A Day on the Delaware

Morning at Lordville Riff

We set out early, content to spend a long day upon the great Delaware River amid the glory of late September. Our quest was for rising trout as is our habit, and we knew the river might offer feast or famine; such being the legend of the wide Delaware. It was enough that we were together again, and enjoying good company and life on the river.

We found a few flies first thing in the morning, tan caddis were buzzing about, though not in numbers. Mike managed a brown forthwith, while I continued to search for a rise. I eventually found one, sort of a rise anyway, with about a fifteen inch brown jumping clear of the water at intervals. He was stationed directly behind a submerged rock, splashing and leaping amid the bubbly wake it created. There was simply no way to float a dry fly naturally over his lie.

As he was the only game in town I tried anyway, hoping to tempt him to stray just a bit and take a dry drifted right down the seam between his bubble trail and the main current. His leaping and splashing increased, but he simply wasn’t coming out of his little frothy piece of the world for anything. Eventually I conceded and walked downstream to see what Mike had encountered.

In the middle of a great wide eddy I found rings, gentle sipping rises to something. They weren’t frequent, and the fish that were feeding weren’t holding a lie, they were cruising. I suspected spinners, perhaps tricos, and began to play the game. A size 20 rusty spinner was flatly ignored, as were size 22 and yes, even size 24 tricos, so I moved slowly and watched the surface for a solution.

I had been hoping for an ant fall on the big river and ants are what I found. First a size 20 black winged ant, then a cluster with a black size 18 (the Queen?) and several size 28 miniatures crawling about her. I diligently tried both larger sizes, then scanned again, this time coming up with a size 18 red ant, one with a unique greenish sheen similar to the iridescent sheen on some game bird feathers. I fished the red one to several cruisers, but it seemed impossible to predict their path and direction in the middle of all that open water. After about an hour, with nothing but a chub to my credit (yes, that held a lie for a few rises) the rises ceased and I was back on my hike downriver.

I found him in a great riffle, a bubbling tumult even at September’s minimal flow, standing and waiting. He had seen nothing, but the afternoon was wearing on, and if flies were going to show anywhere, surely they would on that beautiful riff. I tied on my Halo Isonychia, walked down thirty yards below him and waded in.

I watched for a while as I slowly advanced toward mid-river. Coincident with one small emergent rock I saw it, a quick bulge that I took for a rise. I watched the spot as I positioned myself for a cast, and there was no other evidence of life, though I was confident of what I had seen.

I lofted a backcast with my five strip bamboo and made a cast, the size 12 fly alighting a foot above the rock. Pennsylvania rodmaker Tim Zietak had built the rod to my specifications several years ago. It was envisioned specifically as a Delaware River rod, two pieces at eight and a half feet, with the extra little touch of power that a pent provides. The rod proved to be well suited for its role.

Four or five casts drifted perfectly but unanswered, so I began to work the line of current upstream of the rock in small increments. My cast some eight feet upstream was taken with the characteristic quick spurt rise of the Delaware rainbow, and the long rod bent sharply with the rush of a heavy trout. The fish powered away, turned downstream for a short run before turning away again, pulling line from the reel. There was no doubt this fish would use the fast current and the pocketed, rocky bottom to cut the leader, but the full bow of the pent turned him at every move.

“He’s a good one” exclaimed Mike, and I nodded and grunted as I parried yet another short powerful run. With that tactic proving unsuccessful, the trout ran hard downstream, and I clicked another detent on the Abel’s drag. There were a hundred and fifty yards of riff below us, and he would spool me if I let him get his head. I swept the rod hard toward the bank, then back toward mid-river, turning his run before he could break away. The game was mine this time!

Heaving in the soft clear mesh of my net, this beautiful bow showed a deep red stripe and substantial girth. Measuring nineteen inches, nose to tail, that valiant fish made my day, shooting away into the rushing current as soon as I slipped him free of the mesh.

We would see just one more rise between us, though we fished across the area hitting all the deeper pockets. That nine inch bow rose little more than a rod length from me and gave a surprising pull despite his size. There is no doubting the heart and tenacity of this great river’s wild rainbows.

It was after four when we reached the trail and I was tired from two long days on the water and hundreds of casts. We parted there as Mike wanted to work up river and fish the spot I took him to a few years back.

I called him hours later to find he had stumbled upon an angler waiting on the bank when he arrived and didn’t want to intrude. He had walked out, driven to another access and waded in there. Sometimes you just have a feeling that the day is not done. He found a good fish sipping spinners and enjoyed a thrilling fight in the strong current of a deep tailout, netting a twenty inch brown! He was still breathless from excitement when we spoke.

The Halo Isonychia, favorite snack of Delaware rainbows!

The Catskill rivers of late September didn’t lavish us with heavy hatches and hordes of rising trout. They swathed us in the golden light of perfect early autumn afternoons, took our breath with their incredible beauty, and surrendered a few special wild trout, well earned by careful angling. These are days we will both remember!

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