Ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Another season ends

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 10/20/21

It’s subtle at first.

Fall actually begins not on September 22, but in July, when the first poplar leaves fall and cover the ground like large brown potato chips. They crunch underfoot as we …

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Ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Another season ends

Posted

It’s subtle at first.

Fall actually begins not on September 22, but in July, when the first poplar leaves fall and cover the ground like large brown potato chips. They crunch underfoot as we make our way around camp. Those late July days provide the first, not-so-subtle hints, that the season is ever-so-slowly changing.

By September the leaves will begin to change, and by October, the mountainsides and river valley will be ablaze with all the colors of another fall. It is at this time, when the days shorten, that there will be the scent of woodsmoke on the evening breeze, as the nights cool. Frost is on the way!

Each year at this time, we gather to close another trout fishing season. Once there were 10, now there are six, in that the reaper has wielded his scythe and taken four friends and fellow anglers. Those folks are gone now, and our thoughts rewind to the times, over the many years, when they joined us to share in the fishing, and the weekly meetings, as Clem called them. They were all good and decent people who loved to fish and loved the history and lore associated with fly fishing. More importantly, each in his or her own way, was a conservationist, dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of wild trout and trout streams. We miss these comrades, members of our group, so there is a certain sadness and melancholy as we recall all the good times and get-togethers at the camp.

On the table, next to the camper, are three pictures along with a lone bottle of New Castle Ale, as memorials; reminders. There is a moment of silence with heads bowed, as we each take a moment.

In a final tribute, we walk over to the river, check the Home Pool for flies, perhaps a rising trout, and look to the heavens for the ghosts of the fallen. Clem and Barb’s chair remains in the meadow by that Home Pool, where they sat and watched the river, contemplating what fly to use. As the day progresses, the shadows lengthen, in relation to the season and low angle of the afternoon sun. It’s dusk by 7 p.m. now, much earlier than the long evenings in June, when we stayed on the water sometimes well after nine o’clock.

Back at camp, there are burgers and brats on the grill and for those who partake, a beer or two. Later there will be good-natured chit-chat about the season, which has turned out to be a mixed bag. Early on, the rivers were high, water temperature low, and rising trout too few. Later there was a period with little rainfall, with the freestone streams dangerously low, and water temperatures in the mid-80s along some reaches of the Beaver Kill.

Then, sometime in mid-July, the rain began, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection increased the releases from its reservoirs to the tailwaters to reduce storage. It appears the water supply tunnel linking the Rondout reservoir to the West Branch reservoir in Putnam County is closed for repair, so no water from the Delaware system could be diverted to Manhattan for water supply. That meant that the releases were increased, to purge the reservoirs in order to prevent downstream flooding during the fall and coming spring.

Storage for this season at last check was 93 percent as compared to 76 percent for average years. As a result, flows became too high to fish, with more than normal rain just adding to the dilemma. According to my diary, the last day I fished during 2021, ironically, was on September 11. That is the earliest date, in any season that I can recall, in which I stopped fishing before mid-October.

For anglers, this is a sad and for some a difficult time, because by the middle of October, most will have retired their favorite rods and other gear to storage, as they prepare for another Catskill winter. There will be cold, dreary and sometimes snowy days; with several months of no fishing, before the sap flows again, buds appear and life once again returns to the river valleys. To kill time, some will tie flies, read, work around the house, write and perhaps watch football. The few that hunt will wander the uplands, shotgun at the ready, seeking the wily grouse, perhaps a woodcock, or a snowshoe hare.

By the end of October, fishing will be over, except for the few hardy people who wish to cast their streamer flies for the large browns, which are migrating from the reservoirs upstream to their spawning grounds. Anglers can do that this year because of regulation changes, which allow fishing but no harvesting between October 15 and March 31.

Way too soon, the trees will stand empty, devoid of foliage: bleak, gray sentinels guarding the river banks until another spring arrives. In the meantime we wait; as another season ends, the river rests; all the leaves are down.

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