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The tremendous growth in fishing interest indicated by the increase in licenses issued is only a part of the story. Before New York City dammed and diverted the flow of all the Catskill rivers except the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, the unposted water on the two streams was maybe a quarter of all the open water in the Catskills, at a rough guess. Today it is nearer three-quarters. Besides the increase in beginning anglers, these rivers have had to receive hordes of veterans who have been driven to them from other streams. Twice as many anglers on one-quarter as much stream means eight times the fishing concentration on the Beaverkill-Willowemoc miles than there was not many years ago.
It is ironic that of all the Catskill rivers, this stretch should be the victim of gross pollution and the neglect of the government of the State of New York, because this is the state's largest continuous length of trout water owned by the anglers themselves.
Some years ago the forward-looking New York State Conservation Department used the fishermen's license money to buy fishing rights on many streams, but above all on the Beaverkill and Willowemoc. Today any licensed angler is free to fish virtually 27 continuous miles of the most classic trout water to be found in America, from East Branch up the Beaverkill to Roscoe and on up the Willowemoc to Livingston Manor. It is a veritable kingdom, the angler's domain, the showcase of New York state and the whole eastern seaboard.
In the showcase there are 14 open, public and presumably illegal dumps spaced fairly evenly along those 27 miles where once, according to Theodore Gordon's friend Roy Steenrod, "If you resolved to take no fish under 14 inches, you still could take on the dry fly more fish than you could carry."
One dump is directly on a "Fly-Fishing Only" stretch for the establishment of which the fishermen fought in order to protect the river. Several dumps are adjacent to roadside picnic grounds established for the traveler's enjoyment. Many dumps are adorned with "No Dumping Allowed" signs standing in the midst of garbage, beer cans, old clothes, bedsprings, carrion and the carcasses of dogs, cows and the innumerable deer killed by cars on the highway; there are a half dozen dead deer on the Elk Brook Run dump, alone. Almost all of these dumps are in full sight of the road and, presumably, the state police. Wheel tracks disclose that the stuff is dumped by the truckload.
"We blame the department of highways most," says Harry Darbee, a local resident who for years has been a leader in the fishermen's continual fight to save the rivers.
"The conservation department, which paid over $60,000 for fishing rights on the Beaverkill and Willowemoc and spends more than $15,000 a year to stock and patrol them, disclaims responsibility. The Attorney General's office shrugs: 'What do they expect us to do?' As if we were the lawyers. But the department of highways has permitted contractors to put cement water and muddy drainage and surplus earth into the rivers, and bulldoze the beds to make temporary highways out of them for their machinery.
"The department of highways itself started what is now the worst of the dumps, the one at Elk Brook Run, by dumping a great tonnage of earth removed from Route 17 after landslides. The public immediately started dumping there also and so did whoever removes the deer carcasses from the highway. In response to our appeals, the department of highways investigated—and put up signs."
No other river holds the devotion and loyalty of its frequenters that the Beaverkill receives from those who fish it. One of them, Richard D. Robbins, is still remembered for having, in the long ago, forsaken Wall Street and the world to live and fish along the Beaverkill and lie at last in an unmarked grave, situated where he asked that it should be—in the little cemetery overlooking the Junction Pool, "so I can look up the Willowemoc, down the Big Beaverkill and across to the Little River [the upper Beaverkill]."
It was the outraged protests of the devoted Beaverkill fishermen that saved the Beaverkill and Willowemoc from the damming and diversion into New York City's water mains that has stricken every other major Catskill river. And a few years ago, this spirit of devotion and fellowship inspired a handful of Beaverkill anglers led by Ray Church and John Trainor of New York and Frank Foster of Wyoming, Pa. to start an annual angler's reunion in midwinter at Roscoe, N.Y., where the rivers join. Since then, men have come from as far as Texas, Colorado and the Carolinas to be together and near their river, and on the last weekend in January, 80 of the faithful (including a dozen wives) met in the Antrim Lodge, focal point for Beaverkill fishermen, to hold the 1956 reunion.