Annals of angling: A bump, a snag, and the deer hunters’ camp pool

(Photo by Ed Ostapczuk)

With the first of April comes April Fools’ Day and the beginning of another trout season. For many an angler, me included, this day marks a rite of passage no matter what local weather or stream conditions may be. Two such opening days come to mind, and the first is my story.

While getting ready for an opener, I double checked gear loaded into the back of my truck the night before and was stunned to find my damp wading shoes frozen solid. Luckily I discovered this early, relocating them into the truck’s cab, under the heater, as I made my way to the river.

While driving past the Chimney Hole parking area, it hit me. There were several vehicles already parked there; trout season was actually here. Contrary to popular opinion there are really only two seasons of the year, trout season and non-trout season. That’s it, and the new season had arrived!


Continuing on through West Shokan, the brooks were very low while the mountains still snow covered. Plus the county road was covered with salt from the Kanape Trailhead up through Peekamoose; two seasons clearly at odds with each other. Driving past Bear Hole Brook, it was missing, buried under snow and ice. Was it really opening day of trout season or what?

Along Rondout Reservoir I paused to sip coffee from my thermos and look for bald eagles.  I saw none, but observed numerous angler vehicles parked near the limited open water in New York City’s reservoir. Now I was getting antsy. Almost at Woodbourne I noticed two inches of fresh snow covering the landscape; it probably had fallen the day before.

The Neversink was low, gin clear and icy cold; newly formed skim ice lined the banks in many places. Though I wore high-tech thermal underwear and fleece wading pants, I really wished I had my wool pants, which were just dry-cleaned and stored till next winter. Casting early on, ice filled the guides of my bamboo fly rod. What a morning.

I carefully fished several favorite pools with a small Black Leech streamer, slow and deep. In Rhododendron Pool I felt a light bump, but repeated casts to the same spot produced nothing more. Moving on soon enough I drove the barb of the fly into a solid take as my cane tip dipped.  It was the most excitement I’d experience on the Neversink. Fortunately I didn’t damage my bamboo rod striking to a submerged snag.

Getting back to this isolated pool took some effort as quite a bit of snow was still along the river.  In many places I managed to trek on top of the frozen stuff, but more times than not, I sank up to my knees in the white terrain.

I relocated only once and was surprised by the number of anglers encountered on the stream, well over a dozen with even a couple above Hasbrouck, in Deliverance Country where this part of the outing ended. I had high hopes there, but never even nicked a submerged stick.

Later while driving back towards home I saw a bald eagle sitting in its nest along the Rondout Reservoir. That’s always a good omen for me as I still wanted to explore the Esopus Creek watershed somewhere, else it wouldn’t be much of an opening day.

Eventually I parked along a little mountain brook. It was low and clear, with midges about, at least some signs of life. The day was cold enough that there was minimal snowmelt in the creek.  But with plenty of snow along its banks, this was another physical workout to negotiate the terrain in waders. Plus it was tough to discern if the wet rocks were just wet or ice coated. I guess they were ice coated as I fell down once after stepping on such a rock. Tucked away in the woods, I finally reached the Deer Hunters’ Pool and glad I did.

Fishing two weighted nymphs, the first cast into the tiny pool produced a little brook trout that ate the fly on point. I had several more hits and then decided to press on deeper into this snowy hollow, with no visible signs of any tracks about. I enjoy the environs here more than one could imagine. The very origins of life can be found in this Catskill hollow, with few signs of human intervention, other than the Deer Hunters’ camp. Mostly I dabbed two flies slowly upstream of me in skinny water. By the time I quit I touched five little wild brook trout.

That particular opening day I had wandered two different watersheds, both buried in snow. But mine is not the only such story, and next is one of my favorites related to me by another longtime trout fisher, who has fished since he was a teenager.

He had permission from his mother to cut school, and he fished the Neversink with some buddies as one friend’s father worked for the highway department nearby. Snow was still about; the river was high and cold. However, they were determined to fish the opening day of trout season.  These young men caught a few trout, even though they also had ice in their guides. By mid-morning they were cold and so they ate lunch on a mid-river large rock.

As these four anglers munched sandwiches and shared soup while telling jokes, along came a man with a camera. From the bridge above he inquired if he could take their picture. Thinking nothing of this, they say “Sure!”

It turned out that man was a Times Herald Record reporter and their picture appeared in the newspaper the following day. Now back at school, individually each boy was called into the principal’s office and questioned about cutting classes the day before. Fortunately the parents of these young Izaak Walton’s informed the school’s principal that they took the day off in the name of science to study trout.

Opening day of trout season comes but once a year. Snow or not; cold, muddy water or not; create some memories yourself, don’t let work or school stand in the way.