By Eli Ruiz
LIVINGSTON MANOR It was one of those advantageous “fifth” years when the “First Cast” event at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum actually falls on the opening day of fishing season.
“No coincidence at all,” smiled Jim Krul, Executive Director for the center. First Cast was planned for Sunday, not only to commemorate the opening of trout season in New York State, but also because this year April 1 happened to fall on a weekend. It’s only every five years or so when the First Cast (typically held on the weekend) can coincide with the first day of trout season.
The center took advantage of the good fortune in timing to break ground on its soon to be built, 4 to 5,000 square-foot addition.
According to its mission statement, the center - established in 1983 as a storefront museum in Roscoe - is a nonprofit educational organization for the express purpose of preserving America’s fly fishing heritage, teaching its future generations of fly fishers and protecting its fly fishing environment.
In May of 1995, the center moved to its current location on the banks of the Willowemoc Creek in Livingston Manor, and on Sunday hosted dozens for the annual event. Among the crowd were returning guest, actor, Olek Krupa, who many may know from such films as “Home Alone 3,” “The Italian Job” and “Salt,” along with NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, fly fishing “royalty” Doc. Alan Fried and the “First Family of Fly Fishing,” Jeff, Alicia, Erin and Allie Phelan.
Gunther who recently announced she’d be running for reelection braved the brisk weather, in full fly fishing garb, and entered the creek along with several others to take her first cast of the young fishing season. When asked how she felt about this neck of Sullivan County, Gunther said, “this part of Sullivan is near and dear to me . . . not only for it’s natural beauty, but also for it’s wonderful people.” “This truly is the heart of Sullivan County,” she continued.
Krul, who oversaw the “First Cast” and called the area, “the center of the trout fishing world,” also spoke of the war veterans who “come down from Maine and elsewhere,” to fish, and take part in the “Healing Waters” program for recovering servicemen. Krul said, “I hope the center becomes a national destination,” for wounded and otherwise affected servicemen.
Krul then invited everyone to the Livingston Manor High School gymnasium for what folks were calling, “The Catskill Cane Revival,” so called for the bamboo fly fishing rods which were everywhere Sunday. The rods are the equipment of choice among serious fly-fisherman like Ron Frost, who splits his time between New Jersey and Walton, N.Y., and is an expert bamboo rod-maker. As owner of Frost Fly Rods, Frost painstakingly hand crafts the bamboo rods, which makes the final product not only beautiful but also quite pricey, costing on average $1,200 and as Frost said, “they only go up from there.”
This portion of the day was to be hosted by Mike Canazon and the Bamboo Boys. Unfortunately, Canazon could not attend due to health issues. Still, the show went on with Krupa, Frost and, Center Trustee, John Checchia showcasing their casting skills, entertaining the crowd and even giving out a free lesson or two.
When speaking about the local area, Krupa, who said he began fly fishing in the Esopus Creek, said, “This part of the country...when I drove through the 7 magnificent Catskill Creeks, it just enchanted me.” “I am thankful that working in the theatre actually introduced me to this beautiful area and its wonderful waterways,” continued the native of Poland.
Next along with the rain began the Groundbreaking for the center’s new addition. The ceremony was overseen by Krul, Gunther, Center Vice President and Town of Highland Supervisor, Andy Boyar, along with Trustees, Jennifer Grossman, Jack Ganz, Doc. Alan Fried, Architect Phil Horowitz and Tim Abbot of The Rod Makers.
The day’s final activity was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Agnes VanPut Kitchen, located in the downstairs portion of the soon-to- renovated old barn.
Van Put, a feisty 95 years “young” has been with the center as she said, “from the beginning,” 27 years to be exact. As Van Put explained, “I started at the center in ‘85’ and I decided to retire 15 years ago in 2001.
“I told them when I left, ‘if ya need me, let me know.’ “Three months later I get a call from Jim, [Krul] and, well, here I am still.”
The center offers educational programs in river ecology, angling history and stream craft including fishing etiquette, fly tying, fly casting, aquatic entomology and stream improvement. For more details go to www.cffcm.net or call (845)-439-4810.