In This Place: April 9, 2014
Fishing for Tales
by Trish Adams
I got myself into another whole kettle of fish this week with “fishing.” Those of you who have yet to plumb the archives don’t know what happens when you search for “fishing” – an ocean of material “jumps” at you, and if you don’t go after every one, well, the best tale might get away!
So I did my best, and got an education into fly fishing at the same time. There’s enough great fishing lore in the News to keep us going for many a season more.
Let’s start with our own News legend, L.R. Long. Freud would have been proud of his insights into the fisherman’s mentality. Not much — except the transportation — has changed in the last 104 years.
April 22, 1910 — L. R. Long – The Fishing Fever
Did you see them go? Did you notice that all sorts and conditions of men went fishing last Saturday? Merchants who are usually steady and attentive to business caught the fever and away they went. The lawyer had no time for legal business but with a wild rush and a hurrah hurried off the night before so as to be early on the ground. And so with most everybody except a few staid people who do not care for such sport as fishing.
And then they work along the trout streams with that tense look on the face that shows the state of soul they are in. Don't try to talk to one of them then. That would be almost dangerous for when a man has the fishing fever and is at the stream he must be undisturbed. Men who at all other times are most careful in their utterances might if too much disturbed when trying to hook a spotted beauty give utterance to some expressions that are not to he found in the dictionary. You see it is a time of great mental strain and responsibility can not be too rigidly expected at such times.
And then they come back home with the fever gone and put up the pole perhaps to leave it until the first trout day of next year. Of course they will have some stories to tell of what they caught if nothing more than a cold. But if you see two sedate store-keepers come back about noon and the one with the horse drives up the back street looking neither to the right nor the left do not seek to pry too closely into the mysteries of the day's sport. And do not take up his fish basket to open it for you may thus call down on your head all the pent up vials of wrath that have been boiling beneath the surface ever since the first and last fish failed to take the hook.
Fishing stories? Of course you will hear them and you will not look into them too closely. If a man may be believed on any other subject it does not follow that he can tell the exact truth about the fish he caught? But we will make no insinuations. You may have an neighbor who went fishing or, maybe, you went yourself.
This article shows that the science — and the “opinionating” — of fishing was in high gear by the time the depression was in full flow. It was probably a time men and women both were grateful for a meal they could catch with their wits and patience, unlike the ones that cost hard cash.
May 13, 1932 — Fly Fishing for the Speckled Beauty from Its Many Anles [sic]
Catching the wily trout on bait, may be said to contain some of the elements of luck but netting it with any degree of success with a fly requires natural adaptability and a certain skill that few possess or ever acquire. To cast a fly on the water in such a manner that it will appear natural enough to fool the trout may look easy enough when someone else is doing it; but when it comes to taking the pole and whisking the fly across the water, one finds that there is a great deal of difference between watching the other fellow catch 'em and getting "jumps" himself.
Fish are said to possess very little gray matter, however, the keenness of sight of the trout can be said to recompense him for this deficiency, for it is seldom that his eyes deceive him, and many a fisherman, with all the keenness of mind of some of the so-called best brains of the country, has been unable to deceive these little organs of sight.
Success in fly fishing depends, mostly, on being able to duplicate the fly on the water and, after the fly is selected, in making it appear to the speckled beauty like its live brothers dipping or floating on the surface. There are two methods of fishing with flies—the more popular being wet fly fishing. Dry fly fishing, nevertheless, runs a close second and is the more favored of the two with sportsmen who fish extensively. The difference in the two lies in the manner of casting the fly on the water— the former being cast down stream and drawn across the water, whereas the latter (fly) is made and treated so it will float down on the surface with the current.
Selecting the fly to try the trout with is, perhaps, the most important step in successful fly fishing. Very few trout will look at anything but the particular fly on which they are feeding. Flies of inferior grace—although less expensive—often prove the nemesis of the fisherman. Could the trout but talk, he would express scorn at some of the things called flies that he is supposed to jump for. Flies of good make, whether machine made or made locally by an adapt craftsman, should be selected. Rules for choosing the particular fly to fish with are as numerous, almost, as files on the water. Some fishermen fish until they catch one, which they open to see what kind of fly is in the stomach, and then duplicate it. Others catch a fly over the water and make their selection accordingly. The most popular method, however, is to ask John Doe what he caught his mess on and then follow John Doe's selection. Some anglers who have plenty of time, try every fly in their book and then, if they don't rise, there is something wrong in the weather, the water etc., etc. Using the common sense we are all supposed to be endowed with will get us as far as anything.
Only flies corresponding to the season of the year can be supposed to be successful. In the early spring, the quills are as good as any fly on the market. Later on they are N. G. and the gnat, cowdung, Beaverkill, etc., etc., is the correct thing. Would it be natural for trout to feed on a mid-summer fly in April or vise versa? Certainly not.
If one is unsuccessful or has had little experience, he shouldn’t be bashful in asking advice of an older and more experienced hand. Very few of the latter will refuse information if asked for it in a respectful manner. Don't be afraid of being laughed at for it is the vain nature of man to prove himself superior to another and the person of whom advice is asked will usually feel flattered on being questioned.
To state that such and such a time or day is best for trout fishing would be a little fetched and no doubt start a controversy. Some maintain that at the break of day is the best and only time. Others hold that at sundown and during the evening is the time when the trout feed. The foregoing is true in the summer time during hot weather, but during April, May and sometimes in June, successful fly fishing is done at the time the trout are feeding which may be early morning, miday, or toward night.
Just before a rainstorm is nearly always a good time for fly fishing. Sometimes during a warm rain they will rise for the fly and at this time the largest ones are often hooked. Some people seem to possess an insight into the time when the trout will jump best and these are always the best anglers, although the novice can get plenty of sport and some fish by just taking it easy and gauging himself according to the weather and conditions in general.
Anyone know who this four-year-old angler might be?
May 6, 1949
Biggest fishermen of the week was a four-year-old on upper Main street, Margaretville, with a 11 1/2–inch trout taken without assistance from anyone. He dug the worm, baited the hook and landed the trout. He spent the morning showing it about town. “Me done good,” he lisped.
As with sap, mud and many other subjects, News editor Clarke Sanford has bequeathed us a creel full of speckled beauties. Let’s hope we’re here next year to enjoy more of them. I chose this column from many eloquent ones because it landed on this 60th anniversary of the loss of all these great fishing holes.
April 2, 1954
This season, opening April 10, is the last to fish the best trout waters of this east branch of the Delaware with a dry fly. In future years the Pepacton reservoir will be good boat fishing. But the trout will be too far down in the deep water of the reservoir to rise to a fly.
By another April the waters will have backed up to fill the excellent pools along the stream from the Stone School to Pepacton and fly fishermen will have to look to other areas for their sport. Fly fishing lends itself to romance, is renowned by the poets and takes the complete attention of those who have worked at it long enough to catch fish or to enjoy the day they come home with empty creels.
Fly fishing requires skill akin to that of other great sports. Stance, ability, quick thinking, on the second timing and other requirements are as necessary as they are in golf or baseball. It is not a sport which can be taken up in a day or two or one to be enjoyed by a person who is discouraged by defeat.
The pools from Margaretville to Pepacton abound in trout small and large—there are many six pounders and larger. But they are difficult to take. The fishing has been injured to an extent in the last several years by minnow and spinner fishing. But the trout are not all gone, any way it can be calculated.
Trout keep hidden. It has happened a few times it the last 25 years that poison from a manufacturing plant has been dumped into the river by accident. At such times one did not have to walk many rods along the bank to count a thousand dead trout. Nor did the killing extend far along the stream. After a half mile or less the water cleansed itself.
Trout are temperamental. They strike five minutes and quit for a day. They strike all day long or for an hour. No man knows when striking time will come or how long it will last. Fortunate is he who is along the stream one of those times when big trout begin to rise, when they make the water boil, when they are not too choosy about the fly which attracts them or when the fisherman is using a fly which the trout will take in preference to natural flies on the stream. When a man has such a fly he carefully preserves it in the belief he has at last discovered the all time killer. But he is in for disappointment—next day no trout will give it a look.
To those who do not understand fly fishing, I would say there are two ways to fish, with a fly, wet or dry. The dry fly is far more spectacular than the other method. Skill is required to make it float and skill again when the trout comes up through the water in a spectacular rush to “strike” the fly. The fish can be seen as it comes up from the bottom. If the fisherman strikes too soon he will take the fly away before the trout touches it. if he strikes too late the trout will have spit out the fake. Trout are quick and the split second for the strike is of short duration.
When the fisherman casts, the fly up stream and it floats right side up merrily toward him on the current, there is more poetry than I know in any other sport.
This season is goodbye to the great pools of the East Branch. They are loved by local fishermen and by hundreds from far away. Many a famous troutster and many a capable local caster have taken trout from all these pools. I am sorry beyond compare to give them up. Happy experiences with them all will live in memory as long as memory lasts.
News editor Dick Sanford may still enjoy fishing, but the camera has since become his true forté. This great feature excerpted here marks another generational transition, as some fly fishermen tested the entirely different experience of fishing in deep waters. Although it also requires expertise, good instincts and patience, many of the local streams where delicate flies had been cast for generations were sacrificed to “the big Mouth” — the New York City water supply.
July 20, 1972 — Huge Brown Trout Await Fishermen in the Pepacton
By Dick Sanford
The alarm clock rang angrily Friday at 5 a.m. and aroused me out of a dream in which I was madly fighting a 15-pound Brown trout. I had the monster almost to the boat when in my dream the noise of the alarm clock scared the fish, he jumped once and was gone. His tail flipped in the water, almost as if to say, “So much for you, mister, did you really think you would catch me?”
That morning I was to meet Dick Walker, manager of the Pepacton sport center, for my first fishing trip on the Pepacton.
I had arranged to meet Dick at his house at 6 and when I got there a sign on the door told me that he was at the diner having breakfast. I met him there [and] was surprised at how many people there were at that hour. Apparently fishermen have no re- gard for sleep.
Sawbellies Best Bait
Most of the men who fish the reservoir use a minnow called a sawbelly. The Pepacton Sports Center sells between 6,000 and 8,000 of them each week when the fishing is at its best. Dick is plagued at all hours by fishermen who have either just arrived or who have run out of them: He was forced to move and get an unlisted phone number so that he could sleep nights. He made me promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone where he lived.
I was so sure that Dick would catch one of the big Browns that I had brought a camera. Usually for me there is no surer way to not catch fish than to bring a camera because I have decided that trout simply do not like to have their pictures taken. Today I knew it would be different.
Dick wanted to start fishing in the cove because the sawbellies had been spawning there the last week. He uses a very simple minnow rig. One single hook is tied on the end of the six-pound test line. The line is then broken about four feet up from the hook and a swivel is tied on the short piece. A sliding sinker is then placed on the upper piece and then that is retied to the swivel.
On our other rod we used the same rig except that we left off the sinker. Dick wanted the sawbelly to swim on the surface because we had seen several big fish chasing bait-fish on the surface. If you looked closely you could see the small sawbellies jumping out of the water just ahead of the trout. Apparently the big trout races through a school of the minnows slashing and killing all that he can. It is quite a sight to see one of the big Browns thrashing through a school of minnows.
We started fishing out toward the main body of the reservoir just barely rowing fast enough to keep the boat moving. We were not really trolling and not really stillfishing, but letting the minnow do most of the work.
Small Fish Strikes
After about half an hour I began to curse the camera, blaming it for our lack of success. I was thinking about throwing it in the water to show the trout that I didn’t really want to take his picture when the line on Dick’s rod began to zing out of the open bail. The fish didn’t run very far and Dick was immediately suspicious as to its size. The Department of Environmental Conservation had recently stocked the reservoir with several thousand Browns, most of them about 10 inches long, and it was one of these small fish that had grabbed our minnow. But today we were not interested in 10-inch fish, and this one was just killing our bait. Dick replaced the dead sawbelly with a fresh lively one. Every few minutes the rod tip would jump a little, making my pulse quicken and my hand move to the camera, but it was only the minnow exhibiting an unusual burst of energy.
Patience is the name of the game, along with a comfortable cushion to sit on. I was beginning to run a little short of both when again the line began to run out of the open bail. This time it was the real thing as the fish ran with the minnow for what seemed forever. Dick calmly let the fish run, wanting to make sure that it had the sawbelly well into its mouth before he set the hook. When the fish stopped running he closed the bail and very slowly took up the slack in the line caused by the sliding sinker. Then with a jerk that bent his light rod double he set the hook and the trout responded immediately. The drag was set lightly, and the fish easily peeled several hundred feet of line off the spool on its first run, taking the hook deep down into the water. Dick said that it didn't feel like a record fish but in my excitement I was sure that it would weigh 20 pounds. The fish made several more spectacular runs and then began to come slowly to the surface, making its first appearance about 50 feet from the boat.
I was madly fumbling with my camera, worrying about shutter speed, f-stops and focusing as Dick continued to bring the fish to the boat. I have no idea how long it took, except that I have 10 pictures that show nothing but water being moved around by something that faintly resembles a fish tail.
Success at Last
The next thing I knew Dick had the net under the fish and it was in the boat. I had never seen a Brown that big and to me it looked like a monster. To my amazement Dick asked me if I wanted to keep it as he usually put ones this size back in the water. I claimed it with nothing more said, wondering what kind of man would throw back the biggest Brown that I had ever seen.
This time it was my turn to catch one, and I stared at the rod tips until the motion of the boat and the action of the minnows began to play tricks with my eyes. Several times I was sure that a fish had struck only to turn around and see Dick smiling at me. Once I accidentally knocked the rod with my foot, causing the tip to move and my heart to stop, but it began to look like no fish for me. Again I began to curse my camera, but we did have one fish in the boat and just maybe the jinx was broken. The sun began to get hot and we had foolishly neglected to bring any cool beverage to quench our mounting thirst. Being as I was the guest I thought it my duty to suggest that we call it a day and leave a few fish for the other guys.
Fish Story Born
I began to think of ways, without outright lying, how I could tell my friends I had caught the fish or at least helped, but none came to my mind. I headed toward Margaretville somewhat tired from my early rising hour, but happy because of the fish “we” had caught. Several drinks later that evening, the fish had mysteriously grown several pounds and I had temporarily forgotten the name of the man with whom I was fishing. To all those I was with that evening the truth is now laid bare, but somewhere in the reservoir is a Brown trout with my name on it, waiting only for the day when I show up without my camera.
And if you thought those were some good fishing yarns, wait ’til you see the ones that got away from us. Next year! Until then, feel free to send me suggestions for topics at firstname.lastname@example.org.