inches long. While those brookies were about average, I once landed a 12-inch male on a royal coachman dry fly. A real trophy for a little brook.

When we arrived at a particular brook, Tony’s father would drop us off well above one of the reservoirs, and we would fish all the way down to where the brook ended. Tony’s father left the brooks to us, while he fished the reservoirs exclusively. For equipment we used eight-foot fly rods, with a short, level leader, testing four pounds and attached to an eagle claw, down-eye, size-12 dry fly hook. Our bait: garden worms which we hooked in the collar about one-quarter of the way along the body. These brooks were so small and shallow that split shot was not required. And even though we fished these brooks early in the season when the larger streams in the area were high, they also provided excellent fishing throughout the season after a decent rain. Once the flow went up, brook trout would migrate from the reservoirs into the brooks.

As the season progressed, and the flows went down, it was off to the larger, more famous waters of the Catskills. The first large river we fished was the Esopus Creek, just upstream of Boiceville. It was a cool spring day and we were very excited to be able to fish this famous water. I don’t remember too much about that trip, other than I didn’t catch any trout, but Tony did. I also remember that I fell in. The Esopus was and is a very slippery river, especially when wading with hip boots, without felt soles!

After the Esopus, we fished the Wilowemec and the Beaver Kill upstream of Roscoe, never the big water. That’s when I began the switch from bait to flies, and to tie flies seriously.

There was a penalty associated with my switch to flies, in that Tony continued to fish with bait and constantly caught trout while I did not. I recall one early day in May while fishing the Roeliff Jansen Kill, upstream of Silvernails. We had walked well inland, to a reach of river that probably few anglers fished. I was using wet flies and saw two trout flash at my flies but that did not take. Tony caught both of those trout, which were at least 18 inches! So much for wet flies on that day.

So that was our early-season trout fishing routine: little brooks to Catskill rivers, with some others in between. Those were wonderful years, years in which, because my two friends allowed me to tag along on their weekly trips, I had the opportunity to fish all over eastern New York. A privilege few teens of that era had.

This column is dedicated to the memory of Alan Petrucci, a man I never met, but wish I had. Please check out his blog, Small Stream Reflections, at http://smallstreamreflections.blogspot.com/.



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