Ray Ottulich was walking downhill toward the water, practically feeling the first cast shivering through his fly rod, when the man in the tank top bawled him out. “The water’s too hot to fish!” the man bellowed in a New York accent. “You’ll hurt the trout!”
He was right. Catching trout in the summer heat of the Catskills, when the water temperature is high and oxygen levels are low, can be deadly for the fish, which are unable to recover after the stress of being caught and released.
Ottulich stopped and turned, his dark round sunglasses glinting in the sun. “We’re fishing for smallmouth bass here,” he deadpanned. “They like the warm water. They’ll be just fine.”
“Oh,” said the man, deflating like a balloon. “I didn’t know there were other fish here. Well…good luck then!” Ottulich didn’t respond. He had already walked away, heading to the water.
Ray Ottulich is a fly-fishing guide. And like most guides, on his day off he goes fishing. Practically every guide is obsessed with fishing, yet they hardly get to wet a line while leading clients; there is water, water, everywhere, and not a moment to cast. This is especially true in the Catskills, just a few miles’ drive west of the Hudson Valley. This “Land of Little Rivers” is the heart and soul of fly-fishing in the East. Here, everyone fishes, or knows someone who fishes, or sells food or gear or a night’s rest to someone who fishes. Guides work themselves to the bone during a particularly long fishing season.
So, when they do finally get a day off, guides tend to find the choicest spots, miles away from civilization and other fishermen, or just hidden in plain sight. Which is exactly where we wanted to be. So we asked three seasoned vets to let us tag along to their favorite personal spots, gave them some gear to test and followed them to the water to watch them “work.”
Neversink Gorge, Rock Hill, New York