When the Black Ghost can't get off a shot at a squirrel hiding on the opposite side of a tree, he takes off his jacket, drapes it over a bush, ties a piece of string to the branches and walks to the other side of the tree as the squirrel scampers to the jacket side. The Black Ghost sits still for five minutes, then jerks the string, moving the jacket. Bang! Another squirrel for the pot when it runs to the Black Ghost's side of the tree.
Sometimes when the trout are not hitting, the Black Ghost will wade down a stream, sending waves into both banks. Then he gets out, walks back upstream to where he entered, has a leisurely smoke, picks up his rod and starts catching trout. "Got to wake 'em up," he says.
To those who know him, the Black Ghost is the best hunter and trout fisherman around. Doubtless there are other outdoorsmen as good as he is living in small towns throughout the country, but the Black Ghost, who can stand for all of them, certainly is an original.
The Black Ghost is Arthur T. Broadie, a cadaverous, 60-year-old boiler-plant operator at the Franklin D. Roosevelt VA Hospital in Montrose, N.Y. Tufts of hair spring out of both ears, and he usually wears a grin which gives the impression that he knows something no one else does. That is often the case. He is called the Black Ghost because he drives a pickup truck with a homemade camper on the back that has Black Ghost streamer flies painted front and rear.
December 8, 1980
"The idea of the Black Ghost came to me suddenly one night down on the job," Broadie says. "I was looking at the doggone truck, and I thought I ought to decorate the thing. Pretty near every day I fish for trout, I'll use the Black Ghost sometime or other, and then I wanted a CB handle that no one else had. I checked the paint locker, and I had all the colors I needed. I made a template, drew the streamers on in pencil and painted them. Everything seemed to fit together."
The Black Ghost's old camper, which he stripped down this year for parts for a new camper, had the words "Black Ghost" spelled out beneath the painted flies, but he left off the lettering on the new camper because the old one used to inspire all kinds of hoots and hollers when he drove past Bunch's Place, a favorite black hangout in Peekskill, N.Y., Broadie's home town.
It may seem odd that the Black Ghost, a sort of contemporary Daniel Boone on wheels, would choose to live barely 35 miles north of New York City, but then Broadie has spent most of his life practicing his hunting and fishing skills on estates in the area, wherever and whenever he pleased, regardless of the no-trespassing signs and the fish and game laws. Indeed, poaching, that is, hunting and fishing on posted property, was, is and probably always will be a Broadie family custom. "I've never been a game hog," Broadie says, "but I do believe that if there is a hunk of ground out there and some guy says it's his, that doesn't mean those critters on it are his."
For the Black Ghost the thrill of the chase is not just pursuing game but being pursued by an angry landowner after he has bagged his quarry. "Got to find me a little hidey-hole," he will say when scouting some fresh territory that might offer sport. The hidey-hole is usually a brier patch into which the Black Ghost will hurl himself like Peter Rabbit with Mr. McGregor in hot pursuit. "People don't like to mess with brier patches," says Broadie, who has poached some land so often that he knows each and every hidey-hole by heart.
Years ago, the whole Broadie clan—Grandpa, Pop, Uncle Will, Art and his two younger brothers—used to fish Forbes Pond in the small town of Croton. "I loved Forbesie's," says Broadie, and his love only increased when a stern gentleman bought the pond and the surrounding acreage for his estate. Broadie came to know the new landowner's habits well, and although the landowner had no such knowledge of Broadie or even his name, he became determined to catch the poacher. It was a game in which Broadie took great delight. "One day I'm up there fishing the pond, and here comes the new owner with a state trooper," Broadie recalls. "That turkey yells, 'There he is!' like he was sure he was going to catch me. I took off through the woods with the two of them after me. There was no way I was going to beat them out of there, but I knew this hidey-hole, a big rock with a slope underneath it that was covered by blackberry bushes. I headed right for it. I was no sooner in my hidey-hole than I heard the trooper jump up on the rock. Then the owner got there. 'What happened?' he asks the trooper. The trooper says, 'He must be to the road by now.' I was tempted to grab his ankle and say, 'Nope, I'm right down here in my hidey-hole.' After they left, I skeedaddled out of there, and I didn't go back...for a week."
The Black Ghost was seven years old when he first went poaching. Dusk was falling as Grandpa and Pop led him quietly through the woods to the edge of a lake. There Pop stripped down, waded out into the water and began lifting what seemed like rock after rock off the bottom. Suddenly a rowboat bobbed up, Pop and Grandpa bailed it out, and all three got in and went fishing. "Ain't nobody to mess with you at this time of night," Grandpa said.
Knowledge of the best hunting and fishing on estates—such as those of Congressman Hamilton Fish Jr., or of Dr. Edward L. Thorndike of Columbia University, "that fellow who wrote the dictionary"—was "handed down in the family," Broadie says. "I figured those estates were all my territory. Ham Fish used to have some nice trout stocked in his private fishing preserve. Don't forget that this was the Depression. Pop was a railroad man, and he was only working two or three days a week. Everything was a meal. Even the game warden didn't pay attention to the season, most of the time."
Broadie attended Hendrick Hudson High School and, although he played hooky to fish or hunt, he graduated in three years with an 89.6 average. "Latin knocked the hell out it," he says, "but I've always been glad I took it because I can break down words to figure out what they mean." Most of the time, Broadie talks like a rustic, but when he gets serious he will start using such language as "indigenous," "cogitating" and "my poaching proclivities." "Sometimes you got to go along with the crowd," he says, however that applies.
College was out of the question, so Broadie worked for an auto mechanic and then in the New York Central Railroad repair shops at Harmon, when he wasn't loose in the field. Deer were then protected by a closed season, and Broadie learned that the warden was out to nail whoever was hunting at DeRahm's Brook, where it flowed into Constitution Marsh across the Hudson from West Point. "One morning the warden shows up at the brook at four o'clock," Broadie recalls. "He looks around, no one else is there, and so he hides in some bushes. He waits and waits. Five o'clock goes by, and no one has shown up. Six o'clock. Still no one. Then this nice big fat buck comes down to the brook. The warden looks around. He doesn't see anyone. He pulls out his .38 revolver, shoots the buck and packs it out of there. A couple of days later I met the warden in a place where he hung out, and I just casually said to him, 'How does the venison taste?" That was the end of the conversation, and after that he never did run into me in the woods."
When he's out hunting, Broadie chews on black birch twigs so as not to get thirsty, and he habitually moves with stealth. "People who grew up in the city can't be quiet in the woods," he says. "They walk with their feet out because they grew up on pavement." The only man Broadie ever knew who was quieter than he is in the woods was the late Nelse Kingsley. "I'd be stock-still waiting for a squirrel," Broadie says, "and all of a sudden I'd hear Kingsley's voice right behind me, asking, 'Seen anything, Art?' "
The New York Central found Broadie a quick learner. With the skills he acquired in the Central's shops, he is able to do all his own truck and car maintenance and repair, plumbing and electrical work, and carpentry. "I can put in the footings, lay up the foundation and completely build a house and put every damn thing in it," he says. He also ties his own Black Ghosts and other flies and jigs, does decorative leatherwork, makes knives, carves decoys and designs and builds his own duck boats. In the days when he hunted Constitution Marsh in winter, he built an air boat that could hit 60 miles an hour skimming across the ice. When he cuts a Christmas tree, he always cuts two, the extra one for spare branches which he inserts into holes drilled in the trunk of the first tree to make it absolutely symmetrical. "I'm learnin' all the time," he says. "How many guys would look at a picture of something in a book and say, 'I'm going to make me one of those,' and then make it? I do."
In 1943, Broadie married his wife, Alice, and then spent, by his own recollection, "exactly three years, one month and 19 days" in the Army. Returning home, he worked as a welder and pipefitter until he landed a job with the VA in 1963. Of course, he also returned to poaching. What else could a man like Broadie do with the 2,000-acre Camp Smith Military Reservation at his disposal? Broadie's activities so incensed the colonel in charge, whose children had a pet deer with a red ribbon on its neck, that he took to patrolling the roads himself at night in a Jeep. As Broadie learned after one narrow escape, the colonel would park the Jeep at the crest of a steep hill with the lights out. When he heard a noise on the road below, he would release the brake and zoom downhill, aiming for the intruder. Broadie was after ducks, not deer—he hasn't hunted deer in 25 years because that season conflicts with the bird season—and to avoid the colonel he clambered up the back side of a mountain, Anthony's Nose, before sunrise one morning. By eight o'clock he had worked his way down the other side into some prime duck country. Suddenly he heard an explosion, the whine of a shell overhead and another explosion behind him as the shell landed. He had arrived just in time for artillery practice. He ducked into a hidey-hole behind some rocks and waited out the bombardment for three hours. The next time Broadie hunted ducks at Camp Smith was between six and 7:30 in the morning. "Nobody gets up at six to start firing artillery in the peacetime Army," is the way Broadie figured it.
Art and Alice raised four sons. The oldest is 35, the youngest 26, and Broadie took them all hunting and fishing. "Set them down anywhere, and they can make a tent," he says. "All fishermen and hunters and all law-abidin' citizens."
The Black Ghost has used a fly rod ever since his 16th birthday. His father gave it to him shortly after his mother died. "It was a three-piece, nine-foot el cheapo club," he says. "No one had any money. It had an old skeleton reel that cost 29¬¨¬®¬¨¢, and I used to buy fly lines, mill ends 25-to 30-feet long, in a stationery store for 25¬¨¬®¬¨¢. I didn't even know anyone who owned a fly rod. In those days the only thing I knew about fly fishing was what I read in magazines. I had the whole month of June to practice with cork-bodied bass bugs. Everybody used big plugs for bass, and they all laughed at me when I showed up with little bugs—until I started taking four to five fish for every one they were taking.
"Then I started to use the fly rod to fish for trout. First I used bait, worms and shiners, and it wasn't too long before I'd get my limit. Then I'd switch to flies. Eventually I started going without bait. I went to flies because I realized I could turn fish loose without injuring them. After I started releasing more fish, I started catching more fish. Maybe it's because I was more relaxed. This was the '30s, and guys used to climb up and down my back for releasing fish. Some guys still feel that they have to prove themselves by bringing home a fish."
Broadie remembers the days on which he caught certain fish the way other people remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed or Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard 'round the world. "The memory bank up there in my head tells me what to do when I want to go fishing," he says. "Different streams have different rhythms, and you have to know what the trout want. For instance, on some water the fish like a fairly long retrieve of a streamer, and on others they like short twitches. Even the same stream changes from spring to late spring, with water temperature and water flow. When the water's high and the temperature's low, you can't rip a streamer in front of a trout's snoot. You have to tease him out. When the water gets real low and warm, that's high-speed fishing. You got to startle them into grabbing aholt.
"It all depends on the stream. Up on the Ausable, you want to use flies in tandem, tied on about 30 inches apart. The flies should be a brown, a gray and a black. The idea behind it is this: if I get a fish right away, I know what color I caught him on. If it's on the brown fly, I put on another brown fly but with a little different pattern. Then I may take a fish a little faster. My theory is that I'm coming closer to whatever natural insect they're feeding on, what's indigenous to the stream. You can take two streams just six or seven miles apart, both with the same species of insects, yet those insects will differ slightly from one another in color or markings. There have been times when I've gotten three fish on at the same time.
"Now if you want your heart to jump right out of your mouth, get on a stretch of the Beaverkill, tie on a size-four streamer, then six feet up the leader tie on a six-inch dropper and a dry fly. Overall, the leader is 18 feet long. Flip that streamer 20 or 25 feet downstream, and hold the rod up so that the dry fly is hanging up in the air. You make the dry fly dance up and down. Then you just dap the water with it. I mean a trout will smash it. But where your heart jumps out of your mouth is when a 20-inch brown decides to eat the streamer that you've forgotten all about. That jars your turnips!"
Nearly every spring the Black Ghost manages to dredge up at least one brown trout of three to four pounds from the turbulent lower Croton River when water thunders downstream from a reservoir that serves New York City. "I can tell you about this because I know no one is going to go down there to catch these fish," he says. "Conditions have to be just right, and there were just five days last spring when I had proper conditions. I need a rising water level on a dark, dismal, rainy day when herring are being washed downriver. They got nitrogenosis [sic] and their eyes are blowed out. Last spring, in all those five days, I got just one hit, and I took a 22-inch fish. How many guys will fish five days to get one fish? But then I know I'm going to get a good fish or not get anything."
Last summer, before driving to Montana to fish during his vacation, Broadie was invited to fish Cedar Pond Brook, across the Hudson from Peekskill. Little known to the public, it is an historic stream that was fished in the late 19th century by Theodore Gordon, the father of dry-fly fishing in the U.S., and later by Ray Bergman, whose book, Trout, first' put Broadie on to the Black Ghost streamer. Unknown to Broadie, an expert for a local water company seeking to dam the stream had testified shortly before in a state hearing that no trout existed in the lower reaches of Cedar Pond Brook, but in only two hours of fishing, Broadie, who had never been on this water before, landed and released seven brook and brown trout. Using a Black Ghost, he did not so much fish the brook as attack it. Standing ankle deep in fast water, he would whip the streamer upstream and retrieve it quickly in and around the rocks. He ignored the pools and seemingly defied every other convention as he sloshed around the brook, which was only 20 feet wide. One would have thought that the trout would have-fled in panic, but on several occasions Broadie took fish almost right at his feet. "Got you, you turkey!" he would exult.
As he explained later, "During the bright part of the day, few trout are in the pools, but that's where most of your fishermen will spend their time. The few fish in the pools are only six to seven inches, and they have no brains, anyway. The good trout are behind the rocks where the water is broken. And they're there for several reasons: they have a better chance of picking up food, the white water gives them more cover, they get more oxygen, and there's always a backwash so they can just hold there without wearing themselves out. A lot of people don't think that fish can hang out in that water, but they're the easiest to catch because they've got to make a snap decision when they spot something that might be lunch floating by. Yet when it gets dark, a pool might contain 15 to 20 fish. Where do they come from? They drop down from the fast water."
Broadie prefers to fish alone—"Why should I waste fishing time telling some turkey what I'm doing and why I'm doing it?" he says—but his reputation is such that other fishermen, including those who consider themselves truly expert, will try to see what he's up to when they spot his camper near a stream. Bill Elliott, the wildlife artist who illustrated the new edition of Joe Bates' Streamers & Bucktails: The Big Fish Flies ordinarily comes on like Mr. Macho when he talks of his own fishing exploits, but the mere mention of Broadie's name causes him to fall on the ground like Dracula before a cross. "You've never seen anyone fish until you've seen Art fish," Elliott says. "I had heard about him, and whenever I saw that camper with the big Black Ghosts painted on it, I would park and try to sneak up on him and watch to see if I could learn something. The first time I watched him, he was fishing a run with a big Black Ghost streamer, and I've never seen a man cover as much water as he did. I saw him make six casts and take six fish. He can put life into a fly better than any man I've seen. After I sneaked up on him the third or fourth time, he finally turned around and said, 'For God's sake, if you want to see what I'm doing, c'mon over here!'
"He's extremely opinionated," Elliott continues, "but I like that because he knows what he's talking about. He's a guy who watches a lot and notices things that other people let pass by. He's very unorthodox. One time on the East Branch of the Croton River, there was a pouring rainstorm. The water was getting roiled and cloudy. Wanting something that the fish could see, I was using big nymphs, and I took six fish over 15 inches. I was very proud of myself. When I got about 150 feet above the Phoebe Hole, I noticed a guy in a yellow slicker and a cowboy hat. It turned out to be Art, and he was doing quite well, but the crazy thing was that he was using a big Royal Coachman, a dry fly, and he was catching two fish for my one. No fish were rising for a hatch, and most guys wouldn't consider dry flies at all, but Art was bringing them up. He's capable of making fish show themselves."
Asked about the incident, Broadie figures he wasn't at all unorthodox. He was doing what his memory bank told him to do. "First of all," he says, "the fly was a farming Royal Coachman, and that's important. Second, it was September, we'd had our first cold weather, it was raining, and everything correlated just so. You see, these fish know they're not going to get any succulent dry flies anymore, the good fly hatches are over. They think these fanwings are the last, and they want them. They're a delicacy. That morning on the East Branch, that memory bank just clicked up there, and I said to myself, 'Hey, this is the last day they'll be suckers for dry flies.' And that fanwing is a devastating fly, though I've never seen anything on a stream that looks like it. But the fanwing has to be tied just right with the wings spread quite a ways apart so that if you drew a line around the whole fly it would form a perfect circle. Then you want to use a leader that'll twist casting, but be strong enough to unwind so that the fly goes flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop, as it rolls on the water. Float that past a rock with 12 to 14 inches of water and a little hidey-hole underneath, and it looks like that fly is alive, flip-flop, flip-flop."
In the fall, the Black Ghost either goes bird hunting or fishes in the Hudson for stripers and carp. A few weeks ago he was fishing from the railroad trestle north of Garrison where Constitution Marsh empties into the river on the ebb tide. Broadie's youngest son, Eugene, was with him. Eugene has a big, bushy mustache, looks like an NFL linebacker and says little. Another man, a local landowner, was also fishing from the trestle. "Pop," said Eugene, "I'm going to see if I can get some ducks, heh, heh, heh." "You do that, Gene," said the Black Ghost.
After Eugene had gone back to the camper, got a shotgun and ambled off down the tracks, the landowner started to chivvy Broadie. "I've heard you've poached in your time," he said.
"Where did you ever hear such talk?" asked Broadie.
"Around," the man said.
"Around?" asked Broadie. "Lots of things are said 'around.' "
"You can level with me," the man said.
"Level with you?" said Broadie. "I don't have to level with anyone."
"Level with me," said the landowner.
"Mister," said Broadie, "I like to hunt grouse. So does Gene. Where you live, there are grouse. As Gene says, and you can ask him when he comes back, those are a couple of nice dogs you've got at your place. They don't bark when Gene comes around."
As the landowner's jaw started to go slack, Broadie had a hit. It was a striper. "Got you, you turkey!" he shouted. Then the Black Ghost turned to the landowner and said, "One other thing. I've always said I'm the biggest liar in 48 states."