Strong flows in big rivers challenge the wading angler, but provide plenty of oxygen and insects in the drift for trout.

I started out yesterday morning with the idea of fishing some different water. My first choice was a drive to the Neversink and the opportunity to meet a fellow fly fisher, a Covid Friend. No he doesn’t have that virus, it is simply a term which applies to a number of guys, most members of the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild that I have corresponded with via email during the past fourteen months of coronavirus forced solitude. I think we all helped one another through the winter by talking fishing via our keyboards, when personal contact was too risky to consider.

I was looking forward to the chance to meet face to face and share the water, but the beginning of this rainy week had other ideas. Monday’s rain pushed the Neversink up to 300 cfs by early morning, and neither of us thought it would be good wading. That river won’t see either of us for a while, as the heavy rain they expected last night has the river roaring with the discharge closing in on 2,000 cfs with their reservoir spilling.

Our Delaware reservoirs were spilling already and rose further overnight. With more rain today, Friday and on into the weekend, wade fishing is pretty well over for a long time. It looks like time to get the drift boat wet. Floating has its charms, but I am a wade fisherman at heart.

A drift boat appears out of the gathering fog as evening nears on the West Branch

I like to float when the river isn’t busy. That can be quite peaceful, an introspective day gliding along, searching for mayflies and rising trout. Of course our Delaware and its branches gets very busy this time of year. I remember when there were a handful of river guides running float trips. Now there must be a hundred of them. Even when they spread out throughout the system, that’s a lot of traffic, and many of the newer guides insist upon floating even in low water and on the smaller reaches of the upper tailwaters, intimiate environs suited to wading only. Trying to navigate a busy river takes the joy right out of fishing.

In mid-May last year, I floated the West Branch on a weekday with the river still carrying an unfriendly wading flow in excess of 1,000 cfs. The morning was quiet, uninterrupted by either people or trout, but the afternoon was like running a gauntlet. In several reaches where I had hoped to fish, there were so many boats and waders squeezed into every inch of river that I had to row a zigzag pattern back and forth across the river just to try to get through without ruining anyone’s fishing. There was no spot for me to fish myself. At one pinch point, I had to drop the anchor and sit there to maintain a little courtesy, as there were waders stringing out into the narrow passage within casting distance of three anchored guide boats. It’s fly fishing folks, not a mob scene.

I was sitting there for half an hour when the Red Gods seemingly appreciated my patience and threw me a consolation prize. A trout rose to eat a Hendrickson a boat length in front of my bow, so I tossed him a fly and caught him, a nice 18 inch wild brown. After I slid him from the net into the river, his cousin rose very close to the same spot, and I caught another one an inch or two smaller than the first. By the time I released that trout, the waders to my right had backed out of the water and two of the boats had lifted their anchors and were moving on. I pulled my anchor and rowed through that crowded pinch point as quickly as possible.

When I got home that evening I parked the boat and proclaimed my West Branch floating season completed for the year. I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind this crowd mentality. Fly fishing is the ultimate one man outdoor pursuit. Quiet solitude was once it’s hallmark. I particularly don’t understand some of these guides. Do they actually believe they are providing a quality experience to their clients? Back when I travelled to the Catskills for my fishing I treated myself to a day or two of drift boat fishing on the big river when I could afford it. The guides I fished with, Pat Schuler, Ben Rinker and Sam Batschelet prided themselves on providing a quality experience. I enjoyed some wonderful fishing, and got to appreciate the quiet and solitude of a beautiful, wild river. These gentlemen worked very hard to get away from the crowds.

More anglers need to learn to be flexible in their fishing. When you find a group of cars parked at your intended pool, keep driving, try another reach of water. If you fish with a guide, insist that they provide a quality experience, not a game of bumper cars in drift boats on the most crowded section of river they can find. If flows are low at your destination, tell your guide that you would prefer to wade fish and leave the boat in his driveway. Everyone’s fishing will be better and more enjoyable with a retuirn to courtesy, sportmanship and common sense.

One thought on “Water

  1. Good morning Mark, I was also looking forward to meeting yesterday, I guess the river gods were against us! Oh well , maybe next week.


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