By Matt Nelson, Beaverkill Angler
The casual observer might think that Roscoe, with a population just shy of 600 and a block long Main Street business district, looks like any other small Catskill Mountain town, but New York trout fishermen have known better for over 150 years.
Trout Town, USA
Fishing is a source of identity and pride for the people of Roscoe, New York. The Theodore Gordon Fly Fisherman nicknamed the town “Trout Town, USA” and the community embraced it with enthusiasm. In 2011 the community came together, and rallying around their fishing heritage and pride won the title of “The Ultimate Fishing Town” in the World Fishing Network’s nation wide contest. The result was determined by popular vote, and Roscoe’s many supporters made their voices heard…
Roscoe boasts no fewer than four fly shops, including Dette Trout Flies which is one of the oldest family owned fly shops in the world, and a list of current and previous residents and visitors to the area reads like a “Who’s Who” list of the fly fishing world. Theodore Gordon, Art Flick, Paul Jorgensen, Lee and Joan Wulff, and too many others to be named all prowled these banks at one time or another.
As you walk down Roscoe’s Main Street you will see trout on the banners, fishing referenced on the storefronts, and an unusual statue of a two headed trout. To celebrate the start of each new trout season, the residents hold a ceremonial First Cast at Junction Pool and news stations from New York City drive up to cover it. An annual Two Headed Trout Dinner is held where anglers can gather to talk about seasons past and seasons yet to come. Just outside of town lies the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum where visitors can see collections from some of fly fishing’s most storied names and learn more about the history of the area and the sport.
If your arm is tired from a day on the water, the Roscoe area has plenty to offer. Catskill State Park has a number of hiking and biking trails, and there are campgrounds are scattered around nearby for people how prefer to “rough it”. If you are looking to explore there are wineries, antique stores, pottery shops, and other specialty stores throughout the region. Music lovers might want to check out Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, on the site of the original Woodstock Festival, which is less than an hour from Roscoe and has a regular concert schedule in addition to their museum.
The Catskill Mountains have seen fishermen from all walks of life trekking her banks over the years. Lumberjacks, movie stars, United States Presidents, and every day Average Joes have all chased trout on the rivers around Roscoe, and each angler has helped add to the continuing legacy of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc.
Timber, Trains, and Trout
Nestled in the southwestern foothills of New York’s Catskill Mountains, Roscoe sits at the junction of the famous Beaverkill River and Willowemoc Creek. The proximity of the region’s rivers and the abundant trees hugging the hillsides created a thriving industry that supported lumberjacks and rafters throughout the late 18th and early 19th century. Although most of the fishing these tradesmen did was for sustenance, the streams and creeks filled with native brook trout surely made an impression which they carried with them as they floated their log rafts down the Beaverkill and the Delaware River until finally reaching destinations as far away as Philadelphia. The secret was out, and the pilgrimage for Catskill trout had begun…
The draw of excellent fishing, and a chance for an escape from nearby New York City, brought anglers to the region despite difficult traveling conditions. Traveling by coach was never a pleasant undertaking, especially over uneven mountain roads. By the mid to late 1800s road conditions continued to improve, and traffic to the area continued to increase. Fly Fishing gained popularity early in the area, and the Beaverkill and Willowemoc soon became hallowed ground for trout fishermen from the city. Passionate anglers, many of whom would go on to become historical figures in the sport, brought with them new ideas and techniques for catching the wild trout found around Roscoe. Heralded as the birthplace of American dry fly fishing, many of the patterns we fish with today were developed and tested on the banks of the region’s rivers.
Fishing Clubs took root in the area and were prevalent along the upper stretches of the Beaverkill River and Willowemoc Creek, where the native brook trout thrived in the cold and clean water. Famous clubs like the Brooklyn Fly Fishing Club, the DeBruce Club, and the Beaverkill Fly Fishers Club, gave anglers a chance to pursue their quarry and socialize with like minded sportsmen. The late 1800s and early 1900s brought about two major changes that would forever effect Roscoe and help cement the town’s reputation as a hot spot for trout fishing: the expansion of the railroad and stocking of rainbow and brown trout in the Beaverkill River.
Brown trout and rainbow trout were able to live in the larger, and warmer, sections of the rivers and soon miles of additional angling opportunities were available. With more trout holding water in the area than the average fisherman could hope to fish in a single trip, and the ease of transportation the railroad provided, Roscoe saw a surge of tourism and hotels, restaurants, and shops all benefited.