ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Fly fishing: a privilege

By Tony Bonavist
Posted 7/29/20

Fly fishing is a fragile and fickle sport. By that, I don’t mean to imply that rivers are fragile, or that trout are fragile, although, in some instances, both are. What I do mean is, unlike a …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Fly fishing: a privilege

Posted

Fly fishing is a fragile and fickle sport. By that, I don’t mean to imply that rivers are fragile, or that trout are fragile, although, in some instances, both are. What I do mean is, unlike a lot of other outdoor activities, fishing with a fly depends on a number of variables that anglers have little or no control over yet must contend with every day spent fishing. In spring, it’s cold, high water that creates problems for fly fishers. Those conditions impact trout feeding and insect hatches, both of which help determine whether or not anglers will be successful. As the season progresses, seasonal storms cause short-term flooding, rising rivers and turbidity that, in some situations, prevents fishing for several days. Then by July, most of the important major mayfly hatches indigenous to the Catskills are over, creating a large void for anglers, causing dry fly fishing to be most difficult. At the same time, flows are going down and water temperatures are on the rise as summer heat invades the region, seriously impacting freestone rivers. This is a very hard time for fly fishers because rising trout are relegated to early morning and evening on those rivers. Exceptions are the tailwaters where some hatches continue, offering a reprieve for the dedicated. Still, it is not easy; fly fishing seldom is.

As summer unfolds, anglers become more and more impatient and frustrated as fly hatches decline and rising a trout or two becomes more and more of a challenge. It is at this time when a lot of chatter takes place on the internet and phone regarding the lack of flies, tiny flies, low flows, too many kayaks and too few rising trout. Yet, this same scenario occurs every season in July and August. So, I ask, why do so many fly fishers torment themselves when they know this is what happens during deep summer in the Catskills? 

Most of us fly fish, not only because of the fishing, but also because of what a river provides besides catching trout. So even though the fishing is not easy, as an angler, is there a better way to spend an afternoon or evening than on a river? What would you do instead that would be as peaceful, rewarding and fulfilling? Watch TV, go to lunch with friends, mope around, become bored? 

 Regardless of how tough the fishing is, I’ll continue to go to the river—to a tailwater, where water temperatures will remain cool, even on the warmest days. And every time I go, fishing aside, I’ll take a moment to realize how lucky I am at this stage in a pretty long life to be able to wade a favorite pool and cast my flies. It is my time, when the trout are not rising, to think of others much less fortunate. To those, for example, relegated to nursing care, perhaps unable to walk, let alone fish. For me, going to the river is a privilege, a reprieve from the day-to-day routine, a time to reflect and observe all that a river offers, even when the fishing is slow. There is always an interesting variety of river creatures providing entertainment. Perhaps it’s a kingfisher’s dive and splash; a family of mergansers on the move, mom in the lead, babies swimming behind. Or as it happens, fairly often, the loud “crack” as a beaver swims behind and slaps its tail, advising that I’m welcome. It’s never boring, wading deep in the cool flow, water plants undulating with the current. 

As darkness closes, hopefully a few trout will rise. Perhaps I’ll hook one? Regardless, I’ll leave the river at peace, knowing that I had the opportunity that very few folks have these days—especially people in my age group. Hopefully, and despite how difficult the fishing is, those that are frustrated will take a moment to reflect how fortunate they are to be able to go to a river and enjoy what it has to offer when so many others cannot. 

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