As someone who has been fly fishing around 18 months, I’ve been blessed to have fished with some of the country’s top guides and explored some great water despite my limited experience.
In August, I added a destination to my resume and fished one of the east coasts top tail waters, The Upper Delaware River system.
While I had never dry fly fished all that much other than at the local trout club, I knew this would be a challenge. What I didn’t expect was to watch 20-inch trophy Brown Trout sip all day on a sulphur hatch and eat every fly around, except the one attached to virtually a string. But that comes as a part of the challenge of fishing the Delaware River.
Arriving on Monday afternoon my dad and I went straight to the river where we watched a sulphur hatch coming off the water. Within an hour we both had a fish on after prospecting a pool of water with a size 18 sulphur.
My dad lost his but I was able to pull in mine. While it certainly wasn’t the biggest fish around, a 10” Brown, I definitely got my feet wet as far as learning the river and how its fish feed and behave.
A great prime rib dinner was the icing on the cake to end day one.
Starting the day with a dry dropper set up I had a few bumps on a soft hackle pheasant tail. After a fish chewed one to pieces I switched and went to a soft hackle hare’s ear nymph which within a few minutes brought me a strike and landed a beautiful 12” wild Brown Trout.
We went on for another two hours or so nymphing, but around lunch time we began seeing some sulphurs coming off the water. More importantly, the fish were beginning to rise.
I had never dry fly fished in an environment like this before, so this was a completely new experience. Not fishing and watching the fish feed is more effective than just casting to feeding fish. It was amazing how spooky these fish were and how far of a cast you needed to make to get into prime position to catch one.
After casting to a pool for a number of risers, I finally got one to eat. A rare Rainbow Trout in a river predominately full of Browns, I watched him break water and begin swimming at me!
I began reeling him in and quickly started stripping line, hoping to gain some ground on him. After a few minute fight, he ran on me and as our guide reached for the net, spit the hook. A gut-wrenching feeling especially when you see the trophy on the other end of the line.
After a few more failed attempts at getting a fish to eat we moved downstream and found a new spot where some risers were taking advantage of the bountiful hatch.
As heard from our guide and other experienced anglers, the West Branch is tough, because at roughly 800-1000 fish per square mile with as much food as there is, makes it tough to get consistent takes when the fish has it’s choice of what fly it will eat next.
That goes back to mentioning how important presentation of your fly is to these fish. You’re already at a disadvantage because with dozens of flies in one pool, the odds of that fish eating yours are slim to begin with.
With our guide, we only brought in the one 12” Brown. Several eats and spit hooks later it was a great experience and as a new fly fisherman, I certainly learned patience and discipline when it comes to the sport.
After catching a few more small fish the following day, Thursday came around which was our final day on the water.
Instead of venturing off the resort property, I tried my hand right in the backyard of my cabin.
A deep riffle provided some nice opportunities to nymph the final morning. The morning fishing was honestly all nymphing anyway with the sulphur hatch not beginning until around noon.
After a few drifts through the riffle I started toying with weight and indicator depth. Roughly ten minutes later and several hook sets on the bottom of the river, I switched my flies to some flashier colors. Within ten minutes, I had a strike.
Holding on for my life, I couldn’t believe I had one of the Delaware River’s infamous Brown Trout at the end of my line.
A few runs and tugs the fish got into a riffle where he revealed himself. I saw the yellow butter stomach and spots down the back. A rough estimate was a solid 20” fish about 3.5 pounds.
I wish I could tell you the typical ending, but I cannot. A few more runs later, I felt the fish get in the current behind a rock where he seemingly knew he was safe. Another pull and the worst feeling of all happened, a broken line.
In hindsight, there probably wasn’t much I could have done. I feel at least to myself a broken line against a rock is inevitable whereas a pulled hook, you question whether or not you did everything right and so on. This monster broke my 4x tippet against a rock and sent me home empty on our final day at West Branch Angler.
Throughout the four days, I still came away with a lot of valuable information that has helped me several times since this trip. But most importantly, I got to hang out with my dad and some great folks from the Cleveland, Ohio Orvis store that made four days on the West Branch of the Delaware an unbelievable experience. One that I cannot wait to do again next year.