A Look Back… Bill Chandler and the Neversink Lodge

Welcome to A Look Back… From time to time, we will be taking a look at some of the great CFFCM Castabout articles of years gone by.

BILL CHANDLER AND THE NEVERSINK LODGE

Hosted by Bill and Martha Chandler, Neversink Lodge was a favorite destination for many a trout fisherman before the advent of the Neversink Reservoir. Known for its location, high above a great stretch of water, its warm hospitality and hearty home cooking, it attracted a wide group of avid anglers, writers and professional people. Acquiring the property about 1916, the Chandlers gradually converted an old farmhouse into a guest lodge that prospered entirely on referrals by those who found such good company with other guests in search of trout or just a quiet break from city life. During the heyday of Neversink Lodge, there was much interest in dry fly fishing and the development of the bamboo rods especially suited to Catskill fishing.

For me, this essay is a bit of a memoir of the many years that I knew the Chandlers, both at Neversink Lodge and at their home in Liberty, after they were dispossessed of their home and livelihood by the City’s Neversink Reservoir. My father, Bill, and my uncle, Preston Wood, both discovered Chandler’s place at the same time, around 1925. They were “purists” and found the hatches on the Neversink better than most.

Thus, I found my name in the Lodge guest book at a time when I could hardly write, in August of 1926. This guest book, covering the period from 1925 to 1933, was given to me, following Bill Chandler’s death in 1974, by a friend of Bill’s in Liberty. Leafing through the guest book one finds some notable names. The writers Preston Jennings and Dr. George Parker Holden were at the Chandlers with their wives, for the trout fishing. An owner of the New York Herald Tribune, Joan Payson Whitney chose Neversink Lodge for her daughter Sandra to recuperate following a serious illness. Chandler had been a tackle salesman for William Mills & Son for several years, so the book has many signatures of the Mills family. Another guest was Charles H. Demarest, the importer of Tonkin cane for fly rod builders.

In New York, Chandler developed a health problem that required cleaner air, and that’s when he a Martha chose the property in the Neversink Valley. Although they had heard that the City might impound the Neversink and flood their property some day, they thought it would never happen in their lifetime. The original farmhouse, Bill said, had a frame that was fastened with wooden pins and held upright with plank. No one could remember when it was built. Slowly they improved the building by adding porches and a dining room wing, which also housed Bill’s collection of angling and nature books. He later donated his library to the Angler’s Club of New York.

Well into the ‘30’s, they had a horse and buckboard and a Jersey cow. Bill’s father, known as “Dad”, handled the animals and the barn. They also had chickens and a marvelous garden with both flowers and vegetables. A well equipped workshop building and a huge circular saw, powered by an old time “one Lung” engine rounded out the equipment that made the farm close to self-sufficient. They did their own haying, had a cream separator and a churn on the side porch where they made their own butter. On the side hill back of the Lodge they built two small cottages that they called “camps”. During the guest season, Bill and Martha would move into one of them, making more room in the Lodge; the other Bill used for an office, fly tying and a tackle shop. He imported lightweight Anderson waders from Scotland.

In 1929, my family bought a place over in the Big Indian Valley in Ulster County. So, with good trout fishing in the nearby Esopus Creek, we didn’t go to Chandler’s for several years. For old time’s sake, when I was fourteen, we went back to Chandler’s and had the usual fine time. I had learned enough about fly fishing from my dad on the Esopus to really appreciate the Neversink. It was August and fishing on the Neversink had been spotty. Chandler had given me an old rod with a slow action that was fine for wet flies. Up opposite the pasture, they had a farm pond that had some trout in it. During the year before, Chandler had welcomed the hatchery people who were looking for a pond to store some trout temporarily, because of adverse water conditions in the river. When they recovered the fish from Chandler’s pond, they missed a few. In the intervening year, the trout that had wintered over had grown to a good size. Bill said, “See if you can hook one”. Well, it was a busy afternoon, for I caught and released several over 12”. Finally, Bill said, “If you get another good one, you can keep it for the table”. I still have the photo of me holding up a fat 15” brown.

Among the guests that week were Jack Miller, an illustrator for Disney, and Judge Sydney Foster, a great friend of the Chandlers who came from nearby Liberty. I was on the porch next to the wall where all the rods were hung and watched as Judge Foster put up his rod, which was still rigged. I noticed that the fly he had been using was a huge Dark Cahill. It must have been a #4 and surely no smaller than a #6. Having been used to flies no bigger than a #10, I couldn’t resist asking, “Why such a huge fly?” The Judge grinned a little, saying, “Big fly, big fish.” Another story I’ll never forget is one that old “Dad” Chandler would tell about their neighbor from upstream, Ed Hewitt. “Dad” said, “One day Hewitt came by and wanted to show off to our guests some trout he had caught. Well, he had this willow creel and he pulled out two beauties. Then he put them back in the creel and pulled out two more. You know he did this three or four times, and I’m sure it was the same two trout he was pulling out every time.”

Bill Chandler was one of the finest fishermen I have ever known. There was a little feeder stream that flowed into the Neversink about opposite the Lodge. After a heavy rain that brought up the little stream considerably, he’d take a short rod to cope with the overhanging brush and come back with a limit of half pound trout for the table. He had found that with the high water in the little stream, good fish would swim up there from the big river to feast on what the high water brought. Fishing with him was always a learning experience. One time he took me to the Miller property on the upper Neversink, well above Hewitt’s water. We were fishing toward evening, when I dropped my only fly box in the river and never found it. Quite sad at the loss, I told Bill about it on the way home in the car. Next morning he went up to his tackle shop and found a small Wheatley six compartment aluminum fly box and showed me how to fasten a cut-off piece of silk line to the box. It’s been fastened in the top pocket of my fishing vest ever since.

He was always very generous with time and advice and a great friend to his last days. After his retirement, he and Martha would take some drives around the mountains, and one of their favorite trips was to go from Liberty over to Grahamsville, through Lowes’ Corners, up the valley of the Rondout, through Peekamoose, then down the mountain to Ashokan Reservoir, picking up Route 28A at West Shokan. They would continue on 28 westward through Boiceville, often stopping at Al’s Restaurant in Phoenicia for lunch. Going on up 28, they would turn south at Big Indian, often stopping to visit us at our cabin on the Slide Mtn. Road just below Winnisook Club. They would then continue along the West Branch of the Neversink to Claryville and thence down the mountain to Curry, picking up Route 55 west; thus making a full circle of some of the Catskills’ best trout water before reaching home at Liberty.

It was on one of these visits that Bill gave me an 8 ½ foot Leonard Tournament rod that he said was developed at Leonard’s at the time dry fly fishing was becoming so popular. Both Chandlers were in their 70’s at the time of this visit. They had been living in Liberty ever since the City took their property to build the Neversink Reservoir. During the earlier part of this period, Bill had worked in the Sullivan County Treasurer’s Office. He had served in the State Assembly for one term, representing Sullivan County. His accomplishments in the field of conservation and the acquisition of public fishing rights are well documented in Ed Van Put’s splendid book, “Trout Fishing in the Catskills”, recently published.

The Neversink was really Chandler’s favorite water. Still wading streams in his 70’s, he particularly preferred the West Branch of the Neversink, where his fishing companion, Judge Foster had a rod on Wintoon Waters. Bill enjoyed many a trip there as the Judge’s guest. He also fished Elk Brook Run on the Beaverkill and even went after big rainbows at Lordville on the Delaware, in his later years. Though we lived upstate in Oswego at that time, I was still able to fish with Bill a few more times. A picnic with the Chandlers at the Beaverkill State Campsite included a lesson from Bill in how to fish the lies near a midstream rock close to the Covered Bridge Pool. Our last time together was on the then 4H Club water on the main Neversink, just downstream a ways from the junction pool at Claryville.

William A (Bill) Chandler was honored for his reputation among trout fishermen of his day, for his work and for his effective lobbying and support for conservation and published fishing rights by his election to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum Hall of Fame on October 14, 2000. Also elected that day were Joan Salvato Wulff, Charles K. Fox, George W. Harvey and Vincent C. Marinaro. My wife Alison and I were very fortunate to have attended that ceremony at the Center. As one of the remaining few who knew Chandler, I was pleased to accept the Center’s Acknowledgement Certificate on Bill’s behalf that day.

My hope is that there may be some, who, when reading this, will have some recall of their contacts with the Chandlers, Neversink Lodge and that priceless stretch of the Neversink that is now lost forever.

Finally, all of us who fish a dry Light Cahill, whenever we can, are indebted to Bill for his development of the pattern many years ago, which is still used today, as credited by Art Flick in his classic, “Streamside Guide”.

Robert H. Wood
Oswego, NY
February 28, 2008

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