Fly-Fishing in the Hudson Valley, Upstate NY
Go fly-fishing with the pros this summer
Cast away: Fly-fishing was first practiced in this country on Roscoe’s Beaverkill River in the late 19th century
Photograph by Brenda Yamen
Step into your waders and get out on the water during a fly-fishing trip. The Sullivan County town of Roscoe — home to the Beaverkill and Willowemoc rivers and known as “Trout Town USA” — is the Mecca of the fly-fishing world. Serious fishermen the world over travel here to cast for trout and bass. But certain areas on the Hudson (mainly to the north and on its creeks and tributaries) are also friendly to fly-fishers.
What’s the difference between fly-fishing and conventional fishing? Richard Booth, owner of Reel Happy Fishing Charters in Greene County, says that explaining the complexity of fly-fishing is akin to “a doctoral dissertation on a different methodology.” In a nutshell, the bait used for fly-fishing consists of three- to five-inch artificial flies, which are usually (and meticulously) hand-crafted of fur and feathers by the fisherman/woman. The flies are cast into the water using a thick line so they travel farther; by continuously jerking the line, the fisherman keeps the fly moving, so (to the fish at least) they resemble live insects. Although not impossible, “fly-fishing is difficult in the river stem itself,” Booth says. “The water is very deep and has a strong current.” It is best done in shallow, slower-moving waters with better visibility for both the fishermen and the fish. Check out the inside scoop from two fly-fishing guides below.
Richard Booth (Reel Happy Fishing Charters, Cairo)
How long have you been guiding fly-fishing charters? Since 2003
Who comes on them? Both men and women
What do you normally catch? Striped, smallmouth, and largemouth bass in the summer and into the fall
What was your prize fish? 41-inch striper in the ocean
What’s your favorite fish? Smallmouth bass, because in the fall you can catch large numbers of them — 10, 15, 20 fish. On the fly run that’s a phenomenal number.
Is pollution a problem? No. Most of the fish are catch-and-release. We have the fun of catching them, release them, and then hopefully catch them again. Of the people I take, maybe 10 percent keep the fish; the rest release them no matter how big they are.
Worst misconception: Fly-fishing is impossible on the river. Wrong! The river does have some accessibility.
Biggest beginner blooper: People believe you can just go out and catch fish all the time. You might have a good day the first time and think, “Oh, this is easy.” And then the next time, guess what? Zip.
Tips: Try to couple up with someone who has experience, and be open enough to say that you want to learn how to do it.
Best moment: I had a fellow catch a 34-pound striper and we released it. That was one of the most thrilling things, to see a fish that big come onboard; it was like, “you better get yourself a bigger boat!”
Dennis Skarka (Catskill Flies, Roscoe)
How long have you been guiding fly-fishing charters? More than 20 years
Who comes on them? People from all areas of the country; we had people write their address on receipts one year, and we had an address from every state in the Union except Hawaii. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot more women.
What do you normally catch? Most often it’s trout and smallmouth bass
What’s your favorite fish? The one I’m catching at the moment is good enough for me!
What was your prize fish? 27-inch brown bass, it was probably about seven or eight pounds. But they’re all special, and there’s always a bigger one out there.
Worst misconception: That it’s too hard to do. If you can drive here you can fly-fish. It’s all about timing. Anybody who’s into golf really understands it because there's a lot of timing in that sport.
Biggest beginner blooper: Lack of knowledge or too much knowledge. People get poor information, or no information.
Is pollution a problem? We’re catch-and-release, we don’t keep any fish, so it’s not a major issue. We have a lot of land surrounded by the Catskill Park which is forever wild. If you don’t have a chemical factory on the banks of your river, you’re probably pretty good.
Tips: Just go out and do it. You gotta do it to learn how to do it. If you’ve got a few extra bucks, take a lesson.
Best moment: I like it when people who are new to it get a hold of it. I’m happy when they’re happy. You won’t always catch fish, but maybe the best thing they did all day was see a bald eagle. We see them all the time, but if you’re a tourist, you don’t. We’re the ambassadors of the Catskills so to speak, so we have to put the best foot forward and show people a good time.