"It all depends on the stream. Up on the Ausable, you want to use flies in tandem, tied on about 30 inches apart. The flies should be a brown, a gray and a black. The idea behind it is this: if I get a fish right away, I know what color I caught him on. If it's on the brown fly, I put on another brown fly but with a little different pattern. Then I may take a fish a little faster. My theory is that I'm coming closer to whatever natural insect they're feeding on, what's indigenous to the stream. You can take two streams just six or seven miles apart, both with the same species of insects, yet those insects will differ slightly from one another in color or markings. There have been times when I've gotten three fish on at the same time.
"Now if you want your heart to jump right out of your mouth, get on a stretch of the Beaverkill, tie on a size-four streamer, then six feet up the leader tie on a six-inch dropper and a dry fly. Overall, the leader is 18 feet long. Flip that streamer 20 or 25 feet downstream, and hold the rod up so that the dry fly is hanging up in the air. You make the dry fly dance up and down. Then you just dap the water with it. I mean a trout will smash it. But where your heart jumps out of your mouth is when a 20-inch brown decides to eat the streamer that you've forgotten all about. That jars your turnips!"
Nearly every spring the Black Ghost manages to dredge up at least one brown trout of three to four pounds from the turbulent lower Croton River when water thunders downstream from a reservoir that serves New York City. "I can tell you about this because I know no one is going to go down there to catch these fish," he says. "Conditions have to be just right, and there were just five days last spring when I had proper conditions. I need a rising water level on a dark, dismal, rainy day when herring are being washed downriver. They got nitrogenosis [sic] and their eyes are blowed out. Last spring, in all those five days, I got just one hit, and I took a 22-inch fish. How many guys will fish five days to get one fish? But then I know I'm going to get a good fish or not get anything."
Last summer, before driving to Montana to fish during his vacation, Broadie was invited to fish Cedar Pond Brook, across the Hudson from Peekskill. Little known to the public, it is an historic stream that was fished in the late 19th century by Theodore Gordon, the father of dry-fly fishing in the U.S., and later by Ray Bergman, whose book, Trout, first' put Broadie on to the Black Ghost streamer. Unknown to Broadie, an expert for a local water company seeking to dam the stream had testified shortly before in a state hearing that no trout existed in the lower reaches of Cedar Pond Brook, but in only two hours of fishing, Broadie, who had never been on this water before, landed and released seven brook and brown trout. Using a Black Ghost, he did not so much fish the brook as attack it. Standing ankle deep in fast water, he would whip the streamer upstream and retrieve it quickly in and around the rocks. He ignored the pools and seemingly defied every other convention as he sloshed around the brook, which was only 20 feet wide. One would have thought that the trout would have-fled in panic, but on several occasions Broadie took fish almost right at his feet. "Got you, you turkey!" he would exult.
As he explained later, "During the bright part of the day, few trout are in the pools, but that's where most of your fishermen will spend their time. The few fish in the pools are only six to seven inches, and they have no brains, anyway. The good trout are behind the rocks where the water is broken. And they're there for several reasons: they have a better chance of picking up food, the white water gives them more cover, they get more oxygen, and there's always a backwash so they can just hold there without wearing themselves out. A lot of people don't think that fish can hang out in that water, but they're the easiest to catch because they've got to make a snap decision when they spot something that might be lunch floating by. Yet when it gets dark, a pool might contain 15 to 20 fish. Where do they come from? They drop down from the fast water."
Broadie prefers to fish alone—"Why should I waste fishing time telling some turkey what I'm doing and why I'm doing it?" he says—but his reputation is such that other fishermen, including those who consider themselves truly expert, will try to see what he's up to when they spot his camper near a stream. Bill Elliott, the wildlife artist who illustrated the new edition of Joe Bates' Streamers & Bucktails: The Big Fish Flies ordinarily comes on like Mr. Macho when he talks of his own fishing exploits, but the mere mention of Broadie's name causes him to fall on the ground like Dracula before a cross. "You've never seen anyone fish until you've seen Art fish," Elliott says. "I had heard about him, and whenever I saw that camper with the big Black Ghosts painted on it, I would park and try to sneak up on him and watch to see if I could learn something. The first time I watched him, he was fishing a run with a big Black Ghost streamer, and I've never seen a man cover as much water as he did. I saw him make six casts and take six fish. He can put life into a fly better than any man I've seen. After I sneaked up on him the third or fourth time, he finally turned around and said, 'For God's sake, if you want to see what I'm doing, c'mon over here!'
"He's extremely opinionated," Elliott continues, "but I like that because he knows what he's talking about. He's a guy who watches a lot and notices things that other people let pass by. He's very unorthodox. One time on the East Branch of the Croton River, there was a pouring rainstorm. The water was getting roiled and cloudy. Wanting something that the fish could see, I was using big nymphs, and I took six fish over 15 inches. I was very proud of myself. When I got about 150 feet above the Phoebe Hole, I noticed a guy in a yellow slicker and a cowboy hat. It turned out to be Art, and he was doing quite well, but the crazy thing was that he was using a big Royal Coachman, a dry fly, and he was catching two fish for my one. No fish were rising for a hatch, and most guys wouldn't consider dry flies at all, but Art was bringing them up. He's capable of making fish show themselves."
Asked about the incident, Broadie figures he wasn't at all unorthodox. He was doing what his memory bank told him to do. "First of all," he says, "the fly was a farming Royal Coachman, and that's important. Second, it was September, we'd had our first cold weather, it was raining, and everything correlated just so. You see, these fish know they're not going to get any succulent dry flies anymore, the good fly hatches are over. They think these fanwings are the last, and they want them. They're a delicacy. That morning on the East Branch, that memory bank just clicked up there, and I said to myself, 'Hey, this is the last day they'll be suckers for dry flies.' And that fanwing is a devastating fly, though I've never seen anything on a stream that looks like it. But the fanwing has to be tied just right with the wings spread quite a ways apart so that if you drew a line around the whole fly it would form a perfect circle. Then you want to use a leader that'll twist casting, but be strong enough to unwind so that the fly goes flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, as it rolls on the water. Float that past a rock with 12 to 14 inches of water and a little hidey-hole underneath, and it looks like that fly is alive, flip-flop, flip-flop."
In the fall, the Black Ghost either goes bird hunting or fishes in the Hudson for stripers and carp. A few weeks ago he was fishing from the railroad trestle north of Garrison where Constitution Marsh empties into the river on the ebb tide. Broadie's youngest son, Eugene, was with him. Eugene has a big, bushy mustache, looks like an NFL linebacker and says little. Another man, a local landowner, was also fishing from the trestle. "Pop," said Eugene, "I'm going to see if I can get some ducks, heh, heh, heh." "You do that, Gene," said the Black Ghost.
After Eugene had gone back to the camper, got a shotgun and ambled off down the tracks, the landowner started to chivvy Broadie. "I've heard you've poached in your time," he said.