SI Vault
Sparse Grey Hackle
May 23, 1955
The Brooklyn Fly Fishers Club on the East's most celebrated trout stream clings fast to the old order, disdaining creature comforts
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May 23, 1955

The Dry-fly Temple On The Beaverkill

The Brooklyn Fly Fishers Club on the East's most celebrated trout stream clings fast to the old order, disdaining creature comforts

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To be at the club for opening day is to realize how the devotion of the members to the past inures them to present privation. The hardy anglers spend the evening in front of the blast-furnace fireplace fortifying themselves internally to prevent their entire rear aspects from freezing solid. When the inner stiffness approximates the outer, each picks up a huge load of gray camp blankets and a kerosene lamp and climbs to the loft. How they have avoided burning down the cabin long ago by this procedure is a mystery.

Some take off a few clothes, and there was once an exhibitionist who got into pajamas, but standard practice is to take off only the hat and shoes. Daybreak finds not even an ear or a nose visible, but one cowering figure, more valiant or less enduring than the rest, will finally force himself out of bed to dash downstairs, chunk up the fire and clench his chattering teeth on the neck of a bottle. As the room warms—a little—the other sleepers come scurrying down to seize their bottles and back up to the blaze too. The lavatory is the spring-water pipe out in the yard. In warm weather they strip down and wash there, shaving with mirrors propped against the porch railing, but on opening day they just rinse their hands.

The club's shame is the handsome new (20-year-old) mess hall standing behind the cabin, which had to be built simply because the old one burned down. But correspondingly its pride is the backhouse, which was torn from its mooring and knocked askew years ago when the pilot of the county snowplow was induced with a bottle of gin to clear the lane one' opening day. Becoming a�bit overinduced, he turned too short and the plow engaged the corner of the backhouse. It has been allowed to remain just as it dropped, and the members boast of its generous ventilation and erratic geometry.

Nowadays two henchmen occupy the club's little world along with the members. One is Joe Hardenburgh, whose farm lies hidden beyond the apple trees; he keeps an eye on things in addition to working a hardscrabble farm on which crops are dragged up rather than raised. This laconic descendant of the patroon who held the far-flung Hardenburgh Patent is best depicted by his reply to a suggestion that he might find at a country auction something that he would want. "I got everything I want now," said Joe.

The other retainer is Bert Cable, the best short-order cook in the world, who runs the mess hall and looks after the clubhouse during the season. Like Joe, Bert doesn't really work for the club; he just comes up to help out his friends. The two are a true part of the atmosphere of this ethereal cosmos.

For so it is. This is the land of the lotus, to enter which is to come under the spell of a dreaming languor, an enchantment of restfulness that makes the world outside hazy and unreal. The energetic visitor drives up the lane in a shower of gravel, bustles in with his equipment, sits down to catch his breath, and is lost. In this natural bower, where nothing can be seen but the trees and the sky, he idles to watch the line to the hills, to hear the birds at their housekeeping and the river whispering on its stones.

The river itself fits into the spell, for this is the Little River, the Beaverkill above its junction with the Willowemoc, the stream to which its disciples return again and again, forsaking the certainties of lordly preserves. The Big River from Roscoe to the town of East Branch—from The Junction to The Jaws—is a challenge, but the Little River is an invitation. This dozen miles of the loveliest dry-fly water in America, from The Junction to the source, is what the old-timers referred to when they wrote of the Beaverkill. Except for a short length of state-owned water some miles up, it is still just as it was then. A road follows the stream up from Roscoe, but it soon becomes a washboarded red-dirt track with an ugly habit of tipping cars into the river, so that visitors to the state water prefer to go in another way. All that disturbs the melody of the living countryside along the Little River is the bouncing of an occasional farm truck.

And, as the river has not changed, so have not the Brooklyn Fly Fishers, for whom the good old days still survive. Theirs is the last stand, the loyal Old Guard, the final vanishing remnant of the old-fashioned American dry-fly purists. At first glance it seems strange that this group, more than any other, should exemplify the classic tradition of the dry fly. But these are the American purists. Here as nowhere else there is exemplified the pure gospel of American dry-fly fishing exactly as its prophet, George M. L. La-Branche, engraved it on the stone tablets of The Dry Fly and Fast Water—the gospel that it doesn't matter what fly you use but only how you present it ("the position of the fly on the water and its action"); the gospel of fishing the water rather than the rise and the broken water rather than the smooth. All the Brooklyn water is broken or at least ruffled at normal times; all of it is fished with the dry fly, and with the dry fly only. And though the kerosene lamp has finally been repaired so it no longer leaks, it still stands above the water pitcher, a constant reminder of the glorious past.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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