Monday, November 8, 2010

Fly Fishing the Famous Beaverkill River in Roscoe, New York

Probably the most famous fly fishing river in the Northeast, the Beaverkill begins at Junction Pool in Roscoe New York, where hundreds of fishermen and women test their skills each spring. Roscoe is the center of fly fishing in the Catskills. For over 100 years, the Beaverkill, Willowemec, Delaware and other streams have attracted the preeminent fly fishers in America including Theodore Gordon, Art Flick and Joan and Lee Wulff.  Roscoe, New York calls itself “Trout Town USA” and the Catskills soon became known as the birthplace of American Fly Fishing. 

For the East Coast fly fisher, a trip to the Beaverkill River is like a pilgrimage, a journey to a sacred place. In ancient times, Jews used to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year to offer sacrifices to God. Today, a trip to Israel remains a sacred pilgrimage for Jews, a way to connect to the past and the Bible. While I would not put Roscoe New York on the same spiritual plane as the Temple in Jerusalem, for many fly fishers the Beaverkill River is a sacred site, a place like no other in America to cast a fly. 

In October 2001, I drove to Roscoe for a fly fishing trip that felt like more than a normal few days on the stream. It was only a few weeks after 9/11. From my apartment in Brooklyn, I could still smell the smoke coming from the remains of the twin towers. New York City felt like a war zone, and I needed some time away, a safe place in a world that felt upside-down.

After a two hour car trip, I arrived at Roscoe New York, population 597. Every pilgrimage has rituals, and a trip to Roscoe is no different. I ate at the Roscoe Diner, I visited the local fly shop to get some gear and good advice, and I checked into a local B&B. Finally, it was time to go fishing.

As I had been looking forward to fly fishing the Beaverkill for a long time, I could not help imagining what would happen when I finally cast my line. I dreamt of a beautiful river, filled with large rising trout. On a perfect fall day, I would be the only person around for miles, and I would catch and release fish after fish for hours.

Picture: The Beaverkill River

Needless to say, my dreams for this fly fishing pilgrimage were a bit unrealistic. Junction Pool was too crowded, the Beaverkill River was low that year, and I got skunked for two days, not catching a single trout. I realized that while the pools of the Beaverkill might be famous, for me that day they were also fishless.

On my second day of fly fishing, when the streams would not yield a bite, I decided to abandon my fly rod and go for a hike. I climbed to the top of one of the hills which was very steep, and I looked around. Trees covered the Catskill Mountains in all directions, the leaves were turning brilliant yellows and oranges. I had never witnessed such a beautiful fall scene in my life. As I stood on top of the hill, I realized that I had completed my pilgrimage. The sacred site that I was looking for was not Junction Pool or the Beaverkill River. It was on top of that mountain, where I felt in awe of the beauty of nature.

View from the top of a Catskill Mountain in the Fall of 2001

A fly fishing pilgrimage is about taking the time to escape the everyday, about traveling to a place that is far from the ordinary. This type of journey can be a search for safety in a post 9/11 world, a return to nature and simplicity when human society seems so distorted. A pilgrimage is also about connecting to the past. I may not have caught a fish in Roscoe, but knowing that I was fishing the same rivers as Theodore Gordon and other greats made me feel grounded and authentic.

Perhaps the ultimate goal of a pilgrimage is enlightenment.  Standing on top of a hill in Roscoe in the fall, I realized that I had completed my pilgrimage.  The sacred site that I was looking for was on top of that hill, where I experienced the awe and beauty of a fall day in the mountains.


Anonymous said...

Who said? "Some men fish all of their lives without realizing it's not the fish they're after."

Leigh said...

Very nice. I hope to make the same pilgrimage next year.

ulsterscot1968 said...

That was a nice essay. I live up north, east of Albany, but at one time I lived on Long Island. I used to spend my spring, summer and fall vacations at my grandfather's cabin in Broome County. So I can appreciate what you are talking about. Having fished those rivers mentioned many years ago, I must say, however, the fishing where I live now is a bit more difficult. Though it is mainly due to the clarity of the water and the proliferation of "brighter" stream bottoms. Though I can certainly appreciate your frustration with being skunked, good Lord knows I have had more than my share of the same!

o.b.s said...

my name is omer binyamin and i am frome north of israel , i enjoy reading your post /
i am also fishing for trout in the dan river and latly i am looking to buy a fly rod and start fly fishing for trout. as you know very few pepole fly fishing in isreal so there's hardly any fly fishing stores and i want to buy my rod and reel online but i am not sure what to buy
i was thinking to buy a 6’6” 3wt 4pc cortland brook rod what do you think?

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Thanks for you comments everyone.

Dear o.b.s.,

The rod that you are thinking about seems a bit too light and small to me. I have a 9' 5 wt rod that works well on most streams. But if the Dan River is very small, then your 6'6" rod would be fine.

Anonymous said...

Very nice. This feeling that you have about making a journey is shared by a lot fly fisherman as you know. Its the fact that you put your experience in such a eloquent way that drove me to leave this comment and say this... I will be back and rss to my blog. We all want to feel close to our spiritual father, And feel - authentic.
Thank you very much for the blog and pictures.

M Zayas said...

Excellent as always!!

jackstraw said...

Excellent writing Rabbi.My father took me to fish the Beaverkill when I was a 8 year old boy. Fished there with him until I was in my early 20's. My father is gone now but I still go to the same campground with my son now. It is a whimsical place that I am grateful I have the chance to share with my son. He will be teaching me about fishing soon at 7 he is a quite astute fisherman. He has just started learning how to cast a fly rod. Thank you Rabbi!