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.