West Kill NY, Home of Art Flick, trout fisherman extraordinare!
All my life I have loved the adventure of traveling. I have tasted the salty air off Nova Scotia’s coast, enjoyed the agricultural perfume in Iowa, and watched the sun set off the coast of British Columbia from Vancouver Island. I’ve been stabbed by cactus in Texas, hunted wild pheasants on the prairie lands in South Dakota, west of the Missouri River of course. I was bow hunting Elk in Colorado on September 11th when our country changed and have fished the limestone streams of Pennsylvania. Growing up near the Great Lakes, I had the opportunity to fish for walleyes in Lake Erie, and kings in Lake Ontario. I hope each and every one of you have a chance to see Lady Liberty’s beauty. We live in a beautiful country and continent.
My business of grazing and wildlife consulting, along with this writing gig, has given me the opportunity to travel some more. The past few days I went south to the Schoharie River Valley. The drive followed the Schoharie River from the Mohawk River upstream to Lexington NY. The flooding damage that happened to that beautiful valley is unbelievable. There must be 100 miles or more of stream bank damage. There are hundreds of acres of dismembered trees, up-rooted trees and piles of steel, plastic and other debris pulled from the river during cleanup. The Schoharie River is running a bloody chocolate color due to the red clays in the valley washed from the eroding banks.
Despite all the damage, life goes on. I saw a John Deere pulling a corn planter, cutting a slot into the flood plain gravel soils and planting seed for the next generation of grain or silage corn. The valley is home to some beautiful farms, both dairy and vegetable operations.
My initial goal of the trip was to work with two farms on grazing management plans; one a 65 head Jersey dairy farm, and the other a 50 head Angus beef operation; both hillside farms. My second goal was to see the West Kill in Lexington.
On my drive down I noticed numerous large hillside fields, laid out in strips. Strip cropping is alternating strips of an annual crop planted parallel to a perennial crop such as hay. The strips are laid out on the contour of the hillside. The goal is to reduce erosion by having a sod crop planted that stops the erosion action of the water running off the hillside. The steeper the field, the narrower the strip needs to be. Most of our fields in the Champlain Valley are fairly flat so there is little strip cropping done here, although I have laid out strips in Essex County and on the hillside farms of Washington County.
Cruising south on routes 30, then 145, and numerous others, I finally got to Prattsville and then to Lexington. The West Kill empties into the Schoharie River at Lexington. These are the home waters of Art Flick, the man who wrote the book, Streamside Guide.
In the fly fishing world, Art Flick is the Mickey Mantle with a fly rod, the best in his field. To fly fishing stream walkers, he is the guru of the Red Quill; a fly tied that imitates Ephemerella Subvaria; a mayfly.
Yes, were back on fly fishing again. Did we ever leave? The hatch of the mayfly is what a dry fly fisherman thrives on. Being on a river when there is a hatch coming off and fish are rising is a Van Gogh in my world! I got to visit and feel one of the places you read about and it was good. I saw the junction where the two rivers mate, and become one. I envisioned Art Flick with his black rimmed glasses and Joe Friday style brush cut casting a dry fly to one of the pools in the upper Schoharie. I breathed the air of the Catskills.
The visit was also a little disappointing. The waters were turbid, stream banks a mess and the villages along the river in many instances were trying to recover. The illusional vision I had in my head about the place was not in tune with the real world. I was happy though; I accepted reality and checked off another bucket list item on my adventure list.
The second day of the trip took me to the second farm; an Angus beef operation. After my visit with the farmer I was homeward bound, or so I thought. The pull of the Battenkill was too much to resist, so off I drove over Route 29 eastward, through Saratoga, then Greenwich to Cambridge and finally to Hickory Hill Road. Years ago I worked with the landowner doing woodcock and grouse habitat improvement projects. I planted hundreds of wildlife trees and worked in clear cuts done for early successional habitat. The area had grown up in the last 25 years. It wasn’t until I saw a familiar name posted on the side of the cabin that I knew I was in the right spot. The property bordered the Battenkill, just a few miles from the Vermont border. I fished a catch and release area for the last few warm hours of light left in the day. The water was fast and cold; 42 degrees, no hatches yet and I had miles to go. The drive home took me through Arlington, then north to Manchester and yes along another trout stream; the Mettawee, which runs through Vermont and into New York at Granville, slowly working its way to Whitehall and finally merging with Lake Champlain. I made it home that night; two long days on the road, going from sun up to sundown, self-inflicted of course, with 497.3 miles on the odometer. A marathon trip taking me to farmland, forests and famous trout streams.
Out of this adventure I met two great farmers, have two grazing jobs, made a visit to Art Flick country, visited a total of four famous trout streams and have an article. I took the time to enjoy my wanderlust life, and you should too! The radio stations were playing George Jones songs; a tribute to his life, which ended that very day I lived mine to the fullest. R.I.P. George!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.