More than a sport, it’s an elegant art
By Harry Matthews
I never knew my mother’s father, let alone her grandfather, both of whom I was always told were avid trout fishermen. One thing I did know of them was the fly fishing gear I was lucky enough to inherit: a beautiful bamboo rod and some old hand-tied flies. Growing up spending summers in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, my childhood was filled with many days hiking up streams with friends, seeking fast water and deep pools, where I’d use my grandfather’s gear to cast my line over and over again, seeking the ever-elusive native brook trout.
My earliest experience fishing for trout was not quite as romantic as that, but was also in the Adirondacks. I was six years old and unknowingly poaching stocked rainbow trout using worms, a hook, and my little rod on a stream of a private club where only fly fishing was allowed. I had an inkling I was doing something I probably shouldn’t, but all the while I was being egged on by my father’s slightly mischievous friend Bob. Bob, not being a stickler for rules, didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to fish there, despite the fact that club members paid handsomely for their rights to these exclusive pools. But who was going to care about a six-year-old fishing anyway? As luck would have it one of the club’s game wardens saw me reeling in a beautiful 16-inch rainbow and started yelling and waving his arms as he approached me. I dropped the rod and ran to hide behind my dad while Bob sat by innocently pretending to be completely unaware of the crime that had just been committed. You can be sure that both my dad and Bob got an earful from my mother that night.
Looking back on that experience I still don’t believe streams should be owned privately, but I do understand “fly fishing only” stipulations. Worms make it too easy. I have no issue with how anyone chooses to reel in their trout, but in my estimation there is an art, an elegance, and a skill to fly fishing not present when using worms or lures. Although I must also admit that the key to any fishing is getting into a stream and communing with it and all that inhabit those waters you’ve immersed yourself in.
Here in our beautiful Catskills and Hudson Valley we are blessed with some world-class trout streams. From the upper Esopus in Ulster County to the Neversink in Sullivan County, and the Catskill and Schoharie creeks in Greene County, one might say that we live in trout fishing heaven.
Though I no longer do as much fishing as I once did, I retain a great respect for fishermen and try to regularly encourage any I find to use our property’s secluded bank on a fertile creek out back. My neighbor has a sign by her driveway that says “Fishing Permitted,” which I always thought was very nice of her to offer until I found out why it was really there. Driving home one day I saw a big tanker truck parked by her house. Some folks from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a number of volunteers were passing buckets along from the truck to the water. The tanker, it turned out, was from a fishery and they were stocking the creek with Brown Trout. I pulled over to see if I could help and was immediately put in the bucket brigade passing trout down to the water. Within minutes the water was bubbling with the beautiful speckled fish. As I found out later, any place the DEC stocks fish the landowner must put up a sign saying fishing is permitted there.
Speaking of the DEC, it is by far the best resource for all things pertaining to trout fishing in New York. On their website (dec.ny.gov) you will find information on where and when they have stocked, when trout season begins and ends, size allowances, good fishing spots, how and where to obtain a license, maps, good conservation practices (don’t litter!), as well as many other interesting bits and bobs. Beyond that there are other good websites loaded with info on local angling including visitthecatskills.com, as well as a number of local stores that specialize in any gear needed. If you want to go deeper and get really fancy, take a class or get a book on fly tying, a wonderful, delicate and exacting art.
But most importantly, if you want some delicious and healthy free bounty from our clear mountain streams get out there, cast your lines, and reel in a trout or two. And when you bring them home and fry them up, don’t forget to eat the cheek!