Sussex County History Today: ‘Fishin’ Blues’

| 07 Apr 2024 | 03:43

I’m blending current events, Sussex County history and my personal history as well.

As March is ripped from my wall calendar and April revealed, it is time for fishing season to begin. Things are looking up!

Sussex County has a lot of beauty with our natural surroundings. The Kittatinny Ridge standing as a sentinel to the west, and the Hamburg Mountains as a beacon for the morning sun’s arrival to the east. The Wallkill River, collecting from its tributaries, is in the middle as it flows northward to the Hudson. Gotta love it!

Sussex County is known for its fishing. Fly fishing along the Flatbrook and the many lakes and ponds that dot the landscape are attractions that have brought many people here. And the rural nature of our place in the sun have made this a destination.

Up and out at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 5 as I arrived at my “secret” fishing hole. Looking about, it is rather delightful to see the ol’ river passing by. It is a never-ending constant to me, the Wallkill, as it carries the lifeblood of us all - water - from the rains above on its journey north.

The Wallkill is a constant, and a robust one at that. It is a calm presence during the late summer, as the heat dries away much of its flow.

But today, with the heavy spring rains, the river is full of energy, breaking forth against the trees along the shoreline and with a strong current in the middle making rapid white caps and covering rocks that otherwise would be a good place to stand. It is a cool and clean river.

I walked down the railroad tracks toward a more placid area where the rivers widens and where it has a smooth surface. Ah, spring and Sussex County.

The quietness of such a sandy bank on the shore provides conditions to think. There are the ever-present tubular rushes near the rails and shrubs a little further back. The thorny shrubs that have a hint of green from their just budding leaves are seen as they approach the river’s edge.

The weather is crisp but bearable. The place along the river reminds me of fishing nearby at the Paper Mill Pond with Dad, who taught me and helped work the sunnies off the hook that I so proudly caught those many years ago.

As kids, we spent summers at the nearby Frog Pond catching salamanders and crayfish at the inlet brook and sneaking up on frogs beneath the skunk cabbage, getting excited when the drill engine would rumble by from Warwick, N.Y., and giggling as a penny was flattened beneath the heavy steel wheels.

The river was a respite for the railroad workers, who sweated and toiled installing the base, ballast and rail in the 1870s. Before the railroad was the Darrah Forge, using a bellows to blow on the furnace to melt the iron found in our area to make the useful tools to help America grow during antebellum times.

Beneath the waters, I have found the still existing long wooden arm that served the bellows and hammer - still resting beneath the waves. Before that, the Lenni Lenape fished here from their nearby known campgrounds - centuries of service to their families and nature always replenished.

While only a handful of people showed up, I saw some friends. Billy Rude had his prime location as he always does on opening day. Earl Hornyak and Bill Repasy came from the ‘Burg to work the difficult trail along the western bank and got a prize catch.

Freddie Babcock with his wife and son were welcoming. Freddie told of the morning’s catch at a bend in the river as it worked its way northward.

As I tried to balance on the rails, like I did as a kid, I saw a youngster from the neighborhood looking for a location and I suggested the quiet place where I had been.

All the while, a tune played in my head; a favorite group The Loving’ Spoonful did a remake of “Fishin’ Blues,” which is an American folk music classic written in 1911 and recorded by “Ragtime Texas” Henry Thomas on vocals, guitar and panpipe.

Have you been fishin’ all the time?

I’m a goin’ fishin’ too.

I’m goin’ down to the fishin’ hole,

Live in the country, ‘stead of the town.

Bill Truran, Sussex County’s historian, may be reached at