Catskills in Late June

Catskill Fly Fishing

June 24, Sunday –

I slept in and headed upstate at 9:30.  No need to get up to the Catskills early, especially while nursing a cold. Traffic was a breeze getting me to Roscoe in 3 hours. I checked in to the Roscoe Motel, room #8, which looks out on the Upper Beaverkill. 

I have become a bit sleeved by motels these days.  Not so much germ-a-phobic as just uncomfortable in someone else’s bed.  Of course the decor and facilities are challenged at best but I didn’t see anything crawling around or detect suffocating mold that can be overwhelming in older stream-side motels. I opened all the windows and kept my duffel off the floor as the thunder started. 

The rain kept up for a good two hours so I went to the diner for lunch and came back for a nap that wasn’t to be.

Roscoe Motel

I sat on the porch, a real plus at this motel – one in front and one in the back by the river, both covered.  I watched the rain and the river, hoping for a rise I knew would not come. At 4 I drove up the Willow to my favorite pull off. 

One car was there

The fellow was all dressed up and casting immediately off the parking area into Mississippi like muddy water.  I watched a bit as the new fisher snagged his nymph in the shallow run. I wondered if the mud would clear by tomorrow as the DeBruce Club is just a few miles upstream.

As I headed back to Roscoe I noticed the lower Willow was clear. I stopped at Fur, Fin and Feather to pick up some Gink and decided to go to the Campsite. The rain stopped and the sky brightened a little. I was the only car at the Covered Bridge. 

Heading upstream I took some photos of the bridge which is beginning to look more natural with its yellow wood turning to grey. I stare at the Bridge Pool and try to compare it to the way it was when we swam there in the 50’s.  It seems to have shrunk, but isn’t that what happens in all childhood memories recollected?

Immediately upstream is the deep pool with the rock shelf and the smartest fish in the Catskills

I toss a Montana Monster and work my way up.  Another car pulls in and then another. Sighting a rise or two I fish to them.  Switch to a few other flies and then back to the terrestrial imitation.  Casting pretty well with the 7 foot Neuner cane rod, and pluck a nice brown out from behind a small rock on the far bank. 

The original Montana Monster

After that, I crossed in the diminished flow and worked the pools that are usually inaccessible in the spring run.  There are fish and I scare a few but no more hook ups.  I think about walking upstream into the pocket water which is private but remember my health and don’t want to wear myself out with a full day of fishing coming up tomorrow. Happy with one fish and head for the motel, stopping for some cherry pie and ice cream at the diner.

June 25,  Monday – 

Theodore Gordon Flyfishers (TGF) is a conservation organization which focuses on the Catskills and beyond, funding projects and doing volunteer work. Jerry was a member and I have always held the organization in high esteem but never sought to join. Chuck has invited me to come to their annual dinner at the Angler’s Club in NYC as a guest a number of times. 

I joined this year

I went to the dinner on my own resources and met a few more folks – Julian and Bud and Bert I had met earlier, now I am mingling. Chris Aigner of LITU was there and Chart Guthrie of NYSDEC was the speaker.  I enjoyed myself and even won a few Simms’ shirts in the silent auction.

There was an outing on the Beaverkill which included a 3 day stay in a house by the East Branch on the Beaverkill.  I planned on joining them for lunch on Saturday but the rivers were in flood and I cancelled, feeling bad as this would have been my first TGF outing. 

The next opportunity was the DeBruce Club Outing   

The initial offer said fishing from 9 to 6.  Not great hours for late June but I went with it.  I was pleasantly surprised when Bruce’s email said he would be the host and was an early riser. 

4th to arrive, Bruce, John and Hal are already on the porch of the club house, a neat little place that is all you would expect a private fishing club to be: kitchen, living room with fireplace and fly tying bench –  fully stocked, deer head on the wall, bunk rooms and rocking chairs overlooking the casting ponds. Beautiful.

The DeBruce Club

Introductions were made and we were asked to pair up on the river for safety reasons.  Bruce gave us a map and a brief orientation. I signed into the log book then John and I went up to Hunter Lake Falls. I suggested that one of us fish upstream and the other down.  Feeling awkward making the suggestion being so new to the group, not sure what he thought of it but he said he would go up.  We agreed to meet at 12:45 to go back for lunch.

Hunter Lake Falls on the Willowemoc

I was already in awe of the water fall and the deep pool which warranted the no swimming sign at the parking spot. I tossed my fly in the water which was very clear, no sign of the muddy runoff from Sunday.

The river has been improved

I am not sure how long ago, as there are periodic rock dams from bank to bank forming deep pools upstream and tail-waters below.  They are natural enough looking and certainly improve the fish holding capacity of the stream. These are complimented by outcroppings and boulders you’d expect of see in the Catskills.

Improved Willow

I got out of the river and walked to Walter’s Pool before casting my fly again. There was a makeshift fireplace and picnic table in the trees and I wonder if the locals enjoy this place when the members are not around.  The water from here to the Wall was a series of pools created by the dams with some boulder runs and back eddies.

Fish were everywhere but not all that cooperative.  A wave of the rod spooked a few before the fly even had a chance to be entertained. I started being more conscious of my profile and foot falls. It paid off as a nice brown came to the net, the Montana Monster doing the job.

Willow Brown

I set my phone to ring at 12:30 so I didn’t have to think about what time it was.  When it rang I turned to work my way back upstream.  I saw the fish before I spooked them this time. Although there was no fly on the water that resembled it, I put on a Joe-Stack. 

It caught the largest fish of the morning off the edge of a rock shelf I managed to hit with a soft cast, the fly dropping an inch from the edge. Wham!

Thanks Joe  

John was at the car.  He had two fish to the net and a few more were attentive to his offerings. We headed for lunch.



A lively group was on the porch

Including Bert who was not fishing but came to say hello. Folks were  enjoying a beverage and chatting up a storm. I took a seat and listened as tales were told of fish from other places, people known and fished with, rods collected and treasured, some unsheathed for examination. Bamboo and glass, graphite too.

Old reels and vests full of patches. Flies tied and flies invented and fly tiers known – what was their dog’s name? Cabins owned on other streams and so on and so forth.  Ray had us all sign a page in his copy of Austin Francis’ Catskill Rivers to commemorate this first gathering of TGF

At the DeBruce Club

Bruce was the perfect host serving and doing the cooking – burgers and brauts, salads and chips. I got to know John a little better and his favored 4 strip rods. Met Mike who did well on the water in front of the club house that morning. A Sage man, he had a cane rod he won in an auction when no one else bid after his initial offering. Interesting grip of rattan like wrap with a soft action for a 3 wt. He decided to try it here, for the first time.

As the others gathered their gear or poured another glass of fine wine, I decided to go where Mike had fished and let John know.  I walked down alone through the hay fields which smelled of the sweet grass of summer, a path mowed by the considerate owner.  I entered the river at the Pocket Water.  Mike had described an elbow which I did not see. Perhaps he was further down.  I thought for a moment and then headed upstream, either way surely being worthwhile.

Hopping from pocket to pocket I picked up a feisty brookie

Bruce had said the stocked fish were all 14 inches so anything smaller was probably a natural.  This guy was about 10 inches. A few browns followed and then the river opened up again with pools and tails. All interesting, all productive, all beautiful.

I came to an open stretch which at first looked to be skinny water which I assumed would be empty due to bird access and the bright sun. I sat to tie on some tippet and there was a rise a few hundred feet up. Just one.  It was under a tree.  The breeze was up and with no hatches so far, I tied a trailing ant to my fly. After a rest I crept to the river’s edge and walked slowly just out of the water to within range of the tree.  Recalling the spooky fish earlier, I tried a few casts in the other direction and was surprised by a sipping brown who inhaled the ant.

Fish on

Fish on, Fish off

The action continued between the Montana Monster and the ant for the next hour or so including what would be the fish of the day.

Foam Ant

Above this stretch was more pocket water and I was tempted to continue up but my energy was beginning to wane as my head cold started to reassert itself. I headed back to the clubhouse discovering another well used path which crossed a tributary, probably a braid of the Mongaup.

Bruce had offered snacks at 6 before heading out for the evening

When I arrived he and Hal were on the porch and John soon joined us.  Bud was loading up the car so Ray could make his train. The others had apparently called it a day. It was relaxing looking out on the casting pond which is a spring with a weir on the lower end.  Very picturesque and holds some trout.  More pets than game, no one seems to fish for them.

View from the porch

Once it was determined that no one else would be joining us our host invited us all to fish together at a pool he called Rhododendron.  I had not seen any such plants and wondered where it was.  I asked if there was enough room for us all to park and he said we were walking to it.

We headed toward the river on the left side of the pond and it soon became apparent that we were fishing where I had finished my afternoon.  Bruce clarified that there are no Rhododendron’s, at least not anymore. He cautioned us to be quiet and to stay out of the water until the fish show themselves; that the night would bring a hatch or two and the fish would move into the runs. 

I still had my two-fly set up from earlier and walked upstream to give everyone some room.  Bruce said he favored the fast water at the head of the pool so I stopped short of there. Our host didn’t get to fish the day so the least we can do is allow him his preferred spot for the evening.

Bruce putting on an Iso

He was at the head, then me at the first overhanging tree followed by Hal at the second and John at the tail.  The fish became active, plucking something off the surface intermittently.  Casting under the trees and on both sides, Hal and I had hits but no fish to the net. 

John was first with one on, the first of four for him including a fifth he wouldn’t count.  Hal then hooked a whopper that caused his taking a graceful knee without losing the fish nor breaking his rod (or neck). I had a few on but none in.

John’s 4th of the evening


Hal’s hook-up

Bruce called to me.  He said to step back to midstream and look up.  There were fish working in the run.  He had already had a few on Isonychias. I put on an emerger and with Bruce’s blessing cast into his run.  Bam. Fish on. Amazing.  He knows this water.

We fished until dark and gathered to follow Bruce out. What a day.  Beautiful water, plenty of fish, new friends and a bright full moon to show us the way. 

Moon lit walk home

June 26, Tuesday – 

I had told Sue I would be home Wednesday. I guess I was hedging my bet so that if Monday was not as satisfying as it was, I would be able to fish another day to make up for it.  As it turned out, I am satiated.

I had breakfast at Casey’s and bought a sweet roll for later. My destination – Rhododendron Pool, the one behind the rest stop. I have not been there in a while and it is a traditional part of my Catskill season.  It has changed a lot over the years but I still manage to find a fish or two. 

The lower end has gone through the most rearranging.  The tail of the pool used to flow directly downstream but since the floods it has been diverted to the right creating a long riffle parallel to the bank followed by a deep pool with lots of currents and eddies.  

Lower Rhododendron

It is very fishy looking and I worked it with my combo from the day before.  With no response, I tried a few other flies but no one was interested.  I walked up past the rope swing to the still water at the top. It didn’t seem as deep as I remembered it and reaching the spot under the tree by the shale wall was easier than I remember it.  No reaction. 

I walk to the wall and it gets deeper, in fact there are wells where the depth drops considerably.  In the calm flow I walk through them seeing just how deep they may be.  There are no fish holding, or I already scared them off.  The water comes up above my waist and nears the top of my waders. I step out and realize what I thought was a dry pocket where the zipper is has a fabric backing which has flooded.  I need to remember to use a plastic bag next time I put my car key in there.

Still water

I toss the flies at the spots I usually work but not even a splash.  I think I may have moved one fish the whole time. It’s time to go. I change to shorts and eat my roll with what is left of the coffee before getting on the highway at noon, hoping to beat the NY traffic, which I did – but not the LI traffic.  4 hours to get home.

Not sure when I am coming back so I am holding on to these memories as I have held on to all the others. A lifetime in these mountains. I have been blessed.

For more tales like this one check out the Letters to Mack trilogy.