Mike and I spent some time this weekend with our Dad fishing the Beaverkill and the Willowomac in New York. Saturday we fished the Beaverkill for about 4 hours around the Painters hole and were rewarded for our efforts with about 25 healthy and wild browns up to 18”. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought I had heard the Beaverkill was in trouble but whatever conservation efforts have been made appear to be working. The fly of choice was a size 16 cadis in a variety of colors (olive, tan, brown).
Sunday we were back on the Beaverkill a few miles downstream from our Saturday adventures but the fish were not cooperating. I landed about ten and Mike got one. Not a very good showing given that we spent a few more hours at it than we did on Saturday. I think the weather had a lot to do with it as it was raining most of the day on Saturday and was a lot brighter and warmer on Sunday. Again, the fly that worked for us was a size 16 cadis. The fish this day were a lot smaller – around 12”.
Monday we hit the Willowomac for a few hours in the pouring rain with little to show for our efforts. Mike landed one on a size 16 ant and that was it. I could not even get a looker. From there we headed back to Painters on the Beaverkill and discovered rising trout and a surprising crowd for a rainy Monday. Mike joined the crowd and I worked upstream with my Dad where the crowds and the rising fish were nowhere to be seen. I talked one up on a cadis while Dad went fishless. I walked back downstream to see Mike getting the occasional fish but still in crowded conditions. I continued my walk downstream and eventually came to the Wagontracks hole. The fish were rising and I got excited. I crossed the rapids that dumped into the long, calm, and deep pool and studied the water before me. I couldn’t tell what they were taking so I decided to start making experimental sweeps of the pool.
The first sweep was with a cadis and it didn’t bring a look. The second was a light cahill and that got a couple looks and one taker but I thought it was too big. I dropped down to 6x tippet and a 22 midge and was rewarded with not a single look. I was loving the challenge but getting a bit frustrated. After a few more sweeps and flies I stumbled on the right one – I don’t know what it is called but it was a mayfly type with no hackle (just wings and tail) – and the day became magic. I had broken the lock to this treasure chest and I was all alone as I began bringing the wild 16 to 18” browns to my hand.
I don’t want to give the impression that I was getting a fish on every cast – far from it. This is a no kill section of the river and the fish, especially the big ones, are VERY skilled at identifying frauds.
Near the far bank I noticed a very nice fish sip a fly. There were a few conflicting currents between me and the fish but they were not moving fast so I figured I could get a couple of feet of clean drift. I stripped more line from my reel and made the hero cast. Almost immediately there were bends in my line but the fly was drifting well. The fish took the fly and my heart stopped. It showed its side as it took the fly and it was huge! It’s color was a deep golden brown with a decided hint of red. On my oath as a fisherman to always tell the truth and to never exaggerate, this fish was at least 25”. Despite the slack in my line I managed to set the hook. I couldn’t believe it! The fish headed downstream and into the deeper waters shaking it’s head violently as it went. I feared for my tippet and kept very light pressure on him, so light that by the bend in my rod you would think I had a little 9 incher on. Another series of head shakes and the line went slack. Shaking, I pulled in the line and discovered a broken tippet. I was not really disappointed, the fish knew exactly what to do and I don’t know what I could have done differently to combat those violent head shakes. I was content in having fooled him and giving him my best fight.
I continued fishing the hole for another hour or so catching a nice fish here and there until my Dad came by to say he was heading out and that Mike was just about ready to call it a day. I reeled up my line and put the fly in it’s keeper as I began working my way to the far bank. About 10 feet from the bank I saw a huge shadow swimming in the current seam just off the shore. “Just a couple casts” I told myself as I pulled line off the reel. First cast – nothing. Second cast – nothing. Third cast – the shadow rose and took the fly.
With the hook set in his jaw he headed down stream and into the deeper water and thankfully without the heavy head shakes. I headed to the bank for better mobility and firmer footing. The fish just sulked and I couldn’t budge him. After about a minute of this the fish got fed up and made a run – upstream, through heavy rapids. The line was screaming off the reel and a wild thought went through my head – “My God, I don’t have any backing on this reel!” I saw line that hadn’t seen the light of day since I’d put it on the reel. Somehow I managed to keep him out of the various rock and brush snags in the rapids and work him back into the pool. The fight degenerated into a tug of war with a number of short 5 to 10 foot runs. Our battle eventually ended and with me the victor this time. I removed the hook, laid the fish against my rod for future measurement (23”), snapped a quick picture and walked him back to the deeper water. After a few minutes of recovery he gently swam out of my hands and sought out a comfortable resting spot behind a nice sized rock. I watched him for a few minutes then packed up my gear and went to get Mike for the long drive home.
The Beaverkill, cradle of American flyfishing, is alive and well with fat, wild, and very schooled browns.