Nature Watch: Climate Change and Flyfishing

Weather / Stream Report for Beaverkill in 2018

Contributed by Judy Van Put

The fishing season of 2018 has come and gone with a sizzle rather than a bang, as here on October 15, the last day of the regular trout fishing season in New York, we remembered having a most unusual year.

It’s surprising to see the conditions of nature at this writing: we still have not had a frost. The Harvest Moon at the end of September came on a cloudy night, and therefore didn’t produce any frost as a typical cold, clear night would have during that full moon. I can’t ever remember not having frost by October 15 – and we’re still enjoying begonias and a huge bed of nasturtiums in the garden blooming merrily. In addition, we’ve found that fly-fishing activity this time of year has also been affected; fishing at Hazel Bridge on the Willowemoc, which is usually topnotch in late September and October, has been flat. Generally the frosts of late September bring a hatch that encourages the trout to rise, and fishing is productive in that long pool below the bridge; we’ve often fished it up till Veteran’s Day with good luck.

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Nature Watch: Heads Up!….No, Heads Down!

Contributed by Patricia Adams

On my morning walk I cross the Covered Bridge and take the path that goes down the hill along the river. Hemlocks cover the bank there and underneath the trees is a carpet of stripped pinecones and pine nut seeds, left by red and grey squirrels. I’ve never seen them there but the evidence of major feeding is undeniable.

Our dog Lucy and I follow the path down along the river to a favorite stopping point where there is a nice variety of trees standing together; an oak, a maple, a sycamore, cherry, white pine and hemlock. We stop there so Lucy can have a swim and I scoop up a splash of Beaverkill water.

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Memorial Day FRIENDraiser 2018 at Mimi and Simone McGurl’s

Submitted by Simone

Dear Friends –

It was wonderful to see so many of you at our first ever Memorial Day Friendraiser! (And to those who couldn’t come – you were missed!) 

The start of the summer means something different to each of us – but what I believe we share, is the joy and delight of being in our beautiful region enjoying good food, laughter, friends and family.

If you are new to our community and haven’t signed up for the email list or officially joined friends of the Beaverkill, you can do so on our website. And as a reminder the $25 to join FOB goes to help us put on community events, take care of the church, bridge and other key landmarks, and protect the beautiful natural environment that makes the Beaverkill a place we love to live.

Till next time! 

Patricia, Simone and Josh 

Minutes FOBC Board Meeting

Contributed by Josh Grier May 2, 2018

The Board of FOBC had their first meeting of the 2018 season this past Saturday, April 28.  Attending were Ramsay Adams, Patricia Adams, Simone McGurl, Barbara Trelstad, Josh Grier and Jane Sokolow.  We thought the Friends might be interested in plans ahead for this Spring and Summer:

1. Simone and Mimi will host a “Friends Raiser” get-together at their house on Saturday, May 26 from 4-6pm.  This will be primarily a social event, however we will also have the annual meeting then – primarily to present and vote on  the slate of new officers up for consideration.  Invitations/announcements for this party will be handled by Simone and Jane – using our traditional methods (email and posting on the FOBC website) and a paperless post.  Simone is considering setting up an Instagram account, as well. 

2. If there is interest, two new committees will be established (Mary Hall and Bob Jones will continue to take care of the Beaverkill Church committee) :

a. A campsite committee, which will work with the NYSDEC (NY State Dept of Environmental Conservation) and OSI (Open Space Institute) — on ways to further enhance the campsite/picnic area by the beautifully restored covered bridge. DEC and OSI have funds to work on this area but need a local organization to partner with them. There are many ideas of things to do, but this will be discussed and decided by the new committee.  Josh will sign and send back to DEC the “Volunteer Stewardship Application,” which should establish the FOBC as the official local contact for these projects.

b. An archives/heritage committee. Barbara has collected and organized what photos and “hard copy” items we have for FOBC and will continue to catalogue and preserve these items. If  there is interest, we could start on a new series of interviews with people who have moved  here since the ‘70s. Most of the interviews for our “Stories of Beaverkill” were about Beaverkill River Valley before the ‘70s. 

3. The date for the summer picnic was set for Saturday, August 18, from 5pm on. Josh and Jane will work on establishing the locale and other details.

4. We look forward to having the new FOBC member directory completed soon, either in time for the May 26th  party or the August 18th  party.

“Ice Jam” Below the Wrought Iron Bridge on the Beaverkill Valley Road and the Adjacent Field

These pictures were taken by Mac downstream from the wrought iron bridge on January 11, 2018
Temp during the ice event: around zero to 10+, with big rain and 30+ long enough to break up the ice and send it downriver (the “upper Beaverkill”). Some chunks were over a foot thick and 8 to 10 feet across. I don’t know how long the ice stayed around; it was pushed out of the road within a day of the invasion.
An anonymous local kid

The History of Lew Beach

Contributed by Fran Sharpless in August 2008, probably written by Mrs. Si Gordon for the First Collection. This pdf document shows you the original manuscript, typed back in the days before cut & paste existed, when you had to type it right the first time, and you got your fingers black from carbon paper. Mrs. Gordon’s story, as far as we know, has never been published anywhere but here.

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Trout Fishing on the Beaverkill by Fred Banks

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.