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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

You Should Have Been Here Last Week

While making final plans for the Storied Waters tour, I was joking with friends that I had to be prepared for six weeks of bad timing. That would be just my luck:

everyone telling me “you should have been here last week!”

Those are seven words you hate to hear when you are fishing.

Like backgammon and cribbage, fishing is a pleasing combination of strategy, skill and chance. Of course, fortune can fall either way, so it is best to keep your hopes high but your expectations in check.

The Upper Delaware

I pulled into the West Branch Angler resort on Monday night just before Craig Sutton came back from a couple hours of fishing on the Beaverkill. After stowing my gear in the cabin, I pulled on my waders and walked down to the river (West Branch of the Delaware) to make a few casts before dusk. Craig drove in moments later and came down to join me.

Drift boats were floating gracefully by with anglers casting toward shore. One fellow, who was wading upstream from me, landed a fish but I couldn’t see what kind or how big. The Hendrickson mayflies were hatching, so the fish were active.

Craig and I spotted a couple rising fish near shore and made a few casts, but we had no takers before it got too dark to see. Our stomachs were rumbling for dinner and a cold brew, so we headed to the pub, chatting rapid-fire about the plan for tomorrow: a float trip down the East Branch with Rich Hudgens, the head guide at the Beaverkill Angler shop in Roscoe.

Caught The Bug

Craig caught the fly fishing bug from me about 20 years. Our families vacation the same week in August at Silver Bay YMCA Conference Center on Lake George in the Adirondacks, along with several other families that have become dear friends.

One evening after dinner, Craig was watching me fly cast for bass, and peppered me with questions about fly fishing. I showed him how to cast, which was enough to start him on his own addiction to this crazy sport. He has since fished all over Pennsylvania and with his brother in Colorado and Montana.

Craig and I had been talking about fishing together for years, and this was our first opportunity. He had floated the upper Delaware with Rich a number of times, so Craig was nice enough to arrange everything for this stop on the Storied Waters tour.

Before meeting Rich at the river, we decided to make a few casts into the Beaverkill just above the confluence with the East Branch. With a ceremonial high five from Craig, I waded into the famous river for the first time. We cast flies in a beautiful run for about 40 minutes with no success, then motored up the East Branch to rendezvous with our guide.

Great Guide

Craig has worked with many fishing guides here and out west, and he said Rich is by far the best he has seen. Rich’s knowledge and excitement were clearly evident. “We’ve had great luck the past couple of weeks,” he said as we drove to the put in point.

Note the flies stuck to the roof of Rich's truck.

“The conditions have been fabulous all year – the water has stayed high and cold. The river is at 850 cfs. This time of year it is usually 250. We should have a great day!”

We launched the drift boat underneath a narrow suspension bridge, just after noon. Rich explained that the Hendrickson mayflies had been emerging all week, but wind and rain over the past few days had kept the mature flies from mating before falling into the river as “spinners” to disperse the fertilized eggs, thus becoming delectable trout food.

“The spinners have been hanging in the trees, waiting for the right conditions to mate. With a light wind, we should see a good spinner fall this afternoon.”

Rich also noted that this river is the cleanest water you will see anywhere. “This water comes out of Pepacton Reservoir, which is the most pristine water of all the reservoirs that supply New York City. And these are all wild brown trout feasting on tons of bugs under ideal conditions.”

The Upper Delaware river area isn't so much a "storied water" from the old days of fly fishing, but these rivers became world class destinations after the Pepacton Dam was built in 1955. The reservoir flooded and displaced four towns, so I suppose there are some gripping stories there, to be told another time.

Based on his excitement, I kept waiting to hear those dreaded words, but Rich never said “you should have been here last week!” He was focusing on today, a warm 75 degrees with a milky blue sky.

We started off fishing rods rigged with three nymphs each, casting alongside the moving boat to get a long dead drift. I scored the first fish of the day, a 14” brown trout that took the second nymph on my line, a bead head pheasant tail.

Here is some fish porn:

Next I caught an 18 inch brown, and Craig landed three more in the 12 to 14 inch range from a pool with over a dozen rising fish.

Bug Soup

By 3:00 there were massive clouds of spinners, both male and female overhead. At first, they weren’t falling onto the water, but by 4:00 we saw trout feeding on spinners and duns.

“This is epic!” Rich said, beaming. “It’s like bug soup out there! Mayflies, caddis, midges, even a stonefly or two.”

We switched to dry flies, and Rich gave me some pointers on how to improve my long casting with a “reach cast” to put the fly line above the fly for a better drift to the wary trout.

The spinner fall continued from 2 or 3 pm until dark, while at the same time new duns were emerging and floating on the water. Rich couldn't get over it. “Wow, I don’t think I have ever seen so many spinners so consistently for so long. Ever.”

Hunting for Fish

We went looking for the biggest fish, and found a few rising hard against the bank.

These fish are very spooky, and require a perfect dead drift right onto their nose or they will ignore the fly.

On the left bank, we could see a cavernous mouth slurping flies, or sometimes a big tail and dorsal fin.

Rich anchored the boat, giving Craig the best angle to cast to one big fish. Craig’s casts were excellent, but he missed on the strike. Remarkably, the big brown came back to the fly twice more. After the third miss, Rich told Craig to “stop flossing the fish, and bring one in!”

On the next fish, Craig brought it to the boat. Then it was my turn.

And so it went, Craig and I taking turns casting to rising fish, until dark. Our last two fish of the day were just as it was getting too dark to see the fly. Craig caught a 19 inch brown after a 10 minutes battle. On the next rising fish, I battled an 18.5 inch brown, hooked on a #14 hackle wing rusty spinner. Rich seemed as excited as I was when he netted my fish.

Late For Supper

We got off the river at 9:00 sharp. That’s when we discovered the only real downer of the day: the shuttle service had failed to move Rich’s truck and trailer back down to the take-out point. We drove Rich back up to the bridge, before heading to camp to try to get there before they stopped serving food at 10.

High fives and handshakes seemed grossly inadequate to celebrate what Rich said was about the best day of fishing he could imagine on this river. Despite the truck mishap, he was still totally pumped about the great day.

As we drove off, I thought about how, sometime next Tuesday or Wednesday, maybe Rich will be telling the sports in his boat, “Boy, you should have been here last week!”

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