May 12 – 14, 2021
Last winter the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum had an on-line auction and I bid and won a two night stay at the Roscoe Motel. It is where Jerry and I would go to fish the Hendricksons early in the season. The fishing was usually terrible, the flies few and far between, the waters high and roiling and the weather cold and rainy. But we went. My wife reminds me how insane that was as I explain to her that I am planning on going to the Roscoe Motel the week after Mother’s Day. Somethings are hard to explain.
The motel has been sold again, this time to a gal named Rachel from up in the Adirondacks. She is working on fixing it up and has a playful Lab by her side. She comes out to greet me before I get out of the car, hands me my key and tells me room #1. Nice hosting and a river view room. The real benefit is there is a small porch that wraps around overlooking Junction Pool Bridge and a fire pit with picnic table should you be so inclined.
It is also where we spent so many nights, Jerry and I, over the course of our 30 year fishing partnership, so it just seems like the right place to be. This is my first solo trip in almost two years and the last one was not so good between a bulging disc and a shoulder in need of surgery. I need to prove to myself (and my wife) that I am good. That I’ve still got it.
I have an itinerary in mind. Places Jerry and I frequently fished. Barnhard’s was first up. There are 3 cars with Connecticut plates in the lot. The walk to the river is messy with the sewage treatment pond over flowing the path and old knotweed blocking other accesses. This famous run is already tainted by Big 17 and its roaring traffic, now this mess.
Guys are up and downstream of where I come to the river. For a while, I stand looking for the rising fish by the yellow DEC sign on the other side. The sign is gone but I remember where it was. The river is clear but bank high. I couldn’t wade out far enough for that fish if he was showing himself today.
I walk downstream toward the bend and the portal. No one is beyond the fellow on the corner. As I work the long run, I recall how Hendricksons would just pop up here and there in the past. Hoping for a similar experience today. I wade and work the middle and the far bank with caddis and emergers. No rises. The wind is blowing steady with some strong gusts. I have on the hat my son gave me years ago. It’s been to Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho. It has a chin strap but since it fits snuggly I don’t use it, choosing to stuff it in the crown like Brad Pitt did with his cigarettes.
I am changing flies and the wind gets stronger. I say to myself “after this knot is tied I’ll put on the strap” – and with that the hat is lifted off my head, flung like a Frisbee across the stream, and is floating toward Hancock. The current is swift and it is well out of my reach. I think to cast for it but it is already out of range. I follow it down, cautiously, knowing I am not going to catch it. I hope another gust will blow it further across and that, just maybe, it will be trapped in the eddy below the rocks at Hendricksons – then I can cross and get it. That doesn’t happen and when I try to cross anyway, the current and depth dissuade me. I promised Sue I would be careful and I am being true to my word.
No sense walking back upstream with so many other fishers, plus I don’t want to walk through the muddy water of that pond again. I head to the highway and climb the slope, walking the road shoulder looking to see if my hat is visible. Piano Rock is mostly under water. The hat is gone and with it my clip on magnifiers. The prescription sunglasses I wear are old and the lenses don’t really match my current eyes, so hatless and sightless I make the decision to float a few flies here.
The sun glare makes seeing the fly on the water difficult and no one is reacting. I walk back to the car along Old 17, pull a hat out of my bag, and head up 206 to Pig Pen.
The parking lot is empty. By the way, the water temp is about 50 degrees and the bugs seem to be between hatches. My expectations are very modest in terms of finding fish. The river is always changing. Woody debris that used to hold fish here is gone and it seems like the riffles and pools are modified, but then it’s been a few years. I head up to the Campsite.
It is always on my list of stops, the Beaverkill Campsite and covered bridge by the Theodore Gordon historical plaque, for a lot of reasons – one being I usually catch fish here. I was hoping to drive down to the lower end of the camp because it is a long walk and I like it down there. In fact I went on the camping reservation web site and tried to make a reservation. I would gladly pay the $20 to drive in. A brilliant plan except the camp doesn’t open until May 21st and today is the 12th. I settle for chatting with a fellow from Syracuse, his first time here, and then fishing above the bridge. I cross it off my list for further exploration tomorrow and head to Ferdon’s. Same story, bank full and cold with no bugs. I try anyway.
It was a good day, the car drove well and the electronic safety features are truly life savers. Made good time and gas was available in spite of the pipeline shut down by those ransom-ware thieves. I take a hot shower and call Rockland House to get a cheese burger to go. Feeling bad about the hat, I want to post a reward on the Catskill oriented Facebook pages for anyone downstream who may have snagged it, but I don’t.
Thursday – I visit the local shops and my friend Phil of Eagle River Realty who has been having a very busy year; all those exiles from NYC buying into the country they just discovered.
Time to go fishing. I drive slowly along DeBruce Road, looking and remembering. I stop at the usual pull off which has a car with the guy just looking as well. We agree that we need some warmer water, and maybe a week or two, for the bugs to come. Next is a campsite where I would bring the boys to see the chickens and buy ice cream bars in the store. I ask if I can park at the camp to fish and the lady is very nice and accommodating.
It is such a beautiful place, the Willowemoc that is. A short walk puts me in another world, especially when no one else is around. I have the place to myself. I walk to the caves and then cast a bit. I move past the old fruit trees, what a picturesque setting. Further up I take my gear off and sit for a while. Peaceful – and then a rise.
A caddis gets a refusal and I sit. Some time passes before the next rise and it is above the first one. Very sporadic and not many bugs to guide my fly selection. I go through the usual assortment of spring flies in various forms (as long as they float). I rest it time and time again in between a few casts. I love having a target. Blind casting at this time of year is so tedious.
Maybe another rise and then a sudden blitz of bugs fill the air including those gnats that get in your ears and nose. I put my Covid mask on to keep them out of my mouth. It lasts maybe 15 minutes, the mayflies that is. It isn’t enough to get the fish interested. The gnats keep coming.
I head out, testing the water here and there. A few flies in the air but no birds working, if you know what I mean. I stop by the Rose Cottage in DeBruce to say hello to Marilyn and Anne. There are no cars in the lot, although the place looks meticulously maintained. Probably busier on the weekend this time of year. Down the road I stop again at the DEC pull off and walk up to Jerry’s favorite spot. There are still a few landmarks but it has been dramatically changed from what it was. Jerry is gone over 10 years now. Good to be here. I drift a Hendrickson for him as well as a March Brown.
Power Lines is my last shot for the day. As I leave the birds start swooping but I am done. Tired but satisfied; a beautiful day in this beautiful place. To paraphrase Negley Farson – your fly rod brings you to the most amazing places.
I go to the fancy Italian place on 206 for take-out but they are too busy. Good looking menu. Next time. I head to Raimundos but their take out menu is limited to double servings. I am not that hungry – another Rockland hamburger and I call it a day.
Friday I wake early and pack up. I leave a book for Rachel and wish her luck with the Motel. I get on the road and pull off at the rest stop to walk to Rhododendron Pool. I don’t gear up as the early hour is not likely to be too fishy.
I ask the navigation app on the phone to take me to the Neversink and the result is a nice back country drive. There is one guy upstream who turns out to be a bait fisherman who has had some luck. I work above him on the bend and pull in a modest brown. I look at my watch. It’s time to go if I want to miss the traffic, not that you ever really miss it. As I wish him continuing luck I see some bugs. Below him, I stop and make a few casts to the rocks on the other side. It looks promising and I get a rise to an emerger but no take. I work it a bit more and then surrender.
A trip I needed to make and it turned out to be wonderful, sans fish. Just being up here, being in these places, making new memories to go along with all those I already have, is enough.
I am indeed a fortunate man.