In cities, train and bus lines, taxis, and sidewalks connect neighborhoods. And in suburbia, you can say it’s mostly single lane residential streets and highways lined with business centers. So in rural landscapes, defined by the preservation of land, communities have long-since remained united — by nature. Those inhabitants have experienced a different kind of passage, metaphorically speaking (but sometimes literally, think dirt roads!). For them, generation after generation, traditions are passed down, all seemingly having to do being outdoors. Ranching in the West, rock-climbing in the mountains, farming in the Great Plains, fly fishing in the Northeast. Some of those are a part of local economies -- while the others -- are passions and heritage.
In the next few paragraphs, we will talk about fly fishing in the Northeast — specifically in New York State. I have always admired fishermen and women, having several friends that dedicate as much free time as possible to this activity, and particular method. From what I have observed over the years, it is involved and not easily learned, without patience, tranquility, and an experienced guide. Much like other at-one-with-nature interests, fishing is about being able to read Earth’s signs and symbols, spending time in that environment getting to know “her.”
In New York State, fly fishing reigns supreme. Often referred to, as mentioned by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, “the birthplace of fly fishing in the United States,” families have spent countless hours, over multiple generations, in the belly of nature, wading along the creeks and rivers of upstate, studying the movement of the water, surveying and logging the ecology. The “tricks” and "tips" are shared with neighbors, friends, and anyone else who genuinely wants to learn.
Now, what I did not realize, is that fly tying — is an art. I was lucky enough to get to know a Goshen/Circleville fly fisherman and fly tyer, Matt Beers. I spoke to Beers about what fly fishing and fly tying means to him, his community, and its healing power; where the best spots are in New York, who are the legends, living and the late. And coming soon to our Marketplace, he is making progress on a prototype of a DIY Fly Kit — perfect for the fly fishing beginner and enthusiast.
Matt Beers and his catch (brown trout). Photo Credit: Matt Beers
Scroll down for the interview with Matt Beers, a New York fly fisherman and fly tyer!
Q: Can you give us a little background on you?
A: I was born and raised in the village of Goshen located in Orange County, New York. As a young adult, I bought a home and settled in the quiet hamlet of Circleville with my wife Julia and three children, about 20 minutes from Goshen. For the past 22 years, I have been a plumbing, heating, and HVAC mechanic.
At the tail end of 2015, not long after my 38th birthday, I was diagnosed with cancer. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to be exact. I spent the beginning of 2016 receiving treatment and concentrating on getting well. My outlook on most things has changed and my focus, moving forward, is on my family and my passions: fishing, fly tying, teaching fly tying classes at my local fly shop, and making music locally with friends.
Fly Tying Club. Photo Credit: Matt Beers
Q: How and when did you get into fishing? Who taught you how to tie your first fly?
A: I cannot recall exactly when I started fishing, I just know it was always part of growing up. We lived in walking distance from a small pond that held warm water species such as sunfish, bass, and carp. Many afternoons were spent catching and releasing anything we could get to bite. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that an extreme borderline fanaticism for fishing began. I spent many hours chasing mostly bass with my spinning rod, and even began at that point dabbling in making my own lures, but I had always been intrigued by fly fishing. The art and beauty of a well-made cast. The delicate presentation of a fly to shy, yet feeding, fish. The problem was I, personally, knew no one who even owned a fly rod or had ever casted one.
This is where my mentor James "Bucky" Sterns, who is as far as I am concerned, a true Catskill legend, enters my story. Mr. Sterns had been a customer of my father's since the 80's. I was finishing up a job for him and became entranced by the hand-tied flies carefully displayed in shadow boxes adorning the walls of his study. I approached Mr. Sterns about my beginning-on-the-path of fly tying. He, himself, is a master tyer and to this day his flies are among the best I've seen. Those first conversations with him were intimidating but very necessary. I remember one such talk we had where he said to me, "Matthew, you can either be a fly tyer or a guy who just ties flies."
It took a while before I truly understood what he was telling me, but the point he was making is that a true fly tyer is not just trying to imitate a particular food source that fish eat to fool a few into taking a dressed hook, but he is seeing it as an art. No different than a person with paint and canvas. I, to this day, examine every fly I tie under magnification when done, and in my mind if it is not worthy of a shadow box mounted on a wall, I see it as failure. There is no doubt that it will take fish, and more than likely plenty, but that isn't what I'm looking for.
The Royal Coachman size 12 from Ray Bergman's "Trout". Photo Credit: Matt Beers
My tying bible, "Trout" by Ray Bergman, first printed in 1938, is never far away.
Click the image to purchase Trout on Amazon.
Q: What about fly fishing do you enjoy the most?
A: What I love about fly fishing is the stalk. I never keep a single fish. I'm actually rather militant when it comes to catch and release, no matter what species I'm fishing for. I can think of only a few things finer than working up on a feeding fish, getting my fly selection right and my presentation just perfect, that in a split second the fish takes, and I set the hook. My joy is only increased by knowing that the fish I land, photograph, and release was taken on a fly that was tied by my own hands. To know that your fly was constructed in such a manner you were able to fool a cunning adversary with keen wit and sharp eye sight. You did that! No one else. Just you vs. prey.
Brown Trout. Photo (and Catch) Credit: Matt Beers
Q: Which locations in New York do you and the local community consider the best for fly fishing? Any secret ones you want to share?
A: The Catskills is where American fly fishing was truly born. In the later part on the 19th century, there were large leaps forward, made in not only gear, but more importantly the tying of flies to specifically mimic our local aquatic insects. Aquatic bugs are rather regional. When it came to identifying them, and trying to imitate them, no one is more known for this than Theodore Gordon and his work on the banks of The Neversink.
Catskill River. Photo Credit: Matt Beers
The number of famous rivers in Catskill region is really a blessing for the sportsmen. The Neversink, The Beaverkill, The Willowemoc, East & West Branch of the Delaware and of course the main stem of the Delaware itself that acts as a border divide between New York & Pennsylvania. These are the most known, but one cannot forget the countless feeder creeks that enter all these larger waterways. Many of which still hold native brook trout the same as they did a hundred years ago and more. I would be remiss to not mention Roscoe, New York, which has been named Trout Town USA. This village is the epicenter of fly fishing in the Catskills, and the location of a number of high quality fly shops and guide services for the surrounding areas.
Many of the Catskill streams receive the benefit of New York State’s stocking program. Every spring thousands of rainbow, brown, & brook trout are set free in multiple spots on these waterways. This insures a healthy population for the sportsman. There are also areas known for holding healthy populations of natural reproduction capable wild fish and stocking in these sections no longer take place as it is not needed. There are multiple public access area along all the known waterways where you can park and try your luck stirring up a bite.
My recommendation, however, for folks new to fishing the area is to research and invest the money in a local guide who knows all these waters well. Fish activity can be tricky, and good hatches happening on one river or even section of a river does not mean that it’s universal to all water. This is where a guided trip can be most beneficial. They will be able to take you to the likely spots of action.
Q: Any tricks to catching a fish for first-timers?
A: The best tip I can give for a first-timer learning the sport is to read everything you can get your hands on. There are so many good books available that were written from research done right in the Catskills and surrounding areas. The more you know about equipment, insect life cycles, other food sources, and of course trout behavior and habitat the more likely you will be in taking fish. Anyone's best chance for making a good day of it and getting fish to net is teaming up with someone who knows it, lives it, and probably even dreams about it while sleeping. That is where your local guides are invaluable.
Q: I am told that Joan and (the late) Lee Wulff are fly fishing legends, among many others. What can you tell us about their collective influence in the local community?
A: Lee and Joan Wulff, the famed husband and wife duo of fly fishing. Such iconic images as Joan Wulff in an evening gown casting a fly line into its backing with ease and grace are known worldwide. Lee himself had developed a series of flies (The Wulff series) that are still tied and fished heavily to this day. And there are so many people, past and present, that have gone above and beyond when it comes to the advancement of the sport. The Catskill originals like Theodore Gordon, Roy Steenrod, Rube Cross, Herman Christian, George LeBranche and so many others. The Dettes' and Darbee's for their advancement of fly patterns and designs. Walt, Winne, and Mary Dette, and now Joe Fox, have had a continuously operated fly-shop located in Roscoe since the 1920's. Art Flick with his classic "Streamside Guide" and Ray Bergman with his definitive work "Trout" and "Just Fishing".
Joan Wulff casting in a dress. Photo Credit: A Graceful Rise
The sport also has a large number of living legends as well. Guys like Dave Brandt and Mike Valla with their perfectly tied dry flies or Don Bastian the leading authority on all of Ray Bergman's classic wet fly patterns. Who in fly fishing hasn't heard of Lefty Kreh and his amazing smallmouth bass patterns and tactics, or Bob Clouser with his innovative streamers that can take fresh and saltwater fish with ease? There are so many great fisherman and fly tyers in the community. I don't profess to know half as many as I would like, but I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of many, but none more so than my mentor James "Bucky" Sterns.
I recently met and spoke with Dave Brandt for the first time, who I should add, was recently inducted into The Living Legends at The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, New York. He looked over a few of my best dressed classic Catskill dry flies I had with me, gave them a kind word and asked, "Who taught you to tie?” My response was quick, "James "Bucky" Sterns.”
Follow Matt Beers to keep up with his fly tying, fishing adventures, and catches!