About 50 local and regional breweries, plus a few wineries and distilleries, were recently represented at the Swain, New York Ski Center, and the tasting was a lot of fun. To enter, you pay the equivalent of five six-packs of “quality” big-name beer for a tasting glass and a wristband, then you’re in for a fast evening of unlimited variety in food and drink, plus music, dance, and frolic. You promote the foundations of hand-crafted brewing while staving off the crush of Lite-Beer culture with a dash of merriment and revolution.

the ski center

Along with wife and daughter, I enjoyed myself despite a bit of pressure to socialize and to pretend that angling didn’t much matter (till the morning when I planned to head north for a joust with salmon and perhaps large browns). The beers were cold and very tasty overall, especially in the first hour of mixing through the vendors, and as long as I didn’t have to over-indulge a share of flavored exotics or the upstart brews with a high ABV.

here’s one that I drank at home

Most of the food was extra, but the games and music, and even the socializing indoors and outside of the ski center, were rewarding and went to some good somewhere in the universe. I’ll have to give my daughter credit for the foresight in reserving our sleeping quarters at a lodge next door. It saved us from having to drive off when the music stopped and the vendors closed shop, and it made our exit safe and happy.

my lovely accomplices

Quick transitions from the human world to the wild and woolly can be challenging, of course, and my overnight shift from brewery student to fisherman was less than smooth, but at least I was pain-free when the dawn spread out its rosy fingers.

Autumn rains had been minimal, so far, but the northern creek had a decent flow and clarity. Although various anglers were out in force, I found some quiet water where arriving chinooks could be noted in their upstream journey or, within the deeper pools, circulating near established redds.

the sun went down like a good stout beer

I don’t know if there’s a parallel between the small-scale brewing of beer and the craft of catching over-sized fish with a fly, but if there is, then it’s a subtle one. To present a fly to a fresh-run adult salmon in a way that you can hook it legally and then land the 15 to 20-pounds of explosive energy isn’t easy, but when it’s done correctly it can be rewarding (and exhausting).

hopping up

My hike led me into water with a lot of solitude, and each of the several fish I landed were initially hooked with just a pass or two of the fly. But for each of the salmon that I landed, there were plenty of fish that had little or no interest in defending their territory with a strike, no matter what fly pattern was presented. As in the best of fishing for an end result, there were no guarantees this day, and the fun of being out there was an equal mix of trying and achieving.

fire in the yard

I met Kevin, a fellow student of the tributaries and the artificial fly, who traveled up from Ithaca, and who volunteered to tail one of my reluctant salmon and then to photograph me with the fish before its ensuing release. It was good to talk with Kevin and to share experiences and hopes with him. I was reminded of the night before at the beerfest when we Franklins shared stories and experiences with three members of the John Bolger Band, from Rochester, New York, who could play BB and Albert King to Cream and Van Morrison with conviction.

the John Bolger Band, minus keyboard

Any fraternal order of the sort quickly finds its counter-force in the wider world that’s out to score no matter what the cost. It’s a base world filled with mediocrity (at best). I found it on the salmon stream when I passed four guys fishing at one of the popular holding spots near the bridge. Six salmon lay sprawled on the bank, with two more in the water strung-up through the gills. Discarded tackle, water bottles, jackets, and empty beer cans (Keystone Light) were strewn near the fish.


I don’t know if these guys, hunkered in the pool, were fishing legally or not, but my experience told me not to look too closely. I’m not talking about class warfare here. The differences come down to the choices that we make. I could tell from the trucks that these guys drove, they probably had more money to pass around than I could ever dream of dealing with. Thankfully, I could drive away from them all, pleased to have enjoyed a pretty good day of fishing, and the finish to an even better weekend on and off the water.

my backyard like a painting

it was a 2-mile walk to this abandoned graveyard in the woods…

a dead fish that reminded me of Halloween

salmon CAN be taken with a fly

38 inches, 18 pounds, 20?

damn egg-suckin’ leech…

I’m thinking, what’s that John Gierach book where the author describes the East as the place where “all the fish are little.”





About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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15 Responses to Beerfest/Salmonesque

  1. Brent says:

    That’s a hell of a fish to cap off a hell of a weekend! I’m glad the beerfest was rewarding, and it’s too bad we couldn’t join. It sounds like it was a fun time with good drink and music.

  2. There’s nothing better than any type of gathering with like minded souls and then getting out to enjoy the fishing and beautiful surroundings.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    What a great weekend – you had it all! Good music, good company, good beer, and good fishing. Then there’s the flip side to that, and you found some of the down sides. Can’t speak to the fishing outlaws, if they were (and Lite beer says it all!), but I know on the beer front there are some odd new brews being produced that should be illegal! I’m all for experimentation, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Still, I guess any contrast makes the highs that much better!
    Thanks, Walt, for another good ‘un.

    • “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Exactly. And so, with similar social experiment, we learn our lessons, hopefully. Every day has its contrasts and, if we’re lucky, we accept the highs and move ’em forward. Always good to hear from someone on the front lines of the craft beer scene! Thanks, PC.

  4. Les Kish says:

    Great line Walt…”the sun when down like a good stout beer”. Remember Watney’s cream stout? That was the smoothest,

    The egg sucking leach is dwarfed by the maw of that great fish. A toast to you and fish caught single handed!

    • Thanks much, Les. Watney’s was before my time of coming round the craft beer scene. I understand that it is/was a peculiar but very tasty one! Nostalgic, perhaps. But yes, I’ll toast ya to it anyway, and to the single-hand 8-weight rod!

  5. Leigh says:

    Great post my friend. Give everyone my best.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Yeah, take that, John Geirach! I’m sure that you got your fill of pumpkin-flavored craft brews, eh?

    • Bob, I chuckle every time I think of that comment! So yeah. As for pumpkin-flavored anything, I stay away from it, though I had to take one obligatory swallow at the Fest. It wasn’t bad, considering, but I much preferred a maple-flavored beer from Keuka Brewery (I think) that was interesting to my way of tasting. After that, it all became a swirling galaxy of mixed delight.

  7. JZ says:

    Sounds like you had a great time Walt! Its always welcomed when someone has the foresight to keep sleeping quarters close by after a night of festivities. Fresh air, fish, family and friends make any occasion that more special. As for some of your rogue fisherman found on the water, it makes life interesting to see others living on the edge. I myself, firmly keep my shoes and wading boots planted on solid ground. Somehow the shakes have a way of penetrating my good conscience…

    • Thanks JZ, I always look forward to your take on the fishing life. There’s definitely a social aspect to it all, even if, like me, you welcome the solitude offered by an outing. When we keep our senses open, we notice the horizon constantly changing and offering a new experience. Like finding a new Stone bottle, or Lieutenant Dan!

  8. JZ says:

    By the way, have not tried that Stone bottle yet, interesting. Leaned on and saluted a Lieutenant Dan IPA this weekend….

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