ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

The longest day

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 6/30/21

June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of this year. It provides about 17 hours of daylight and is the official beginning of summer. This means that anglers can be on the water until at …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

The longest day

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June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of this year. It provides about 17 hours of daylight and is the official beginning of summer. This means that anglers can be on the water until at least until 9 pm. As a fly fisherman, I always look forward to evening fishing and spinner falls associated with oncoming darkness. So, the added hours are a bonus to those of us who seek the solitude of the river at dusk.

With the summer solstice and the onset of summer, I’m brought back to another time—a time when we had an RV at a different campground on the river with my fishing partners: Frank, Wille and Heidi. All three are all long gone now but warmly remembered as only best, best friends can be. They are sorely missed. Some years later, there was a young woman and her boy. At the time, we were a family of sorts and spent three years on the river, fishing almost every weekend during the season. June was our favorite month: warm days and cool nights, abundant fly hatches and rising trout. As I look back at those years, it is with fond memories of long evenings on the river, purple irises in bloom streamside, mixed with of all the smells of June on the breeze as the night closed. At that time, as I do now, I looked forward to the long hours of daylight occurring around the solstice, that allowed late nights on the river. Many evenings, I stayed on the water until well after dark, looking and listening for one last rise, one last trout. I remember the bats would flutter about my head, collecting a meal of insects, and sometimes chasing my fly when it was in the air. I don’t see bats anymore.

As time passed, my lady became an accomplished fly fisher with some guidance from me, along with a weekend at the Wulff School, where I taught for several years. I made her an eight-inch, two-piece fly rod on a Winston blank. When the rod was complete, we found a Hardy Perfect reel, an Orvis vest and waders, so she was well outfitted and more than a capable caster.

She had a favorite pool, where a downed tree along the opposite bank provided good holding water and cover. She liked to fish alone, so the boy and I left her to the river. I took considerable pride watching her cast, as the tight loops in her fly line unfurled over the water, delicately dropping the fly. Sometimes, I put the boy on my shoulders and we waded up river so we could watch his mom fish. Even though he was a little guy, he became accomplished at spotting rising trout and would excitedly call out from his perch, “There’s a rise, did you see it?”

We enjoyed our life and times on the river for three seasons before we went our separate ways. Sadly, times change, people change and relationships end. The last day we went to the river was in October, around the close of the trout season; there, she presented me with a story of the years we spent together and how important they were to her. She called it, “On the bank of the river.” I have not been back to that area since, holding that reach of the river as a special place in remembrance of the years we spent there, that last October day and all those June nights, before and after the solstice.

While the lead-up to the summer solstice and the solstice itself provides the most daylight hours for fishing, all too soon begins the turning point of the season; in the days that follow, minutes will slowly decline, as we ever so slowly slip toward fall. Although I look forward and enjoy the extra hours of daylight available for fishing in June, I sense the dread that all fly fishers feel as summer wanes and the clock ticks slowly by, with fall just a few short months away. And even though the new fishing regulations allow year-round, no-kill trout fishing, most of us will end the season in mid-October, close the camp and store the rods for another Catskill winter. During the off-season, we will meet for lunch at the Schoolhouse, rehash the past season, wait for spring and hope for a good season with bountiful hatches, rising trout and one more summer solstice—the longest day—and the cycle of rivers and spring to begin again.

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