Of all the new areas that I fished, the Upper Delaware system was by FAR my favorite. Steve Spurgeon, the other full time guy in Bryn Mawr is a Delaware addict and one of the most experienced dry fly fisherman I know. Since I first met him 5 or 6 years ago, Spurge has been singing the praises of this storied area and I must admit, I used to give him a lot of crap about it. I mean how good can a river really be? That question was answered in a big way on June 6th 2011 for me. I had just finished school for the summer on Friday and I heard the TCO crew was headed north to the West Branch on Sunday. Since I work in the shop on Sunday, I had to drive up by myself to meet them as soon as I closed the shop. By the time I got up there, I was told to just hit Hale Eddy because it would be dark by the time I got up to the whole group. I arrived to many dudes and many fish rising in the popular pool below the bridge. I fished for the 45 or so minutes I had until it was too dark to see and I packed it up to go meet the other guys. I had missed one decent fish and hooked and lost a little guy. Either way, this place was awesome.
The next morning started with a quick stop to West Branch Angler to pick up a few flies (gotta help support the local economy) and then we were off. On Monday, there was quite a big group with us including Jake, Joe, Henry, (all from TCO Reading) Steve, myself and Jason Taylor, a Bryn Mawr customer and friend. Jake, Joe and myself walked upstream where we arrived just in time to see Henry Ramsay hook and land a big and beautiful brown trout. Things were looking up as we had only just arrived and fish were eating. We finally arrived at the big long run that we intended to fish throughout the day. The three of us messed around with a few small rising fish with none hooked for about two hours. Soon after, Steve, Jason and Henry came walking upstream. We all sat down and ate lunch. While we were eating, I noticed what looked like a large fish rising just upstream from us. When Steve confirmed my suspicions, he instructed me to walk up and to fish for him. With the whole group watching and coaching from the bank, I made a few casts with no luck. Steve said I should give the fish a break for a minute or two and try again. Same process, same results. I made a quick fly change and waited for the fish to start rising steadily again. As I was tying on the new fly, Steve noticed another fish rising about 40 yards downstream from me and the group drifted downriver to watch Steve. As they moved away, my fish started rising again. I made a cast, but I was a bit short. I let the fly drift well away from the fish and picked it up to do it again. This time, I was right on the money. The fly drifted about 2 feet and I watched one the largest trout of my life slowly open his mouth and eat my size 18 Sulphur emerger. Being the Delaware newbie that I was, I set too early and literally ripped the fly right out of the fish's mouth. I was used to the quick smash and grab eats of small wild browns on my local creeks and not the slow and deliberate eats of a large Delaware fish. As the fly came ripping back towards me, I let out a few expletives and watched the fish sink to the bottom and drift away from me. The group all looked up and saw me with my head in my hands and immediately knew what had happened. I sat down to catch my breath and try to relax. Even though I never even touched that fish, I was hooked on this place. The guys all came upstream and I explained everything. After a few jokes (at my expense of course) and some consolation, we continued to search for other rising fish.
The West Branch of the Delaware
The rest of the afternoon was sadly quite uneventful for me as I didn't get another eat for the next few hours. The other guys had all at least hooked or landed a few fish, but I was still searching. This place was addicting, yet incredibly frustrating at the same time. In spite of my frustrations, I was loving every minute of it. With less than an hour of light left, I was beginning to feel the skunk closing in on me. Suddenly, a massive caddis hatch erupted and fish began to rise everywhere. I fished and fished, missing two more and stinging another. When the action in my area began to slow down, I waded across the river and upstream to see how Henry was doing. Good ol' Ramstein was in front of a ton of rising fish and had caught a few of them. Seeing my frustration and desire for that first Delaware fish, Henry did something incredibly unselfish. Something that I will remember and be grateful of for the rest of my life. He let me fish. I eagerly moved up and began casting. I tried my go to CDC caddis with nothing to show for it. I then switched to an X-Caddis with the same results. Light was fading fast and I was running out of option. It was then that I remembered a pattern that Steve had talked about many, many times. I reached into my box and pulled out a CDC and Elk caddis and began casting. The fish I was casting at seemed to be the biggest of the small group rising against the bank. This was a fish I believed to be maybe 13 or 14 inches at the most, but at this point, size was the last thing on my mind. Okay, maybe not the last, but I really wanted to catch my first Delaware fish! On my third drift with the CDC and Elk, the fish ate. I slowed down my hook set and I was in. At first, I was greeted with the familiar thumping on the rod as the fish began to shake his head. Suddenly, those thumps turned into deep, heavy pulls and the fish exploded. He headed downstream and I was on the reel in an instant. This fish was taking drag and running like no other freshwater fish I had ever seen. I don't remember this, but apparently I was yelling with excitement... like a lot. Steve, who was a few hundred yards downstream from Henry and I heard the commotion and quickly hurried upstream. I fought the fish for quite some time until Henry was able to ease him into the net. The fish was by far the largest trout I had ever caught in my life and was incredibly beautiful. He was a gorgeous olivey brown on his back and his stomach was one of the most beautiful shades of gold I had ever seen. Steve arrived just in time for pictures and the three of us took plenty. After the photos, I slipped the fish back into the water and watched him glide away into the darkness. The image of that fish slowly swimming away is burned into my mind and remains one of my most cherished memories, fishing or otherwise. Thanks again to Henry, Steve and all the whole TCO crew up there for everything you guys did that day. It is greatly appreciated and will never be forgotten.
The whole reason for this blog post was to not only share with you one of the greatest days of fishing I have ever had, but to remind you that Spring is right around the corner and to challenge you to look at fishing as an experience based not on how many fish you catch or how big the fish was, but to enjoy the little things and to appreciate time spent with good friends in cool places.