When we were young men, still in high school, I recall that opening day for us actually began in February. By that time, catalogs from Herters, Sears and Read Tackle had arrived, whetting our …
When we were young men, still in high school, I recall that opening day for us actually began in February. By that time, catalogs from Herters, Sears and Read Tackle had arrived, whetting our appetites for the coming season.
Trout season did not begin on April 1 back then. It started a week or so later. The minimum size was seven inches; the bag limit, 10 trout a day.
As the weeks passed and April approached, we had a ritual that we followed each spring. It began with a trip to Ralph’s Sporting Goods Store in North White Plains. Ralph knew all of us from the years that we visited his store and purchased tackle and bait there. None of us had very much money; nevertheless, we looked forward to our visits, to check the newest tackle and chat with Ralph.
In mid-March, we would fish for white perch in Muscoot Reservoir as a tuneup for the coming trout season. That is, if the ice was out. Later In the month, my friend Tony would borrow his dad’s car, and we would cruise around Westchester and Putnam counties, checking out the streams we planned to fish.
In those days, with the exception of brook trout, there was little fishing for wild trout. Not that we knew much about those fish at the time. By March 1, stocking had begun, with both brook and brown trout being planted in all the streams that were on the schedule. So we fished for hatchery trout almost exclusively.
By mid-March, we decided which local stream we planned to fish on opening day. That depended to some degree on the weather and streamflow. But most years, we chose the Amawalk Outlet, located between Yorktown and Katonah in Westchester County. In addition to recently stocked trout, the Amawalk held some nice-sized holdover browns from the previous year’s stocking.
The day before opening caused a whirlwind of activity. Tackle was gathered, hip boots checked, and most importantly, hundreds of garden worms dug. There was no fly fishing in those days. Sleep did not come easy the night before, if it came at all. Alarms were set for 5 a.m., with pick-up scheduled for 6. Then it was off to the Amawalk.
We generally parked along Wood Street, which gave us access to both upstream and downstream pools to fish. We all had our favorites. I always chose the upstream sections, because I knew the pools, having fished them before with good success. My favorite pool was below the waterfall, which was man-made and appeared to be part of a commercial operation that had long since ceased operation. The river below the falls was contained by beautiful laid-up walls on both sides. In order to fish below the waterfall, it was necessary to cross it. That was tricky business, with rubber-soled hip boots!
The waterfall pool was deep, with the water on the left side flowing under a wall. We fished this pool by casting our bait upstream toward the base of the falls and allowing it to sink and float back. I caught a lot of trout below the falls over the years using that method. That pool was so good that my friend Tony once caught a 20-inch brown on the right side, in an area that no one fished! It was from this pool at the base of the waterfall that on my very first trout-fishing trip, my friend’s father caught two nice browns and gave them to me. A completely unselfish act, which just increased my desire for trout fishing.
On one opening day, after the conservation department had stocked a good number of decent-sized brook trout in the Amawalk, three of us probably caught and kept about a dozen trout. We were returning to the car when a reporter from the New York Times stopped and asked how we did. When we told him that we had a dozen brook trout, he asked if he could take our picture. So we strung all of those trout through the gills on a long, thin sapling. Then the three of us, standing side-by-side, held all of those brook trout behind our backs. The photographer then took a series of pictures from behind showing all of our trout, while a man in the front held up one small brown. It was not a sportsmanlike exercise, to be sure, and I would never consider doing anything like that again. Whether that picture ever made it to print, I have no clue. But that’s the kind of fishing we did back in the mid-to-late 1950s.
When I returned from college, and went back to fish the Amawalk, it was under special regulations. That was in 1965. At the time, there was a one-fish, 14-inch size limit and an artificial-lures-only provision in place to protect the fishery. I hiked upstream to a pool that made a sharp left turn and was roughly about a quarter of a mile above the waterfall. When I arrived, I found a pretty good hatch of quill Gordon mayflies, with a decent brown rising at the head of the pool. On the second cast, I hooked and landed a beautiful, 18-inch brown!
That’s why the Amawalk was my favorite river. There was always good fishing, and it sometimes held a very special surprise.
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