Come along as one fam­ily gets hooked (wink!) on fly-fish­ing dur­ing a long week­end in New York’s Catskill Moun­tains.


How fly-fish­ing got one fam­ily out of their com­fort zone

I’ll be hon­est: My sons are whin­ers. Come week­ends, they don’t want to do any­thing ex­cept stare at a screen. My wife, Emily, and I try our best to cook up fam­ily plans that will get our 10-yearold twins, Nate and Theo, ex­cited about ven­tur­ing be­yond our apart­ment door. We live in New York City, so it’s not like it’s hard to find tons of ac­tiv­i­ties that most kids would jump at.

“Guys! Let’s go to the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory!” we ex­claim (it’s only one of the best mu­se­ums in the world, af­ter all). “Oh God,” they re­spond, “not again.” “We’re go­ing ice-skat­ing! In Cen­tral Park!” “Uggggh,” they both groan. “Who will pro­tect my Clash of Clans base?” Theo wants to know. “We’re go­ing to walk around Chi­na­town and eat dim sum!” They ask to or­der pizza in­stead. It’s mad­den­ing! But there is one thing we can usu­ally count on, with Nate any­way: fish­ing. A few times every sum­mer, he and Emily wake up early to catch a boat and fish for fluke in the At­lantic off the coast of Long Is­land. Nate rarely catches a “keeper” but—mirac­u­lously— never com­plains. So on beach va­ca­tions, too, we al­ways re­serve a day for a fish­ing ex­cur­sion. At least one kid will be happy, we think. And that was our rea­son­ing for head­ing to Roscoe, NY, a tiny town in the Catskills that hap­pens to be a huge fly-fish­ing des­ti­na­tion. Roscoe sits at the in­ter­sec­tion of two trout-rich bod­ies of wa­ter, Beaverkill River and Wil­lowe­moc Creek, and was one of the first places in the coun­try where fly-fish­ing— a Bri­tish import—flour­ished. Fly-fish­ing is like fish­ing-plus. You don’t sit in the com­fort of a boat or a dock. You don’t eat a sand­wich while wait­ing for a bite. You’re in the wa­ter, con­tin­u­ally cast­ing and reel­ing. And you get to wear waders—waders!—and a lit­tle vest with lots of pock­ets. It is of­fi­cial stuff. I thought the boys would be as ex­cited about waders as I was, but ap­par­ently they didn’t see A River Runs Through It when they were in high school nor have they de­vel­oped a decades­long fan­tasy of ty­ing flies with Brad Pitt. Still, there was no whin­ing. Nate, as ex­pected, was psyched, and Theo was sur­pris­ingly game. Just a two-hour drive from New York City, this part of the western Catskills is gor­geous. It’s easy to see why the Hud­son River School painters were so trans­fixed by the light on the lush, un­du­lat­ing land­scape here. Just driv­ing around the maple-and-birch forests was a med­i­ta­tive treat. We spent whole min­utes (trust me, this is a long time for our fam­ily) qui­etly look­ing out the car win­dows on our way to Roscoe Camp­site Park, where we’d be stay­ing and fish­ing. Af­ter we set­tled into our adorable knot­typ­ine cabin (though you can pitch a tent or hook up your RV at the site too), we set out to ex­plore. The camp­grounds are right on the banks of the Beaverkill River, and there were clearly lots of fish­ing folk stay­ing here—we saw long rods at­tached to the top of cars, wet waders dry­ing in truck beds, and fish­ing nets hooked over tent­poles. But the place was as silent as a yoga re­treat; the only sounds were the rush of wa­ter and the bleat­ing of al­pacas. (Al­pacas are the pet of choice in the Catskills, pri­mar­ily for their fleece, and the camp­site has three.) We learned that the noon­time quiet was be­cause the ex­cite­ment of the day had al­ready hap­pened much ear­lier. Fly-fish­ing is a crack-of-dawn sport; the warmer the day gets, the less ac­tive the fish are. And so we found our­selves the next morn­ing shiv­er­ing along­side the al­pacas, en­vy­ing their

furry ha­los. Though the tem­per­a­ture was in the 80s back in the city, it was a good 35 de­grees cooler this early in the foothills, and we were wish­ing we had brought warmer clothes. Our fly-fish­ing guides for the day, Phil and David Eg­gle­ton—the fa­ther-and-son own­ers of Trout Town Ad­ven­tures and Guide Ser­vices— wrapped Nate and Theo in some old tar­tan blan­kets to warm them up be­fore our les­son. Phil, a ringer for Har­ri­son Ford, grew up in Roscoe right by the Wil­lowe­moc Creek. He and his wife raised their own fam­ily in a home that over­looks Roscoe’s fa­mous “Junc­tion Pool,” where the two rivers merge and where trout, con­fused about where to go, con­gre­gate. It was there that Phil taught his son Dave to fish. The pair handed us rods that were strung with bright-orange yarn in­stead of fly line so that we could see how our casts landed and get a feel for just how finicky the line would be in the wa­ter. Fly-fish­ing uses “dry” lures that are de­signed to sit lightly on the sur­face of the wa­ter and mimic the flies that trout typ­i­cally nib­ble on. Get­ting 9 feet of that near-weight­less line-and-lure to land straight out in front of you is harder than it looks. We prac­ticed for an hour, try­ing to land our flies in small hoops that Phil and Dave had set out. I don’t think I ever got one in (“Try not to over­think your form so much,” Phil ad­vised me). But Nate and Theo were nat­u­rals, and they ate up the at­ten­tion and praise of our su­per-pa­tient and in­cred­i­bly knowl­edge­able teach­ers. (We weren’t sur­prised to learn that Dave also hap­pens to teach phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and health at the same school he at­tended as a child.) Age 10 is a great time to learn to fly-fish, Dave said, be­cause kids this age have the hand­eye co­or­di­na­tion needed to cast and pull line at the same time; plenty of younger kids fly-fish, but the learn­ing curve is steeper. Did we have any ques­tions be­fore we headed to the river? Yes, I said. Im­pressed by their dy­namic, I was dy­ing to know how Phil and Dave forged such a great re­la­tion­ship (they both wanted to spend the rest of their

lives work­ing to­gether, af­ter all). Phil and Dave just chuck­led at my cu­rios­ity and said we had bet­ter get our gear on. Un­for­tu­nately, the waders that I had so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally promised Nate and Theo didn’t come in their sizes and they had to wear their own Keen san­dals and shorts. Though sun­nier now, it was still chilly, and the wa­ter was chill­ier still. Both of the Roscoe rivers orig­i­nate from cold springs high in the Catskill Moun­tains, and even on the hottest days, the wa­ter is what lo­cals call “re­fresh­ing” and my sons called “freak­ing freez­ing.” Mean­while, Emily and I were fully out­fit­ted in lined waders and comfy wa­ter­proof boots. Sorry, kid­dos! (To avoid cold feet, see the side­bar on page 61.) Nev­er­the­less, we made our way into the river— the stones underfoot are slip­pery—un­til Emily and I were in up to our knees and the boys were up to their waists. The four of us had to stand a good dis­tance apart from one an­other so as not to tan­gle our lines or—more likely—whip each other in the face with our casts. In the wa­ter, the loop-and-cast stroke felt more nat­u­ral. And there is plenty of op­por­tu­nity to ad­just your form: Once the fly lands on the wa­ter, you let it drift down­stream a few feet be­fore reel­ing it back and re­cast­ing. You’re in con­stant mo­tion. Too far apart to chat, we fell into a silent rhythm. Re­lease, pause, reel. Re­lease, pause, reel. The fo­cused repetition was ab­sorb­ing and re­lax­ing. The wa­ter sparkled, herons flew over­head, and river­side trees rus­tled in the breeze. All four of us were in the “flow”— sep­a­rately and to­gether—and, hon­estly, it all felt … beau­ti­ful. “I get this fish­ing thing,” I thought. And I’m pretty sure Nate and Theo got it too. Phil oc­ca­sion­ally called out to the boys, “Ready for a break?” and they an­swered no every time. “I mean, I can’t feel my toes,” Theo clar­i­fied, “but I don’t want to stop.” It was the day’s most ring­ing en­dorse­ment. But all good things must come to an end, par­tic­u­larly when the “good thing” is a calm and uni­fy­ing mo­ment with kids. Theo slipped on a rock and fell into the wa­ter. The com­mu­nal reverie was bro­ken. Soaked and freez­ing, he started to whine (not that I blame him). Nate be­gan to com­plain, too, about not catch­ing any­thing. You may see the photo of us beam­ing around a brown trout, but we should come clean: Phil’s brother, who stopped by to say hello, caught it and let us take some van­ity shots be­fore re­leas­ing it back into the wa­ter. It didn’t mat­ter in the end, though. I sus­pect that catch­ing fish is not the sole mo­ti­va­tion for a lot of the sea­soned fly-fish­ers around here. Many ar­eas of the Beaverkill and Wil­lowe­moc are catch-and-re­lease any­way, so it’s not as if they’re re­ly­ing on the sport for their din­ner. That flow, that rhythm that we fell into on the wa­ter, was ad­dic­tive. Like the time to­gether in the car, star­ing out the win­dow, the fish­ing in­spired a shared awe of our sur­round­ings. Maybe this was the se­cret to Phil and Dave’s bond? Less talk­ing, more fish­ing. We spent the rest of the long week­end hik­ing, pad­dling down the Delaware River, horse­back rid­ing, and al­paca-ad­mir­ing. And while the boys some­times say that those long­necked camel cousins were their fa­vorite part of the Catskills, it was our time on the river that set the tone for the whole trip. Was there whin­ing? Heck, yeah. Would we do it again? You bet.

Prime sea­son in the Catskills is April through July, and then it picks up again for a bit in Oc­to­ber. But many rivers through­out the coun­try have fish all year.

We got the hang of the cast-reel­re­peat rhythm be­fore wad­ing into the river to try out the real deal.

Roscoe, NY, aka “Trout Town, USA,” sits at the in­ter­sec­tion of Beaverkill River and Wil­lowe­moc Creek.

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