Opening Day. The words opening day mean different things to different people. For example if you’re a Yankees fan, it means opening day at the ball park. But if you are a trout fisherman, fly fisher, or otherwise, it means only one thing: winter is over, and it’s time to load the car and head to the river.
At least it used to. When I was a lad, the buildup toward opening day began in February with the arrival of the first fishing catalogs that heightened anticipation as the long-awaited day approached. Opening day in those early years meant we went fishing: high water, rain, snow, cold—didn’t matter. Mostly I tossed and turned the night before, if I slept at all.
The days before involved getting tackle ready and digging worms, so when the big day arrived we would be ready. Then at the crack of dawn, we were off. I think we caught trout, mostly hatchery dummies, which were quickly dispatched and added to the creel. In those days, it was all about “catching limits,” not “limiting catches.” So that is what we did. And of course, Monday at school was a recap of the weekend’s fishing, and about bragging rights for who caught the most and biggest trout.
As years passed and my knowledge of trout fishing grew, my philosophy changed. I found as I grew older, it wasn’t necessary or fun to be out at the crack of dawn, at cold, wet openings, shivering in the predawn. Instead, I waited for the rivers to warm and the hatches to begin before going fishing. Yet some traditions die hard or don’t die at all.
It was six days before opening day when the “Old Man” called. “You up for the opening?,” he asked, his tone impatient as usual? “Of course,” was my reply. The “Old Man” is my long-time friend, Fran: violinist, fly fisher and bon vivant. Anyway, with Frank and a few other close friends, there is a new and different opening day tradition, and it doesn’t include wetting a line. In fact we don’t even bring tackle. Instead, we gather late in the morning with thermoses of coffee, a jug of Jameson’s Whiskey and pepper sandwiches.
That’s our new tradition, coffee, whisky and pepper sandwiches. Those sandwiches will be our lunch, and they are a ritual in themselves. It is Frank’s recipe, and there can be no deviations. First the bread must be seedless rye from Cohen’s bakery in Ellenville, NY. Then the peppers: only long, thin-skinned Cubanelles, fried almost to a char in extra virgin olive with a lot of minced garlic. The olive oil must be Sicilian. When the peppers are ready, several beaten eggs are added to the pan and stirred until set. The mixture is then spread on the rye bread, which is “anointed” with a good amount of Hellman’s mayonnaise. The sandwiches are wrapped in wax pepper, not plastic wrap, and packed in Frank’s LL Bean leather tote.
The pepper-sandwich opening days are much different than the opening days of old. They are more about camaraderie than fishing, which will come later, with warmer days. No, pepper-sandwich openings are about riding around checking the East Branch and the Beaverkill, with talk about seasons past and hatches to come. These are “mature” opening days, “reasonable” opening days with no worms, high flows, or ice in the guides.
Now, on this opening day, I have to smile, thinking back about those first opening days, how eager we were to go fishing and the role those years played toward my development as a flyfisher. I was indeed a very lucky young man.