April 27th – 29th 2016 — According to the calendar and hatch charts, the end of April is the beginning of prime time for mayfly hatches and trout fishing in the Catskill region. Over the six year history of this PHWFF-NYC annual event we have experienced rain, a major flood, warm weather and cold, including snow. This year, though overcast and cool, the river was in great condition and olives, blue quills and even a few famous Hendricksons made an afternoon appearance. Most of us even caught a trout or two, no small accomplishment on a river as challenging as the West Branch of the Delaware.
Conditions not-with-standing there are a few constants on this trip. The inspiration and host of this trip since its inception is Ken Darling, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served in the Navy. Ken’s family has lived in the nearby village of Deposit, NY for multiple generations. Along with his comrades from the local American Legion Post, our PHWFF group is treated to delicious meals including grilled burgers, frankfurters and sausages accompanied by his secret recipe of baked beans and salads, all offered not far from the river bank at the West Branch Anger and Resort’s covered Gazebo. Local veterans and their families join us often with wives bearing homemade cakes.
Matt and Sam Batschelet, owners of the West Branch Angler Resort, generously donate their Lodge on this beautiful property to us. With a full kitchen and comfortably overstuffed couch and chairs and a refrigerator filled with sandwiches and soft drinks…and left over cake…vibrant discussions of the days angling adventures, interspersed with questions for our volunteers and sometimes the Lodge’s fishing guides, who stop by for a visit, ensue.
This year we enjoyed the privilege of engaging two of the Resort’s top guides and floated the main stem of the Delaware for one day of the trip. This exposed our participants to a lot more water and professional instructions on presentation that went well beyond the casting instruction we provide on the lawn of Central Park in NYC. It also provided a respite for Bob Moran’s Agent Orange depleted legs.
There is a certain point in the evening after Bob’s catch-and-release rainbow has grown from inches to pounds where the conversation shifts from fly fishing to veteran issues, and this year expanded to include active duty Naval officer and excellent volunteer, Matthew Stroup. Perhaps it is the opportunity to enjoy three days in a beautiful, safe and unpressured environment away from home; perhaps it is the camaraderie of being part of a group of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen spanning service from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The richness, openness and intensity of these dialogs always amaze me. As a volunteer whose role is to organize a high quality fly fishing event for these men and women, some of whom I have known for many years now, I can only sit back and observe as a group of Veterans who are also fellow fly fishers morph into a band of brothers and sisters sharing their personal military-related experiences. With all that, along with our terrific volunteers, Matthew Stroup and Steve Caviasco, who strive to expose our participants to the never-ending set of angling skill development, I believe that fishing is merely the adhesive that creates the intimate unit of Veterans during this important time in their lives.
Well, no one is engaging in warfare up on the Delaware River and even the trout are mostly safe from us. By sometime after midnight, I had to retire to my room, but the PHWFF men and women kept on talking.
Article by Richard Franklin; PHWFF-NYC 2016
Photographs by Mathew Stroup and Richard Franklin