It was 25 years ago when I first visited West Branch Angler and fished the West Branch of the Delaware River. My Catskill fishing trips had taken me first to the Beaverkill and Willowemoc, like many who have read their histories put down by the writers of the Golden Age. On a trip cut short by a storm I had found my way to the East Branch tailwater and marveled at the frigid waters during the heat of summer and the beauty of her brown trout. I loved the rivers and the mountains here, though I had not yet found a home.
Al Caucci wrote a story in Fly Fisherman magazine about that wonder of cold water and the great summer fishing available on the West Branch and the Delaware that inspired me to make that my next stop in my Catskill adventure. The great rivers of the Catskills were a new adventure for me, for my Cumberland Valley fishing was all enjoyed on intimate waters. The wide expanse of these classic trout rivers provided a bold new challenge.
My trips were limited in those days. Operating a small fly shop leaves little time and less income for traveling, but I managed to take a brief holiday during early July when my business was slow. I wrote the story I am about to share after my return.
West Branch Reverie
There is something about a big trout river. Miles of meandering currents, endless pools and boiling riffles speak to the angler of hidden promise; but where? Where in all that beautiful water lie the trout?
The West Branch of the Delaware River has a reputation as a fine wild trout fishery, one of the best in the east. Some even say the Delaware rivals the great rivers of the west. I admit the big, cold tailwater reminded me somewhat of Montana’s Bighorn, it is a big river with limited angler access, but it’s clear currents, flowing over a cobblestone bottom, tells me it belongs right here in the edge of the Catskills.
The verdant mountainsides descend to meet the river, which winds its way between the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and New York’s Catskills. It is a gorgeous setting, and peaceful at this time of year. Summer is not thought of as the prime season for the great mayfly hatches which bring the river to life.
The spring hatches bring throngs of anglers, and I’m told the fishing can be magnificent. I liked missing the crowds and enjoyed the peace of July. I rented a little log cabin by the river at West Branch Angler and Sportsmen’s Resort, a pleasant camp for fly fishermen, just half a mile north of the Pennsylvania line. There were a number of anglers in camp, but the pace was relaxed, just like summertime should be.
A friend who has floated this river a couple of times with local guides, told me the guides didn’t fish until an insect hatch started. The river has a reputation for being tough when the trout aren’t rising, and I can testify that it is well earned.
I nymphed hard all day Sunday with nary a strike. I could see the flashes of trout nymphing in one run, but they successfully ignored my offerings. I took a break in late afternoon, relaxed and ate a nice dinner, then returned to the river hoping for an evening hatch.
A few of the anglers were fishing the head of the camp pool, so I moved downstream a bit to some unoccupied water. It was a fine, soft summer evening, with a nice sulfur hatch from dusk until twilight, and I fished to dainty sippers spread out over a broad expanse of water. They seemed to like my little TSD Sulfur.
As I settled into the groove of casting to far off, gentle risers, a long downstream cast was taken by a hard fighting wild brown of some 16 inches. I fished until it was too dark to see the faint rises, landing two more browns of 17 and 18 inches.
I was truly impressed with how hard these trout fought the rod, making run after run against my reel drag. The 45 degree water certainly must agree with them! All in all, it was an evening of good dry fly fishing on a gorgeous river, more than making up for the slow fishing during the day.
I slept well after my long day on the river, and awoke to cook breakfast with the sound of the rushing river just outside my cabin door. To say that I didn’t want to leave there would be a gross understatement. Sometimes the best and most pleasurable experiences don’t necessarily include catching every fish in the river. There are a lot of fly fishers out there who haven’t learned that lesson yet, and I think they are missing out on a lot this sport has to offer.
I had a fine summer getaway, sweetened as it was by lovely wild trout, and a captivating interlude on a gorgeous river. I don’t know what more anyone can ask for.
In a day and an evening I had a truly wonderful introduction to the challenge of the West Branch and more; I had found my home away from home in the Catskills.