The Beaverkill river valley in Western New York is home to America’s dry fly fishing tradition and heritage. The greats, Theodore Gordon, Harry and Elsie Darbee and Joan and Lee Wulff have made the Beaverkill hallowed ground, where the sport of fly fishing has been meticulously, patiently developed, year by year, angler by angler since the late 1800s. After many years of spin casting, I recently undertook a trip to the legendary Wulff School of Fly Fishing to learn at the source. My three day course was intensive, exhausting, and utterly and completely exhilarating. Among the school’s master trainers, I learned the basics, the back cast, roll cast, stream entymology, basic knot-tying, and the infamous Joan Wulff “powersnap!’ With two of my good friends, we trekked back and forth from the Beaverkill Valley Inn to the school a half-mile down the road each day. We cast into the school ponds, seeking to refine our casting. The hands-on instruction, constantly course-corrected an errant cast, slowly created muscle memory in my wrists elbow and shoulder. There was a sense of triumph of loading 30 then 40 feet of line false casting back and forth and finally dropping a fly into the target on the pond with the softest of touches. And there was always the firm hands of the instructors, correcting. “Drop the elbow, and snap!” The first day we squeezed our poles like they were baseball bats, but by Sunday night, they were wands, as we each found our equilibrium.
When we finally set foot in the Beaverkill, we took a streamside lecture for another half-hour, aching, dying to cast into the river, but we waited patiently again as the master instructor described nymphing, casting into the undercut of the bank, foot placement. Let loose, I ventured furthest upstream, for the quiet, to let myself learn, fail, on my own. And there was the instructor again, “what kind of fishing are you doing? Nymphing? Think about what you want to do before you cast.” He showed me how to mend on my drift, to keep the line forward of the fly.
Later, the grand dame, Joan Wulff, herself came down to the pond to provide tips. For a women clearly in her 70s, her grip was like a vice as she guided my hand through a cast that shot the line out like a rocket. Her generous smile, the smile of a teacher teaching, lit up our classroom. And among the twenty or so students, about half men, half women, we listened like little children around a campfire for droplets of wisdom. I can not begin to describe the vast amount of knowledge that was imparted to us, so much of it, that I’m sure I will only recall some lessons when I’m back streamside, but I can tell you that every lesson was complete enough to advance the student forward. There were few stragglers.
If I’m guilty of romanticising the course, then I’m guilty. Sure we dealt with clouds of biting black flies and the soggy weather, the wrist and arm ache, but each night I went to sleep dreaming about my powersnap. In the blackness, I saw the rise of the trout, but just the rise, and now I realize that I’ve begun a hunt that will last me the rest of my life.
To see more pictures, click on the image below to visit my photo-blog, adeadbait.