Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

The last Hendrickson hatch

Posted 2/9/22

It was about 9 p.m. on a late April evening when the Old Man called.

Ginger, my Brittany spaniel, was snoozing on the rug by my feet.

Every time the Old Man’s number appeared on my caller …

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Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

The last Hendrickson hatch


It was about 9 p.m. on a late April evening when the Old Man called.

Ginger, my Brittany spaniel, was snoozing on the rug by my feet.

Every time the Old Man’s number appeared on my caller ID, I wondered with some trepidation what kind of greeting there would be. At the time, the Old Man was in his mid-eighties, an irascible character to be sure. So one would never know what the conversation would be like: friendly, or angry and argumentative. His calls always seemed to depend to some degree on the season, his mood, and whether or not a few drams of Jamieson’s Irish whiskey had been imbibed.

Late April, the fourth week, under normal weather and river conditions, was always considered Hendrickson time in the Catskills. So I hoped the Old Man was calling about fishing, not some other, cranky, crusty issue. Anyway, when I answered, the Old Man appeared to be in good spirits, because his greeting was friendly. “ToTo,” he began (he called me ToTo, and to this day I have no clue why, and never thought to ask but hoped it was out of affection), “Roger called a little while ago and explained that Hendricksons have been hatching on the lower river and should be on the camp water by tomorrow. Can you fish?”

“Yes, I haven’t  been out yet, and I’m itching to wet a line!”

“Let’s just hope the weather holds and the flies come off as scheduled!” “How about I pick you up at ten, then we can meet Rog at 10:30 and be at the camp by noon?”

“Fine,” the Old Man said, “and don’t forget the Hendricksons you tied for me over the winter. I’m just about out.”

“OK, and will you make pepper sandwiches, or do we need to stop?” “You should know better than ask about that, and I’ll have coffee, too.” “Good, we can have a little lunch then hit the river right around 1:30 or so.”

The next morning dawned sunny and cool. Not great fishing weather, in that cloudy days always seemed better; the trout more likely to rise, less spooked by a bright sun. At least it hadn’t rained, so the river should be in excellent condition. I picked the Old Man up on time; god forbid one should be late. A few minutes later we found Rog with his gear in a neat pile next to his truck. In that this was our first trip, we all shook hands, loaded Rog’s gear and headed for the river.

At that time, the Old Man, my friend Bill and I had a camp, actually an RV, parked at Peaceful Valley Campground, near Shinhopple. We moved the RV from downriver the year before, because access to the fishing was easier: much shorter walks, and the pools and hatches were better.

As tradition would have it, as soon as we arrived, all three of us immediately headed for the home pool to check for Hendricksons.

Since the Old Man had a bad hip, we made our way slowly. The flow was perfect, and even though it was just a little after noon, a few blue quills, (Paraleptoblebia) were already coming off! A wonderful sign, because these small, dark mayflies almost always preceded the Hendrickson hatch. So there was considerable excitement as we made our way back to the RV for lunch.

By 1:45 we were on the water, looking for the first Hendricksons. On most days, under normal conditions, Hendricksons begin to emerge right around 2 p.m. We were lucky in that the first flies appeared right around 2:15. I helped the Old Man wade out to a likely looking spot, then returned to the bank to watch and wait.

The old man was a classic caster, from the old school, where folks were taught to fly cast by placing a book under their upper arm; trained to use just the wrist and forearm, to move the fly rod. If I remember correctly, the Old Man had two bamboo fly rods at the time, a seven-foot, three-inch Jim Payne and a seven-foot, three-inch beauty made by Walt Carpenter. I don’t recall which rod he used that day. I do remember, watching his beautiful, fluid casts, honed by years of fishing, flow out over the river, dropping the fly lightly to the surface.

As the afternoon progressed, the Hendricksons picked up considerably, with several trout rising in casting range of where the Old Man had waded. I don’t know how many casts he made, but suddenly his old Hardy LRH screamed, the rod bent, and a very nice trout leaped from the water about 50 feet downriver. The fish, a 17-inch brown, was expertly played, netted, photographed and released. After that, the Old Man waded to shore, puffed on his ever-present pipe, and seemed utterly content.

That fish was the old man’s last trout; his last Hendrickson hatch.

Sometime after that trip, he had hip replacement surgery, was sent to rehab and PT. There were complications and, I firmly believe, the Old Man decided it was time. He passed from this earth in November of 1996. His ashes were released to his beloved East Branch on opening day, 1997. To learn more about this rather esoteric little man, look for “Small in the Eye of a River.” It’s not your average, how-to-do, everyday fly fishing book. A classic in its own time.

Hendricksons, the Old Man, casting, trout, fly fishing


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