This story appeared in the 1950s booklet, but to our knowledge, nowhere else.
Who was the first white man to fish the Beaverkill? Some very intensive research would have to be done to find this out. We can be assured that it was not long after the first settlers reached the valley of this famous trout stream. The Indians had ways and means of catching fish. They certainly were catching the native brook trout from the Catskill streams long before the first settlers arrived.
In the U. S. sport fishing had been practically unknown before 1830. Fish was food and they were taken from our streams lakes and rivers, in the conventional manner of that day, the same as wild game fell before the bow and arrow, and muzzle loaded gun.
We can very well assume that fishing with hook and line and baited with the lowly angle worm was the first sporting method used by the settlers upon reaching the Beaverkill. My research has not gone quite that far back. However, we have a date published in “The Complete Angler,” containing notes and letters of Theodore Gordon, that a fisherman known as Uncle Thaddius Norris fished the Willowemoc prior to 1865 with flies, as he published this fact in his book “The American Angler.” If fly fishing started on our neighboring stream, the Willowemoc, at this early date we can be sure that the anglers did not overlook the Beaverkill only a few miles distant. At that date we did have the Erie R. R. running thru the Delaware Valley and we know I that many anglers came to the Beaverkill via the railroad to Callicoon station and then by horse drawn carriages to their favorite farm house on the Beaverkill stream to fish for trout.
For a number of years in the early days of trout fishing, fish and game laws including size and creel limits were of course unheard of. The conservation of fish and game had not come into our laws. The Beaverkill teemed with native brook trout, and sad to relate, a great deal of commercial fishing was done on the river to supply the New York market. Brook Trout were considered a great delicacy in the finest restaurants and they were caught in great numbers and shipped to the big City. This commercial fishing was far from sport fishing, and I can very well venture to say that it was not done with a wet or dry fly. With this commercial fishing together with the location of tanneries on our streams, trout became scarce. In fact the time had come when fishermen became alarmed at this state of affairs. During this alarming period, brown trout were introduced into the Beaverkill. A sportsman by the name of Seth Green, was responsible for this and we can thank him today for our fishing, as the native brook trout would never have survived in any great numbers.
The brown trout can stand much warmer water temperatures, and grow faster than the brook trout. In streams like the Beaverkill the brown trout have given us the finest of fishing for a great many years and are still being stocked in great numbers and all sizes. Long after the onslaught of the early commercial fishermen, tanneries, acid plants, the great increase in the public fishing, the coming of the automobile and paved highways, and various ways and means of taking fish, the last of which is the spinning rod and reel, the brown trout have survived.
In the past twenty-five years trout fishing has been given a tremendous amount of publicity in our sporting magazines and the rod and gun columns of our daily newspapers. Thousands of other fresh and salt water fishermen have taken up trout fishing. Many of these anglers have not had the ways and means of spending enough time on the stream to master the art of fly fishing. As a result, there has been a tremendous taking of trout by bait fishing, spinners, tie and lures, of every description. Man’s inborn instinct is, of course, to show his fellow man that he can catch fish. Again we have been able to overcome this onslaught by the stocking of trout from the state hatcheries and the tightening of the creel limits. The legal limit to ten fish per day. Within the past year the Conservation Department has set aside certain stretches of stream for fly fishing only. This is a noble experiment and in my opinion the entire Beaverkill should come under this regulation. It is interesting to note that a fishing club on the stream has had fly fishing only for over forty years.
Fly fishing can be divided into two categories, wet fly and dry fly fishing. Wet fly fishing is done by the angler fishing downstream with the current. He casts his flies, usually two or three wet flies on a long gut leader, and three quarters across the current. The leader and the flies sink and the fish follow them and strike as the line and leader straighten out. The fish is hooked usually by the end of the rod. The wet fly is most effective in the early season when the streams are high and the natural insects are not too numerous. The wet fly is an artificial fly which represents a drowned fly or fly in the nymph stage and has been washed under the surface of the stream. The wet flies are tied with flat wings and a slender body so that it will have a minimum of floating qualities.
Dry fly fishing is somewhat the reverse of this procedure described above. The dry fly is so tied that it is a floating fly and resembles the natural insect that has fallen on the water and is in the act of laying eggs on the surface of the water. The dry fly is fished upstream allowed to float a short distance, then retrieved and cast again, on some likely spot, or over some trout that has been observed by the fisherman taking a natural insect.
Theodore Gordon has been known as the dean of the American Dry Fly Fishermen. Dry flies were not used on our streams at first, but they were used in England. The English streams were of a different type from ours and the English fishermen of a much different temperament. The chalk streams, as they were called, were slow flowing, passing through meadows and pasture lands. The English fishermen did not wade their streams but used to stalk the rising fish, often with a pair of binoculars, spot the feeding trout, as it would take a natural insect on the surface of the placid stream. With very accurate casting and a dry fly the angler would drop the fly on the spot the fish had been seen to rise. The fish would r rise to the dry fly take it down and the fisherman would then set the hook with a quick rising of the rod.
Theodore Gordon had read about this method of fishing and began at first, to experiment on our streams by fishing his wet fly, by the dry fly method. He found that it could be done and lost no time in tying some dry flies of his own. The most famous of his flies are the Gordon Quill pattern. No fisherman would be without some Gordon Quills in his fly box today.
As this method of dry fly fishing developed amongst our American trout fishermen they were able to go one step further than their English cousins. The Englishman as I stated above fished the rising fish, but by repeated casting in likely spots, in the current or behind rocks, he would induce a fish to rise for his fly in many instances when there were no natural insects to be seen on the surface of the water at all. There is no more deadly way of taking trout, than the dry fly method of fishing if done by one that has mastered the art of fly casting, and has fished enough to know where the likely spots are that trout will lie. Our stream the Famous Beaverkill could not be improved upon as far as this method of fishing is concerned. Perhaps that is why Gordon spent so many hours on it.
In the early 1920’s our fishing resorts on the Beaverkill were patronized, by middle-aged men, and older men, that would come to the stream on fishing vacation, not just for a hurried weekend. They were all expert fly fishermen. Most of them dry fly fishermen. The novice was a rare sight in those days. Today this condition is just the reverse. The expert is very rare. The desire to catch fish, regardless of by what method, urges the younger generations to refrain from the practice and knowledge of becoming an expert fly caster. Perhaps this is a result of the tempo of our present daily living.
The time the modern fisherman spends on streams does not allow him to become a good caster, or gather the necessary stream knowledge to know where to cast after he has become able to handle a rod and line.
I must add one more fact that has saved the trout fishing in the Beaverkill. Although I am an open stream fisherman myself, I will say that the existence of numerous private clubs and privately owned water on the river where the general public are not allowed to fish has been one of the prevailing factors in keeping fish in the Beaverkill. The clubs and private waters have never been fished out, they are stocked with adult fish and have supplied large reservoirs of fish that spread up and down stream to stock the open water.
Today we have inherited a direct line of fly tiers here in the Beaverkill country. This line has come down to us directly from Theodore Gordon, the master of American fly fishing. Gordon’s influence is very much alive in the school of fly-tying. Rube Cross, who learned fly-tying from the master, Roy Steenrod, author of the Hendrickson fly, and Herman Christian were both fishing companions of Gordan’s. The expert fly tiers, Walter Dette and his wife and the Harry Darbees, all have the style and technique of the master Theodore Gordon.