It’s raining quite hard among the wild lilac bushes and incessantly growing Japanese Knotweed of Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club, but a dozen or so of us are trekking along the Willowemoc River clad in the club’s set of Stutterheim raincoats, looking for medicinal herbs and other wonders of the property.
This is a sort of summer camp for adults—a self-selecting group of mostly city residents who are seeking adventure, escape, and fly fishing in the Catskill Mountains. At breakfast—an exuberant spread of Swedish-style essentials—most of the weekend’s 17 guests have already conquered a good part of what they came here to do. More active before 9 am than most adults are in an entire weekend, some have gone running or fly fishing, stopped at the farmers’ market, or baked in the wood-fired sauna on the river. All this despite the previous night’s meal—fire roasted mountain trout and root vegetables with copious amounts of Catskill Brewery beer, wine, and the summer’s first rosé, served on the riverfront under the stars. Even in the morning, everything is still coated in a magic that seems to have sprung from this air.
But behind the facade of this perfectly curated adventure in the woods, is the ardent effort of the owners, Mikael Larsson, Tom Roberts and Anna Åberg, friends transplanted from NYC by way of Britain and Sweden, who’ve poured their wilderness and aesthetic passion and know-how into Livingston Manor Fly Fishing Club, which is in its first full season this summer. The intoxication of their dream hangs over the five acre wooded and river-front property. Based on the old-school fly fishing clubs historically ubiquitous in this part of the Catskills, LMFFC is their realization of that tradition but with a modern edge. Despite being far from the old guard of a predominantly male fishing club, LMFFC retains an air of exclusivity in that their weekend spots disappear within days of opening.
The skill level varies with some weekenders already adept in the art and physics of fly fishing, while others are tying their first fly. The majority of guests are couples, but a pair of brothers, a set of friends, and a life-wise solo traveling woman round it off. Together we have the feeling that we’ve all met before—a feeling that intensifies with the hours, and in the evening with drinks around the campfire. We’re encouraged to unplug, to wander, sleep, relax, and connect. For the most part cellphones are left behind, out of charge and out of range.
Most of what one could want is here—home-cooked meals by incredibly talented friend and trained-chef up for the weekend, Georgina Morante-Galicia, campfires, a hammock, a canoe, and even a tipi with a disco ball. The weekend is peppered with friends and Catskill veterans—a yoga instructor who teaches us in a meadow, a fly fishing instructor with the patience of a saint, a conservationist who has been living off the grid since the ‘80s, and a naturalist who picks leaves of trees and implores us to taste.
Tom and Anna have an almost child-like beauty and they float around the property visibly radiant in their creation. This is a dream fulfilled. After years in the city with the novelty of urban weekends wearing away, they came to the Catskills seeking a greater connection to the outdoors. What they’ve created—originally intended for their own weekend use—has blossomed organically and rustically to near perfection.
A self-taught fly fisherman, Tom is now as involved in the sport as any fishing veteran. “To be a good fly fisherman,” he tells me, “you have to understand the dynamics of the river.” He fixes the line of someone knee-deep in the river. Lights hang in the trees. In the distance logs are added to the fire that fuels the sauna. How lucky they are to live and breathe this. How lucky they are to stay.
The rest of us pack our bags, say our goodbyes, and start the drive back to the city. At night we’ll dream of all the fish we’ve yet to catch.