The early Sunday morning mist was hanging heavy and thick over the glassy and steady flowing waters of the Beaverkill River in Roscoe, NY. I could feel the cool water pressing hard against the legs of my waders as I stood waste deep in one of the most famous trout holding zones in the east, Junction Pool – where the Beaverkill meets Willowemoc Creek. The water rolls and swirls there as the two flowing waterways converge and create an absolutely ideal environment for fish both young and old.
The ancient art of fly fishing is often times referred to by those that do it as artful meditation because of its minimalist nature and calming tempo. There’s obvious technique and grace involved in the method of fly fishing, however its the ethos and the deep understanding of nature required to catch fish on a hand tied bug that’s unmatched. I’ve always viewed fly fisherman less as anglers and more as artists. It’s an activity that requires rootedness and a connection with mother nature. It’s not a competition between you and a fish, its a exercise that forces you to understand that nature works with you, not for you.
I shot my fluorescent fly line out in front of me and landed a small caddis beside a smooth rock I’d been sneaking up on for a few minutes now. I stripped my line in just a bit and bang – fish on! I let the fish take a little line and do some running up stream before I started to slowly reel it in. For the next thirty seconds or so I let it pull a bit more line and we continued to go back and forth. I pulled the net off my back and raised my rod tip to pull the fish closer to me and just then the fly freed up from it’s mouth and the trout swam away. I put the net back on my back and smiled at the moment and just how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful area of our planet. One of my favorite things about fly fishing is it slows everything down and allows you time to breath and think proper. On this particular fishing trip my thoughts were focused heavily on the people I’d met over the course of the two days prior.
On Friday I left my house in Cazenovia and rolled through the Catskill Mountains, eventually arriving at a unique little boutique bed and breakfast called the Arnold House in Livingston Manor. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air and created that wonderful and familiar feeling of outdoor life that I love so much. I met my Brother Ryan at the front door and we walked into the lobby together to check into our rooms for the weekend. As we were getting our room keys we looked out the back window at a rustic pavilion topped with a tin roof that sat at the back of the property. The pavilion was filled with people eating and conversing over picnic tables while a 3 piece band played by the bar. Just to the right side of the building was a large bonfire surrounded by dozens of young kids with lacrosse sticks. Immediately the scene felt right to me and I knew I was in the right place.
When I think of lacrosse I don’t think of stadiums, famous players or big games. I think of family, fun and tradition. The backyard of the Arnold House on this particular day exemplified those three elements perfectly.
After Ryan and I put our bags in the room we went straight out to the pavilion. As we stepped through the doors we were greeted warmly by the tournament organizers and the family that had invited us both down to spend the weekend, Pete and Lisa Ruggiero. I am admittedly bad at a lot of things, however I’m very confident in my ability to read people and can often times figure them out within just a few moments. Pete and Lisa shook our hands with gigantic smiles and I knew immediately there was nothing left to figure out – they were salt of the earth. The Ruggiero’s are real. I’ve noticed something about people that science may never be able to prove and it relates to the look in their eyes. People that have a deep passion for life and a truly authentic spirit have brighter eyes than most. I know that “brighter” is a broad term and not exactly a tangible thing to look for but if you see that look once you’ll know it and its easy to identify moving forward. Pete and Lisa both have piercing bright eyes filled with soul and energy.
For the rest of the night we hung out, ate good food, listened to good live music and met a bunch of great people. One thing you have to understand is that at this point of the trip I had no idea what we were doing there. Ryan had been talking to Pete for several weeks over the phone and they had developed rapport. Ryan asked me a couple weeks prior if I wanted to go to Roscoe for the weekend to a lacrosse tournament and to do some fly fishing. Thats all I knew but I obviously said yes to the opportunity to spend time with my Brother in one of the most beautiful locations in our home state. So I just hung out that night and had a wonderful relaxing time meeting new people. And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the sole reason why all of us were there together. Pete and Lisa had created an atmosphere that was very much different from the lacrosse events I had attended over the past 10 years, it reminded me of the way it used to be and what I fell in love with.
Let me explain…
The next morning Ryan and I woke up and made a 5 minute drive down a curvy country road and arrived at a cool field nestled in a quant little valley between two ridges. Plush forests in every direction. The field was beautiful but it was way different than what people would expect a lacrosse tournament to be.
There was no signage, sponsors, yelling coaches, pissed off parents, fist fights or wild kids. Their was no bracket system or age divisions…in order to play you had to be “somewhere around 10 years old” people said jokingly. This tournament in many ways was created to be the anti-tournament. Without diving too deeply into the problems with the world of youth lacrosse I can confidently say that this experience was all about what youth sports should be about, the kids. It wasn’t about the money, the wins, the uniforms, the goals or the saves. It was about purity and positivity.
A perfect example of this was at 11:30 in the morning, just a couple games into the tournament, the directors decided that rather than find a champion it would be more beneficial for the kids development as people to play a game all together. So the four teams comprised of players from four separate communities were divided up equally into two teams and the kids played a game with players they had never met or played with before. It was an amazing lesson for the players and the families.
After the games wrapped up Ryan and I had fun showing the players some trick shots including but not limited to the Lama, the Deadleg, the Tea Party, the Pizza Delivery Man, The Weird Shot and of course the world famous Ostrich. After that we all made our way back to the beautiful Roscoe Campsite Park to jump in the river, fish, listen to more live music, eat another amazing dinner, have s’mores and tell some campfire stories. It poured rain for hours and yet everyone was excited and in such a fantastic mood.
I would personally like to thank the Ruggiero’s and all those volunteers (way too many to list) for not only the creation of such a wonderful event but embodying everything that is positive about sport. After speaking with almost every family at the tournament the overarching theme that came through from the weekend was how their kid will not stop smiling and they wont put their stick down.
As our sport grows we must never forget that youth lacrosse exists to build the next generation as human beings and should act simply as a vehicle for life long lessons that help to enhance their life experience. There is lacrosse and there is life.
So all in all, I took a trip to Trouttown USA and didn’t catch a single fish. But wow, what a fun journey filled with many great memories and moments that I will never forget. And just like the combining waters that flow into Junction Pool to create a perfect hot spot for east coast best fish – when you combine family and fun you are creating the ideal environment for worlds best lacrosse players. I encourage all tournament organizers, youth coaches, and organizers to focus less on competing with the fish and more on the environment in which you create. If you have a positive platform and a message focused on the big picture, you are presenting proper lacrosse and breeding better lacrosse, better players, and better people, with brighter eyes.
Thanks to Kyle Lowe for the photos.