Compelling History          

Fitz James Fitch

Learn the fascinating history of American fly fishing and the rise of the Catskills as a revered destination in Trout Fishing in the Catskills. Sweeping in its scope, the book tells a thorough tale of the often tumultuous history of fishing in the Catskills. Discover the native brook trout and little-known details about their sizes, range, and downfall from over-fishing; the growth of streamside industries; and the introduction of competitive species. With a scope of over a century, Ed Van Put tells of the Catskills' frontier fishing beginnings and tracks the rise, fall, and eventual revival of the fisheries.

Throughout, this is a history of people and methods as well as rivers, trout fly patterns, and stunning artwork including painters of the Hudson River School.  Profiles of legends of the Catskills include John Burroughs, Theodore Gordon, Art Flick, Harry and Elsie Darbee, Lee Wulff, Sparse Grey Hackle, and more. No serious trout fisherman will want to miss this pioneering portrait of a seminal region in American angling history.

Learn more, including excerpts of the book, via Google Books here

First Edition

Released in 2007, Trout Fishing in the Catskills provides an in-depth look at a historical region. 

  • Featuring restored Hudson River School paintings, illustrations, historical and original photography
  • Catskill Flies feature exploring fly patterns with ties to the area
  • Famous trout pools feature 
  • Newly discovered historical information
  • Painstakingly researched over 10 years
  • 438 pages, over 150 color and black & white photos and illustrations
  • Skyhorse Publishing

Personalized inscriptions optional. 

Audiobook edition available here. Amazon shopper? Buy an un-signed softcover edition here

Reviews

Chris Camuto, GrAy's Sporting Journal:

"Ed Van Put has long been one of fly fishing's most highly regarded historians. He now adds his monumental Trout Fishing in the Catskills to his 1996 The Beaverkill as a major contribution to American angling history. Throughout his long career as a fisheries professional, renowned angler, and writer, Van Put has been legendary for meticulous dedication to craft. Trout Fishing in the Catskills lives up to Van Put's ambitions and his reputation. This is a beautifully written, impeccably researched book. 

Readers who love detailed and vivid historical narrative will admire the thoroughness with which Van Put brings to light the Catskills' complex angling history, the important episodes in the development of American fly fishing that happened along its rivers and in its fly-tying shops, where a good deal of the early evolution of tackle, and of fly-tying theory and practice, had their origins. This is, after all, the realm of Theodore Gordon, J. Harrington Keene, Louis Rhead, Preston Jennings, Ed Hewitt, Art Flick, and the Catskill's famous fly-tying couples, the Dettes and the Darbees. Van Put also recounts in fascinating detail the role of the sporting press, especially Forest and Stream, in popularizing the region's trout fishing. And, of course, changes in the fishing resource in the late 19th and early 20th century are also an important part of the history of fishing in the Catskills, one of the country's first regions to become a "managed fishery" on a large scale. Particularly important is Van Put's detailed account of the work of Fred Mather and Seth Green in introducing brown trout from the upper Rhine.

Although he keeps the focus keenly on trout fishing and is always mindful of the reader's interest in following the fortunes of famous and average anglers, Van Put knows the larger history of the region in detail and depth and can quickly create evocative and important contexts for every stage of his fascinating story. He understands the importance of writers like Charles Lanham and John Burroughs, who wrote some superb little essays on trout fishing. He details the now-familiar sequence of historical changes that transformed the Catskills from a remote wilderness venue in colonial times to the highly developed fishing mecca it became in the 19th and early 20th century. The fortunes of Catskill rivers, like rivers everywhere, were hostage to the use and misuse of natural resources in the region-from logging to tanneries to acid factories and on to the industrial development and highway building with which we are all familiar. A lot of the changes and challenges that trout streams faced were first dealt with in the Catskills. Without editorializing, Van Put recounts that environmental process. Trout Fishing in the Catskills is a great read, a major contribution to trout fishing history, and it will be a useful reference work for other writers."


Robert H. Boyle, writer & conservationist:

"A copy of Trout Fishing in the Catskills arrived this afternoon, and so far it has wrecked my day. I can get nothing done in the way of chores, most business, dinner, etc. because my nose is buried in this seminal masterwork, a milestone in angling history and literature. 

I'm delighted to see recognition given to such unrecognized but interesting, if not important, angling figures as Henry Inman, "Frank Forrester", Sanford Gifford, and Dr. Emmeline Moore, et al., et al. As a fellow scrivener I applaud the exhaustive (but surely exciting) research expeditions, going right to the sources no one else ever explored, and I doubly applaud your going on from there and sticking to it with writing day after day after day after day after....

In sum, congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!"


GERALD KARASKA, American Museum of Fly Fishing:

"Ed Van Put's Trout Fishing in the Catskills is an extremely valuable work produced from amazingly detailed research.  Ed Van Put is a fisheries biologist who has worked for the state of New York, focusing on Catskill rivers and streams. After discovering that a local library in Hancock, New York, contained all the issues (for more than one hundred years) of the Hancock Herald, he subsequently learned that almost every library in the region had complete editions of local newspapers - and that, lo and behold, many of the editors were trout fishermen. What a gold mine. He then began to change his life so as to read those newspapers and copy (sometimes in longhand) information on all of the rivers and streams over the next twenty years, assisted by his wife, Judy.

The first detail gleaned from the book is that the Catskill waters are numerous. Most of us are aware of the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, and the East and West Branches of the Delaware River, but the multitude of other smaller rivers, creeks, brooks, and lakes are not in our mental image. Van Put covers all of them.

The history of the region begins quietly in the late eighteenth century, then blossoms in the early nineteenth century when New York City angling enthusiasts began to visit. The earliest angling authors spent numerous days on the Catskill waters - notably Henry William Herbert (Frank Forester). Further, this period also included some of America's finest landscape artists: Henry Inman and Charles Lanman. Later in the nineteenth century, the Catskills became renowned for fostering the Hudson River School of landscape painting. And all were anglers. Some of our most prolific authors, Thaddeus Norris and John Burroughs, gained acclaim during this time. 

It seems that hundreds of personalities - as well as pioneers and legends - are covered by Van Put, with considerable detail gleaned from the newspapers about fly-fishing luminaries who spent considerable time in the Catskills: George M. L. LaBranche, Edward R. Hewitt, Louis Rhead, Eugene V. Connett III, William J. Schaldach, Ray Holland, John Tainter Foote, Alfred W. Miller (Sparse Grey Hackle), Corey Ford, Preston Jennings, Art Flick, Raymond R. Camp, A. J. McClane, Walt and Winnie Dette, and Harry and Elsie Darbee.

More importantly, the book devotes considerable attention to the significant changes that have occurred in the region, especially those that affected the fishery and the area's ecology, starting with numerous tanneries established in the early nineteenth century, to declining stocks of fish (brook trout) later in that century, then recoveries attributed to controlled access (largely by private clubs and preserves) and the introduction of the brown trout. Perhaps the most serious and contentious issue occurred in the early twentieth century when plans were approved to construct six additional reservoirs and to create dams on every major trout stream so as to have these waters diverted through a series of tunnels to New York City. Local organizations were successful in halting most of these smaller impoundments, but several large dams were constructed. Most notable was the Pepacton Reservoir on the East Branch of the Delaware River, where New York City acquired 13,384 acres and 947 people were forced to leave their homes, farms, businesses, and 2,371 grave sites. The five reservoirs built in the 1950s destroyed nearly 50 miles of trout streams. Nonetheless, the Catskill waters today remain among America's premier trout fisheries." 


J.C. Aker, goodreads.com:

"There are few things as timeless as rivers." These are the words with which John Merwin begins his introduction to Ed Van Put’s important history of the Catskill Park and its environs, Trout Fishing in the Catskills. In reading Mr. Van Put’s voluminous tome on this fabled region, one discerns that time itself is a river; a river that flows from its distant head-waters in benighted memory down to the far reaches of that cerulean sea, somewhere in a transcendent eternity. In reading Van Put’s book one finds oneself adrift upon that river in a segment of time that may be judged far more elegant and at the same time far more brutal an age than the present.

1800 through 1960, the greater part of the ninetieth and twentieth centuries together, were the backdrop for this extraordinary era in the quiet sport of angling with the fly. It was a time of abundance so great that no one thought there could ever be an end to it. It was a time of exploration and invention so prolific that the foundations of the sport were inexorably bound in place in just this short season of life. It was a time for thought and action by the now famous progenitors of the greatest sport in existence; those of whom we still look to for knowledge and guidance. It was a time when a few far sighted men and women formulated what would become the conservation movement in the United States and eventually the world.

Van Put’s prodigious research and wordy prose takes us on this voyage through time and space visiting significant ports of call and authoritative personages along the way to paint perhaps the most complete history of a region. A region devoted for almost two centuries, to the pursuit of Savalinus Frontinalis, the American Brook Trout, and its cousins the Brown Trout and, of late, Rainbow Trout. It was here in this twice blessed place that fly fishing in America began in earnest.

On our journey we visit with artists and writers, bureaucrats and barons, poachers and preservationists, the famous and the infamous drifting down this stream. We see the first dry flies in America appear and the first modern method of fly fishing develop. We walk with Henry Inman, the celebrated American artist who first saw the Catskills in a primordial condition and put his observations to work in his art. We stand with men like Seth Green and Thad Norris, legends like Theodore Gordon and Edward Ringwood Hewitt as they fish the pools and eddies of these renowned rivers. We read of fast moving riffles and emerald pools, so prolific that there seemed to be no end to the trout and so beautiful they would leave you speechless at first sight; now all lost to progress and the ages.

The reader is witness to the wholesale slaughter of bushel baskets of trout by hoards of fishing tourists brought to the Catskills on newly laid roadbeds and rails. We attend the stripping of the timber and the coming of the tanneries which brought the pollution of these pristine waters to a new high and human stewardship of same to a new low. We are there for the establishment of hatcheries and the coming of the German (Brown) Trout. We see the private clubs come and go and meet the New York “sports” that would, given the opportunity, have restricted the use of the river to the privileged few. We meet Dr. Emmeline Moore and regard the necessary coming of the conservationists. We are there when Ruben Cross and Roy Steenrod, establish the Catskill School of fly tying based on the methods of Theodore Gordon.

Van Put has expanded upon his previously acclaimed book The Beaver Kill and brought to us this comprehensive history of a region, a tradition, and an age”, as Voelker says in The Testament, that “men are going along for the last time.” This panoptic chronology covers nearly two centuries of failure and success, tragedy and triumph in the cradle of American fly fishing. It is an essential reference for any and all who fish the Catskills or hold the lore and legends of fishing with a fly as pearls of great price.

Ed Van Put, now in his seventh decade, has devoted his life to the care and preservation of the area he chronicles in this volume. He has an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. Employed full time by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as a Fisheries and Wildlife Manager, Ed has been involved in conservation work for over 50 years. A winner of the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers 2005 Conservation Award, he was recently inducted into the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s Hall of Fame.

-Jim Aker



About the Author

Ed Van Put worked as a fisheries professional with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) since 1969. An avid fly fisherman for more than fifty years, he has authored The Beaverkill: The History of a River and its People, as well as Trout Fishing in the Catskills, an expansive exploration of the development of the Catskills as America's premiere fishing destination.  His articles have appeared in The ConservationistTroutFly FishermanFly Rod & Reel, Kaatskill Life, and elsewhere.