Matching the Hatch in the Catskill Waters

Fly fishermen prepare for April 1, the opening day of trout fishing season.

The Catskills, known as the birthplace of American fly fishing, is considered one of the best areas for the sport in the Northeast and, quite possibly, the whole world. Both locals and visitors flock to the region’s waterways to cast a fly — a lure created with fur, feathers and thread — and dance it above the water to mimic an insect. On April 1, anglers will cast into our rivers and streams once again for the opening day of what fly fishing guide and photographer Mark Loete calls “the sport that captures the imagination, heart, and soul of the Catskills.”

Creating the perfect fly is a combination of creativity, trickery, and tradition. For example, many fly fishermen in the region make, or tie, their own flies “Catskill style,” matching vintage patterns created decades ago by local tyers. Loete says it’s the fly tyer’s role to create “sculptural constructs of fur and feathers that fool fish into thinking they are living beings.” Loete says the trout are clever and  typically eat insects hatched that day, so tyers learn to “match the hatch” and use lures that replicate new insects. 

Most fly fishermen stress that fly fishing is more often a catch-and-release sport, and lures are usually un-barbed, which hurts the fish less. Glenn Pontier, executive director of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, admits this makes it harder, “so you just have to be better at it. It’s an environmentally sensitive and sophisticated way to interact with the world around you.”

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Many consider fly fishing in the Catskills’ waters therapeutic, as well. Project Healing Waters is a rehabilitation group that brings disabled veterans to the Catskills to learn to fly fish. Other groups such as Back in the Maine Stream, a group for disabled vets from Maine, and Casting for Recovery, a group for breast cancer survivors, also view fly fishing as a healing activity, and bring groups to the region. 

This year’s opening day festivities include the First Cast, for which locals will ceremoniously gather at the Willowemoc River to cast into the waters, sponsored by the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce. (This Sullivan County town, by the way, is officially known as “Trout Town USA”.) Later on, local fisherman and guide Hank Rope presents a casting demonstration at the Phoenicia Library. And April 8 is the Two-Headed Trout Dinner, an annual event where fishermen gather to tell far-fetched stories of their experiences on the river. (The titular tale is that of a trout that couldn’t decide whether to swim up the Beaverkill or the Willowemoc, so its head split in two.)

All mentioned fly-fishing events are open to the public, and seasoned veterans and newcomers alike are welcome to join and learn more about the sport and its culture. Pontier says this is the perfect year to give fly fishing a try, because “If there’s a theme this year, it’s ‘Welcome to fly fishing.’ This an opportunity to do something that puts you in harmony with the world around you and challenges you.” 

Fishing licenses are required for those over 16; annual licenses cost $25, and are only $5 for those over 70. Visit the Phoenicia Library to rent fly fishing gear (those with a  library card can borrow it), to get information on fly fishing in the Catskills, or to see the locally crafted ties displayed in the library’s Jerry Bartlett Memorial Angling Collection.

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