ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Opening day 2024

Posted 4/3/24

As a long-time angler/fly fisher and columnist for this newspaper, I’m compelled to write a few words about the upcoming trout season. That is, if there is such a thing given the implementation …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Opening day 2024


As a long-time angler/fly fisher and columnist for this newspaper, I’m compelled to write a few words about the upcoming trout season. That is, if there is such a thing given the implementation of the extended season, which began in 2021. Starting on October 1 of that year, anglers were allowed to fish in New York’s trout streams until March 31 of the following year, provided they didn’t take trout and used artificial lures and flies: no kill, no bait. 

I have no idea how many anglers are fishing year-round, especially those who wish to keep a few trout. Couple that fact with the cold weather, and it’s likely that only very serious anglers are on the water. 

In addition, for many fly fishers—especially us old-timers—April’s opening day is an annual tradition and one not to be missed. That does not mean we always went fishing on the first day, mostly because the flows were up, the water too cold and the weather mostly not conducive to casting flies.

That being said, every year on the day before the season opened, I received a call from my friend Frank, asking me to accompany him on our annual opening day tour of Catskill rivers. Frank packed a lunch of his famous pepper sandwiches, which were made from fried cubanelle peppers, anointed with mayonnaise, and spread between two layers of Jewish rye bread. And Frank always packed a very large thermos of strong black coffee, sweetened with honey. I did the driving.

Once we left Woodstock, where Frank lived, we took route 212 to Mount Tremper, where we stopped at the Espous Creek and checked the flow and condition. Then we headed up and over Pine Hill on Route 28 to Margaretville. 

In Margaretville, we checked the East Branch of the Delaware River before entering Route 30. We followed Route 30 around the Pepacton Reservoir, which in most years was still covered in ice. 

At Cat Hollow, we picked up Route 206 and headed over the mountain to Roscoe. There we checked the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, to see how those rivers looked. As a special treat, when Harry and Elsie Darbee were still alive, we stopped in to have lunch and visit with them for several hours before returning home. That was our opening day routine during the 1980s and ‘90s. 

With Frank and other friends now gone, I don’t go on Opening Day reconnaissance trips any longer. Sadly that era with those friends has long passed; fond memories are all that remain of the opening day of trout season in the Catskills in years gone by.

These days, my friend Jamie entertains a large gathering of our fly-fishing friends at his farm, as close to April 1 as the calendar will allow. On that day, we get together to share good food and a glass of wine, and talk about the old friends we fished with, some of whom are legends but are no longer with us. To be sure it’s a fun time, but more than a little melancholy.

When I worked as a fisheries biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a week or so before the trout season opened, we wrote a report about how we thought the trout fishing would be on opening day. That report would be picked up by the local papers and presented as our predictions about the fishing on the first day. 

Making predictions about the quality of trout fishing in the spring of the year—when flows are not stable, the water usually too cold and weather conditions far from perfect—is risky business. But we did it anyway, in the hope that it didn’t rain enough to cause the rivers to flood and that water temperatures would be near normal.

This year, we’ve had an abnormally mild winter to the degree that some of the daffodils close to my house are just about to bloom. I lived here in the foothills of the Catskills for more than 50 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen daffodils about to bloom this early. So with these warmer temperatures, I would not be surprised to see some earlier-than-normal fly hatches. In fact, I was told by a friend who was in the Roscoe area on March 17, that a few anglers, fishing the Beaver Kill, claimed to have seen some hatching mayflies! 

Some years ago in early April, we had some very warm weather, with not a lot of rain. As a result, stream flows were normal, water temperatures unseasonably warm, and the Hendricksons hatched the second week of April. The emergence of that fly normally takes place the fourth week of April and extends into May. Anglers were caught off guard, and scrambled to fish that hatch before temperatures returned to normal.

This year, if warming trends continue and as long as we don’t receive too much rain, anglers need to check stream flows and water temperature, because some hatches could begin early. The USGS website has real-time streamflow and water temperature data, which is updated daily. Once water temperatures approach 50 degrees Fahrenheit, early-season hatches like quill Gordons and blue quills will begin. Anglers need to be prepared to take advantage of these warming conditions, should they continue, and be ready to fish, at a moment’s notice.

angler, fly, fishing, opening day, 2024, ramblings of a catskill fly fisher


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