Monday, July 1, 2013

Return to the Catskills

This was the weekend of the much anticipated Catskills trip for a group of anglers from the Westchester fishing forum. It was a really fun trip and great to meet these guys and fish together. Things weren't looking so good when we arrived, though. I drove up with Eric and our first glimpse of the East Branch was disappointing to say the least- it looked like the Willy Wonka Chocolate River.  We drove into camp as sheets of yet more rain turned the dirt road into an instant muddy mess.  We sat in the truck and wondered if the weekend was going to be a bust. Fortunately, the rain didn't last long and we got out and checked out our "bear den" cabin. Right away the neighbors greeted us in unison... "BROS!!". There were over a dozen college kids in the cabin next door and evidently they were here to party. Hard. This was not looking good. Luckily, things only got better from here on out. We met the rest of the crew as they arrived and had some beers around the fire as we talked shop and figured out a plan of attack. The guys were all great- super friendly, knowledgeable, and very psyched to fish. After a sleepless night back at s̶p̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶b̶r̶e̶a̶k̶  the bear den, we upgraded to a cabin far away from the madness and life improved.

By morning the river had totally cleared and we were in business. The whole gang of us met up bright and early and fished the East Branch together, a short drive from the campground. The water was crystal clear and it was cool and overcast- a perfect day to fish. The action was steady for everyone and there was plenty of room to fish this beautiful river. The water was almost emerald green in places and the wading was nice and easy. Streamers and tiny nymph droppers seemed to do the job, everyone seemed to have the most success on the small droppers. I stuck to nymphing with a 20 pheasant tail under a larger beadhead and picked up a nice 14" brown pretty quickly, which ended up being the largest fish of the trip for me. Everyone did well- but I was hoping to see at least a few of the giant slabs these waters are capable of producing. Still, it was a really fun morning and a great start to the weekend. After a quick break, we split off into groups and fished some different rivers in the area. I hit the Beaverkill with Eric, Jack and Matt. The section we went to was one of those wide, shallow parts that I found so challenging last week. But this time, thanks to some tips from the other guys, I learned to tight line a nymph through the riffles and it produced results. The trout I caught weren't that big, but catching them in the middle of a warm sunny afternoon with cold beer on hand was not a bad way to spend a day. My usual instinct is to target the slower transitional water or deeper runs, and in this case it was not where the fish would take a fly. Lesson learned.

That evening three of us went back to the East Branch after an early dinner and fished the section below the campground. As we walked up we could see fish rising in the slow moving water up and down the river. There seemed to be several small hatches happening at once- we saw sulphurs, midges, isonychia and a few stray caddis flies. There were some massive splashes occasionally, like someone lobbed a brick in the river. I got a glimpse of some of these fish and they were just enormous. Needless to say, we were all dying to hook one of them. I tried fly after fly- but only had a couple missed takes on a very small BWO. They might have even been refusals. For the life of me, I just couldn't get any interest from these trout. I've heard much about these selective Catskills fish and this certainly made the case. We all had a hard time that night. The three of us commiserated afterwards and tried to figure out what we could have been doing wrong. Maybe you need a 12 foot 6x leader. Maybe they only wanted midges. We had each thought to try tiny emerger droppers, but that didn't work either. Well, I did get one small one that way, but that's not exactly verification. It remains a mystery.

Feeling unsatisfied, we returned to this spot in the morning. I really thought that nymphing here might give us a chance to connect with one of these big trout. But again, no dice. We quickly went to the other section that had produced trout the day before and finished off the morning with a steady pick of smallish fish while nymphing the riffles. And then it was time to hit the road. I feel like this trip got me a little bit closer to understanding how to fish this area, but I still have so much to learn. The knowledge of a guide would be invaluable here and hopefully I'll get the chance to hire one on another visit. All of that aside, this was a really fun trip with some great anglers who were a pleasure to meet and fish with. I can't wait to do it again.