RAMBLINGS OF A CATSKILL FLY FISHER

Opening day?

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 3/23/22

It’s difficult for me as a writer of fly-fishing stories and as a columnist for the River Reporter, not to have a few words about the opening day of trout season on April 1. I’ve had a …

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RAMBLINGS OF A CATSKILL FLY FISHER

Opening day?

Posted

It’s difficult for me as a writer of fly-fishing stories and as a columnist for the River Reporter, not to have a few words about the opening day of trout season on April 1. I’ve had a column for the paper about this historic annual fishing event every year since 2018.

Years ago—and there’s a tradition here—the build-up to the opening day of trout season for us, as young anglers, began sometime in March. That’s when the tackle catalogs begin to show up in our mailboxes and the annual sportsmen’s show took place in the New York City Coliseum.

The sportsmen’s show was the kick-off to the new season. There was a trout pool, where dozens of petrified hatchery trout swam aimlessly about, subjected to the confines of a vinyl-lined prison, while any number of would-be anglers harassed the poor creatures with all kinds of bait and lures. During the years that I attended that show, I don’t ever recall one of those trout being caught.

The Southern NY Fish and Game Association had a large area set up for fly-tying at the sportsmen’s show. So as a guest of members Bob Zigsby and David Young, I was invited to tie flies for the association. The flies we made were sold and the proceeds were used to send boys to the Conservation Department’s education camp at DeBruce. As a teenager, I had the privilege to attend that camp two years in a row.

 During the weeks after the show and before April 1, my friends and I would visit some of the local tackle shops in the area to look over all the new equipment we lusted after, but could not afford to purchase. One of our favorites shops was R&R Sporting Goods, on North Broadway, just outside of White Plains. Ralph, the proprietor, was a congenial man, allowing us the run of the store even though we didn’t buy much. He featured Shakespeare fly rods, which at the time were some of the best available for those that could afford them. I finally got one several years later.

As the weather warmed and opening day approached, we would drive around Westchester and Putnam counties, looking at the streams we planned on fishing when the season began. One of our favorites was the Amawalk Outlet, which I’ve written about before. Looking back on an opening day there, many years ago, I vividly recall a photographer from one of the New York City tabloids taking photos. There were three of us fishing the Amawalk that day, and we had quite a catch of hatchery brook trout. When the photographer asked how we did, and we displayed our “catch,” he asked us to put the trout on a long stick, and pose for the camera, holding those trout, behind our backs. He was interviewing a man that had one trout at the time, so he took a picture from an angle, showing the poor fellow with his one fish, while the three of us had close to a dozen. Not something I’m proud of these days, but things were different in the late 1950s.

We also looked at the East Branch of the Croton River, which flows through Brewster; it’s a very good early-stream trout fishery. Then it was off to check all the little brooks, which surprisingly at the time had good, but somewhat seasonal, populations of wild eastern brook trout. Those brooks were the Angle Fly, the Schoolhouse, Seven Bridges and the Cross River Inlet. All of those streams ended up in reservoirs—part of the New Croton watershed and managed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. We fished those streams early in the season when the flows were decent or the bigger rivers had too much runoff. Trout fishing for us in those days was excellent.

For us, opening day on April 1 was a very big deal. The days before involved planning on where to fish, getting tackle ready and digging worms. Yup, there was no fly fishing then; that all came later as some of us evolved from bait to flies. So worms it was. And the excitement I experienced the day before the day was such that I slept very little that night. I knew that we would be off, ready to go, regardless of the weather; cold, rain or even snow did not matter. It was opening day!

As I’ve aged, a lot of the excitement I associated with opening day has abated, and that in some ways has made me sad. Perhaps it is because I’ve fished so much and so long that I’ve mellowed? Whatever it is, I’m no longer out at the crack of dawn on opening day, waiting instead until the water temperatures rise and the first hatches appear, around the third week in April. Nevertheless, opening day remains very important to me, certainly as a tradition, steeped in all the memories of those early years. Since the new trout stream regulations that went into effect on October 15 essentially ended the closed season for trout fishing in New York State, what does that mean for opening day? Will there be a cadre of anglers that hold on to that tradition, and keep it alive, or will it just slowly fade away? One has to wonder.

fly fishing, opening day, trout season, sportsmen's show, tackle shops

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