Writer, photographer, angler, and longtime PHWFF volunteer Richard Franklin shares his excellent article recapping the annual 3-day spring trip taken by our New York City Program on April 25 – 27, 2018 to the West Branch Angler in Hancock, NY below:
You can stay up-to-date with the PHWFF-NYC Program by visiting their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/PHWFFNYC
Over the years on our seminal three day spring trip, we have experienced snow, flooding, low water and sunshine and this year, on the cusp of mayfly emergence in the Catskills, a chilled rain and flows of 2,500 CFS…around 500 – 600 CFS is optimal for wading.
Upon our arrival on Wednesday, despite the spitting rain, we participated in a casting session at the Lodge pond. This proved to be a valuable tune-up for the long experienced and new participants alike. On Thursday; half our group of eight veterans travelled over to the more wade friendly flows of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc led by experienced volunteers John Enochty and Steve Caviasco while the others floated the swollen West Branch of the Delaware. In the higher flows, rather than fish our familiar 5-weight rods, we threw weighted streamers using the guide’s 7-weight rods. Angling, instead of practice casting, tremendously expanded our groups casting and presentation skills aided by our guides and volunteers. While we did see a sparse emergence of Paraleptophlebia, little Mahogany Duns, we saw very few rises to them late in the warmest part of the afternoon. Bob Moran, a Vietnam Marine veteran and an original member from the inception of the NYC Program, fishing a streamer, brought two fish to net including his best ever 18” wild brown trout. Our hero also made a fly fishing sculpture which he brought and donated to the American Legion for permanent display on their mantel.
Bob Moran’s Fly Fishing Sculpture donated to the American Legion
Though fishing proved challenging in the high water we were amply rewarded in the evening with an outdoor feast at the West Branch Angler and Resort’s pavilion prepared by our host, Ken Darling. Ken is a Vietnam era Navy veteran who served, hot off the grill, burgers, frankfurters and sausages accompanied by his “secret recipe” baked beans, salads, soft drinks and Women’s Auxiliary cookies and cakes. Joined and assisted by his fellow membership of the Deposit, NY American Legion Post 757, our veteran numbers more than doubled. I’ll take another piece of the strawberry short cake please.
Back at our Lodge and gathered around our kitchen table, Robert “Nico” Gil led an informed dissertation on VA medical services. Nico gave credence to his knowledge as he sat there with his right arm in a sling as he had broken his collar bone but 48 hours earlier in a motor cycle accident. “I’m coming anyway and bringing two veterans with me”, he told me on the phone the evening before the trip. “Are you confident it is wise to travel so beat up?” I asked. “I wouldn’t miss this trip for anything”, he responded. Nico credits PHWFF with turning his life around during difficulties adjusting after returning home from Iraq. He is now a passionate fly fisher and spokesman for our efforts and a burgeoning leader. This dialog opened the door for all our participants to discuss a wide range of experiences both during and after their military service for our country. Camaraderie is a vital part of the “Healing” in front of the focus on “Fly Fishing” in our Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing name.
Though only a few trout were seen, other wildlife was. Early in the morning, deer and turkey abounded in the meadow behind our lodge. We were serenaded by Spring Peepers at dusk as the little frogs engaged in their spring mating ritual. A road-kill on Rt. 17 near our Lodge appeared to be a Coyote-Wolf hybrid, an animal of about 70 pounds. Along the river we saw Beaver doing their lumberjack thing and a soaring Bald Eagle. As we entered a big pool, guide Scott McClintok informed he was going to show us something he’d bet we’d never seen before and he was correct. A big Eagle nest in a tree did not have our earlier seen Bald Eagle roosting with eaglets but rather a Canadian goose in the nest. Now, up and down the River there are geese setting on their eggs on their normal ground nests on shore and island. What this one, high in a tree, is doing and how she intends to transport her goslings to the water below is a mystery.
Often nature’s experiments are inexplicable and unknowable to us humans. In discussion at the Lodge, however, we talked about the components of fly fishing including the technical and material aspects of equipment, casting and presentation, the natural observations of the behavior of fish and their prey in their beautiful habitat and how it affects our approach to them, the commonality of companionship with our fellow fly fishers and, lastly, the history, literature and creativity of our sport. This last, and often least embraced element, inspired our decision to stop on our drive back to the City at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. Appropriately, the current exhibit emphasizes the contributions of Catskill residents in fly tying innovation, rod building and literature.
To Ken Darling and the Deposit, NY American Legion Post and Matt Batschelet and staff of the West Branch Angler and Resort, a hearty Thank You for your indispensable generosity and support in making this annual event an eagerly anticipated reality. You are contributing to making an important difference in many veterans’ lives.
Richard Franklin for PHWFF-NYC April 2018