By Mike Harvell
Editor’s note: Harvell is a retired engineer with Fluor and has traveled the world and fished extensively in pristine destinations. He also teaches flyfishing in conjunction with myself at Clemson University. During the spring and summer of 2001, he was on assignment at the New Your JFK Airport, he fished many of the Catskill Classic Rivers during a long weekend.
The Catskill Area of New York has a rich history of fly fishing stretching back to the 1890s. Some of the famous rivers include the Neversink River and the Beaverkill River. While on assignment working at the New York JFK Airport during 2001, I fished the Catskill Classic Waters during the various weekends that I remained in NY. Some well-known rivers in this area included the Neversink, Beaverkill, Willowemoc, and Esopus Rivers. This area is known for inspiring artists, famous fly-fishing authors, and trout fishermen.
One of the most famous areas on the Beaverkill was the covered bridge area. Theodore Gordon lived on the Neversink River to the east of the Beaver Kill River but fished this river often during his prime fishing days. There are signs just north of the Covered Bridge that say Theodore Gordon fished here with his Gordon Quill dry fly. This research and fly-tying efforts gained him of his title of Father of American Fly Fishing. It was the Gordon Quill Fly that he developed by communicating with fly tiers back in England for material and methods and is known for tying flies with a particular wing style and much stiffer hackles. This research and fly-tying efforts gained him of his title of Father of American Fly Fishing and spawned the fly-fishing movement in the Catskills.
Today the upper Beaverkill is mostly private and is closed to public access; however, the Covered Bridge area is open to fishing and at times can still produce nice wild trout.
I worked my way to the upper river after fishing the lower Beaver Kill, which is mostly open to public fly fishing and has famous pools with marking signs designating areas that Gordan loved to fish. On Saturday nights, while fishing in the Catskills, I would sleep in my Ford Explorer. The back seat would fold down and produce an area that was very nice for sleeping provided you carried a good sleeping bag and pad. Early Sunday mornings were reserved for scouting new fly-fishing areas. Daybreak Sunday in the Catskills was ideal for reviewing new fishing areas as no traffic allowed easy river viewing from the road. This is how I found the Covered Bridge area after researching Beaver Kill and its rich fly-fishing history.
Many of the pools of the Beaverkill were named and have a story behind them. They include names like The Forks (Junction Pool), Ferdon’s Eddy, Barnhart’s Pool, Hendrickson’s Pool, Cairns Pool, Wagon Tracks, Schoolhouse Pool, Rubbing Mill Pool (Red Rose Pool), Mountain & Lower Mountain Pool, Painter’s Bend, Cooks Falls Pool, Cemetery Pool, Horton Bridge Pool, Acid Factory Pool, Barrel Pool, Chiloway Pool, Whirling Eddy, Pork Eddy, Covered Bridge Pool, Beaverkill Falls and finally the Willich Pool. The roots of American Dry Fly-Fishing reach across all these various stretches of water and the Beaverkill is one the famous rivers that all trout streams are compared.
I liked the pool just above the Covered Bridge. On that particular day, there was a nice insect hatch in an area across the creek and under some low-hanging tree branches. The first time I fished it a heavy hatch of insects resembling the Gordon Quill fly were hatching in the riffle under the tree branches. I used the Gordon Quill imitation I had tied that had slant back wings of Wood Duck flank, tied similarly to the original pattern from the 1890s.
Happy times are here again! Soon I noticed that wild browns were feeding on dry flies, mostly small ones around 10 inches but I hoped they were from the same family of original fish Theodore was catching back in the day.
Even though insects were hatching in the pool, only the wise fish under the tree were taking the dries. The object was to get under the tree, and I would get a hit if the fly and presentation was perfect no drag, no lining fish and if the fly had the swept-back wings of wood duck flank which were required if one desired to have their fly exactly match the natural insect. When I inspected Gordon flies in the Catskill Fly-Fishing Hall of Fame in Roscoe NY, located just a few miles down the road, I noticed some original flies tied by Theodore Gordan had the swept wings I wondered why this sweep in wings, now I know.
With only a short time fishing this hatch, I realized that the only place to fish this hatch under the tree was casting from a position through an opening in the tree branches that allowed for a drag-free float. Otherwise, cross current from other casting positions would drag the fly and make it look unnatural.
Another fisherman arrived from upriver and noticed the insects hatching under the tree, feeding fish, including the one pulling hard on my fly. The spell of solitude is broken. I reached out and touched a bit of fly-fishing history today. I am ready to fish the other famous waters of the Catskills.
Check out the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum https://cffcm.com/