New York, 2016.During the early months of 2016, I documented a group of fly fishermen that live and work among the rivers of the Catskill Mountains. One hundred miles north of New York City the Catskills are home to some of the best Trout streams in the country. The Delaware River and its branches the East and West along with the Beaverkill and Willowemoc combine to create the center of the fly fishing world in Upstate New York.
This world was introduced to me by a twenty-seven-year-old named Matthias. I met Matthias a few weeks prior at a fly shop repurposed from a savings bank, in Pawling, New York. Inside sat Matthias wearing his frayed brim cap tediously tying flies. He looks up “Whats ahp?” said Matthias in his New England accent. I explained my project on fly fishermen to which he offered to introduce me to what he called “trout-bums” of the Catskills. The following morning we hit the road with two gas station coffees in hand and a sedan full of tackle. Matthias shared with me how in high school, he began tying flies and forming relationships with other fishermen. Then to his current life where he works at the Baxter House Outfitters in Roscoe, NY providing guided trips down the famous Trout Rivers. He explained the ethics of being a responsible fly fisherman, such as catch and release, never using live bait, and having an active role in keeping the ecosystem healthy.
Arriving at the campsite at the Beaver-Del, Matthias described the local fly fishermen of the Catskills that fish every hour of every day. These “Fly Guys” work as local guides for local shops and tie flies for extra income. It was around now that I met Zach, another Baxter House Outfitters guide who rows a drift boat ten or more miles daily for his clients looking for an “authentic” Catskill fly fishing experience. Zach stood in the rusted doorframe of his RV, a shelter that had seen its best years a decade ago. This was our shelter for the next few days helping to keep us dry from the unpredictable showers that frequent the Catskill Mountains during the spring. As night came over the mountain I would join in their festivities, listening to fishing stories and drinking the local beer by the campfire. Tales about trout that snapped lines and broke their spirits filled the air with the glowing ember from our fire.
A fog filled, dew covered landscape greeted us as we began our first morning. Everything about us was wet and muddy by the time we slid Zach’s Stealthcraft drift boat into the East Delaware and started our fifteen-mile journey. Floating to the sound of water slapping the sides of our boat, Matthias talked about the day’s hatch. The two talking about the appropriate dry fly size and pattern to use for the day. As we moved effortlessly through the water an excitement built inside of me, I was part of something, something big, primal, a hunt that has been taking place in these rivers for centuries.
Along our route, Zach would approach locations and gently dropped the anchor into the water. These were locations that he had mapped into his mind. These were locations where he had had success in the past and on this day they were proving to be successful again. Cast after cast the two would alternate, with the other dipping a net into the current scooping in the wild trout. Their crystal gold eyes repelling the clear water as it was lifted out of the water and inspected for size. “Do you see those scars? This guy survived an attack from an eagle!” Zach explained clasping the fish. “These are beautiful Wild Fish!” as he lowered the fish back into the river. Zach explained the importance of catch and release, protecting these wild creatures and their fragile habitat. I was starting to settle into river time.
We made our way down the East Branch, the sun setting behind us, floating through fields of newly hatched insects and the frenzy the trout created. “These fish are too damn full I think, they’re not biting anymore”, said Matthias gravelly as he reeled in his fly. Our journey ended on the shore of Eel Ray’s property, working in the dark as we loaded the Stealthcraft to the back of Zach’s rig. “This guy has the best-smoked eel if you’re into that sort of thing,” said Zach, as pulled the boat onto his trailer. As we drove back to camp I reflected on the relationship fishermen share with the waters they wade and cast their lines into. It was a harmonious dance between man and nature, a peaceful sight to see. An experience that I am thankful to have shared with two of this areas great young river guides.
_________________________________________________________Appeared in The FlyFish Journal issue 9.1, in print and online, see (here).