Contributed photos by Jim Leedom 

Stephen Sautner’s stream contains small rainbow and brook trout.

‘Fly Fishing, Fracking, and Floods’

Author reading in Narrowsburg

NARROWSBURG, NY — Stephen Sautner has been an avid fly fisher for a long time, and in 2003 he and his wife bought a cabin on 14 acres that happened to come with about a quarter mile of mountain stream. It’s not a large waterway. In his book, “A Cast in the Woods: A Story of Fly Fishing, Fracking, and Floods in the Heart of Trout Country,” Sautner describes some of the pools that contain the trout he catches as being about the size of a bathtub.

He said in an interview, “I bought the place, and the stream was like a bonus. I have a fly rod that weighs one ounce and that’s what I use to fish that stream.” The fish are not large, typically averaging five or six inches, and he marvels at how they manage to get up the stream to his spot.

He said, “If you were to follow my stream, I’m about two miles from the [East Branch]. There’s a poorly placed culvert... they should be really flush to the stream channel, and this one is up, and somehow they make this leap. I don’t know how, I’ve never seen it, but somehow they do it, because every year there are little fingerling rainbows about two inches long darting about the stream. And then there’s a series of waterfalls maybe three feet tall. Those I can picture, but I can’t picture them making that one leap, but they do.”

Sautner clearly has a lot of affection for the stream and the ecosystem. So when the 700-year-flood of 2006 came roaring through the region and wiped away most of the vegetation surrounding the stream, he felt a bit dazed by the damage meted out by Mother Nature. He couldn’t get to the cabin for a few days because the roads were out, but when he did, “It was really a very bleak day.” He said, “I thought, that’s it, I’ll never catch another trout in the stream; I’ll tell my son (who was two at the time), ‘believe it or not, I used to catch trout in this drainage ditch.’”

But time heals, and “between my own planting of trees and nature, it amazingly came back. And now, you could go there and… I don’t know if it’s quite as good as it was when I first bought the place in terms of numbers of trout, but there are certainly still plenty of trout in the stream… It has been an amazing lesson in how nature can come back, if you give it a chance.”

Another threat to his stream came just a couple of years later when his property was going to become part of a “spacing unit,” and one of the first of six proposed gas wells in New York State was going to be located a couple of minutes from the cabin in Delaware County. “So like it or not, they were going to be drilling under my property, whether I signed a lease or not.” In his area, the lease offers went up to $2,500 an acre.

But, he said, he did not buy the property as a speculative way to make money. He said, “I was up there for trout, for birds, for wildlife, for frogs, for toads, for my son, for my wife, and I really felt I was a steward of that. I didn’t fault neighbors, I never got into arguments. If they signed, they signed. But I was determined not to sign and to do everything I could to fight against it.”

Sautner, a former contributor to The New York Times’ “Outdoors” column, and communications director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, will read from his new book “A Cast in the Woods” at One Grand Books in Narrowsburg on Saturday, September 15 at 5 p.m.


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