Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

The shortest day and the fly-fisher’s winter

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 1/12/22

There is a tradition in our small angling community; I don’t know who started it. I do know it was not me. Originally, it may have been my old friend, Frank, although I don’t recall ever …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

The shortest day and the fly-fisher’s winter

Posted

There is a tradition in our small angling community; I don’t know who started it. I do know it was not me. Originally, it may have been my old friend, Frank, although I don’t recall ever being contacted by him.

Sometime in the mid-2000s, in December on the day of the Winter Solstice, I began to receive calls from Roger. Like most fly fishers, Roger dreaded the last day of the trout season, the day we closed camp for the last time, the day we took our last ride along Route 30, past Pepacton Reservoir; the day the fly rods were stored in their cases, their little coffins, until the following spring. Roger was not a big fan of winter, regarding the short, snowy, gray, cold days with utter contempt and dreading them with despair.

So I knew when the phone rang on December 21 or 22, the Winter Solstice, that it was Roger, with his annual pronouncement. That call would begin with some excitement in Roger’s voice. “Tony, we’ve turned the corner; tomorrow the days begin to get longer. And just think, each day the angle of the sun will be a little bit higher; we’re on our way to spring!” So began the long vigil; the wait for spring.

Having been through more Catskill winters than I care to enumerate, I understand completely how the winter doldrums can affect people, including fly fishers. Beginning the previous April, anglers went forth with renewed hope and vigor; a new season had started.

During the winter rods, reels, fly lines and waders had been carefully examined and maintenance completed as required. Fly boxes were checked and refilled with missing or worn patterns. By late April, the hatches had begun and trout were landed; there were smiles all round camp. The weight of another winter had lifted.

But, all too soon, by the end of September, certainly by mid-October, the fishing was over until the next spring. Another Catskill winter was on the way, the doldrums had begun.

For those anglers used to fishing several times a week, replacing those days on the river with other activities could be very difficult for some. Since I made it a practice to fish only once a week, finding winter diversions was not so difficult. With a column to research and write every two weeks for the River Reporter, firewood to split and move, a stove to tend, birds to feed, and snow to move, winter provides few challenges for me. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed the winter season in some obscure and abstract way; I think in part because I just do not like the heat and humidity associated with July and August. Frankly, I would much rather have the cold. I’ve been told that I am odd in that regard.

For others, winter may not be so easy. Which activities can replace several days on the river each week? For some, it’s time to tie flies, order new and replace old equipment, read the latest periodicals and books about fly fishing. For a select few, there will be squirrel, grouse, rabbit and deer hunting, with small game seasons extending into February. For all, there will be weekly phone calls and emails; contacts to check on one another, kill a little time. And perhaps once a month, we’ll meet at the Schoolhouse in Downsville for a mid-winter lunch, weather permitting, of course. A few will attend monthly Trout Unlimited meetings. And at least two will look forward to the annual fly fishing show in New Jersey, assuming it will be held now that the omicron variant has blossomed, adding yet another obstacle to normal human function.

Four of us will continue the constant struggle with the DEC over illegal posting and access to public fishing rights, along with the conundrum of river-bottom ownership. That means researching deeds, sending emails and letters to the state, requesting clarification of certain terms, like the meaning of “low water mark” which is found on so many deeds, designating a vague property boundary. Or whether or not the Public Trust Doctrine provides for anglers to wade and fish navigable Catskill rivers, regardless of who owns the river bottom.

All of these tasks, which are undertaken to replace fishing, are a mere subterfuge for an activity that cannot easily be replaced. Nevertheless, as the days slowly lengthen, we will all manage to get through another Catskill winter. April will be here soon enough; then the cycle will begin all over again.

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