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Young, Broke, & Fly Fishing

From On The Water, January 2019

We'd planned the trip for months. Daydreaming about it was getting us through class and was the only thing motivating us to get our papers in on time. Finally, the day arrived. The gear was packed, the rods ready, and the spirits high. Our group was heading two hours south of Syracuse to the famous rivers of the Catskill Mountains to camp and chase trout.

There’s a difference between the average college student and the college student who fly-fishes. The average student is broke from all the expenses that go along with obtaining a higher education. The student who fly-fishes has all those same expenses, plus fly-fishing—which isn’t exactly the cheapest of pursuits. Granted, we choose to spend what money we have left on fishing, but is there really a choice when Redington comes out with a new line of rods?

We are always complaining to each other about money, but once we feel a fish on the other end of the line, all the worries disappear. So, it isn’t a big deal when my debit card gets denied at McDonald’s after a long day of fishing. As long as I released a few fish back into the river that day, I had a smile on my face.

That day, we piled into a few cars and made our way down I-80 south toward the Catskills. We arrived at the Beaver Del Campground, pitched our tents, and had a venison dinner thanks to a deer my father shot the previous fall. Fifteen of us from our fly-fishing club huddled around the campfire telling jokes, making fun, and planning out the early morning spots. The club was created almost a decade ago and it has always been a tradition to fish the Catskills for our spring semester trip. I overheard Max and Jeff talking about their upcoming organic chemistry exam, but I quickly reminded them we were there to fish, not talk about school.

Morning arrived at a crisp 45 degrees. We jumped into our vehicles and went off to various rivers and locations. It didn’t take long before we had fish in our nets. The first fish of the day was a long holdover brown that measured 18 inches. Many more browns were caught throughout a day that was topped off with a gorgeous wild rainbow. The ticket was a small white streamer, and if you had the fly, it was lights out. The fish were beautiful, the smiles big, and the setting pristine. We jumped around from the Willowemoc River to the Beaverkill and then watched the sun set over the famous Delaware River.

Back at camp, we gathered around the fire to rehash the day’s events and debate the size of some of the trout caught. We shared stories from years past as the embers of the fire drifted toward the bright stars above. The next day brought our final chance to chase trout before returning to our educational responsibilities.

As the afternoon drew closer on Sunday, the anxiety of exams and papers began to creep into our minds as we procrastinated about schoolwork to catch a few more fish. There was an organic chemistry exam, ichthyology exam, statistics exam, and plenty of papers due the following week. However, the sight of a brown trout sipping a fly erased all the stress we felt.

We finally left the river, threw our gear into the car, and chipped in the remaining money we all had to get enough gas to get back to school. I’m pretty sure we were all secretly hoping we didn’t have enough money and would be forced to stay and fish.

I was back in my Syracuse dorm room by 9 p.m. and just starting the work I had due the next day when the post-trip depression set in. As I continued with my work, I received a text from one of my buddies about a new rod that he assured me “would have been able to put my fly under that bush the day before.” I checked it out and then remembered that the little money in my account needed to be saved for food. Then again, you can never have too many fly rods.

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