Searching for Rivers

The Mighty East Branch Delaware above Cadosia Riff and the Village of Hancock

Seven AM, and I step out onto the porch to the heady scent of new mown grass and the incandescence of clear blue skies and sunlight; but the grass is frosted white and the thermometer hovers just below freezing. It is another spring morning in the Catskill Mountains, and I am searching for rivers.

The Delaware tailwaters are terribly high, above the dangerous range for waders and the experts only range for boaters, and I neither take life for granted nor fool myself with ego when it comes to my experience behind the oars. In short, there is no fishing.

Perhaps somewhere, in one of those high mountain streams I have neglected, a trout will rise today, but the prospects are incredibly low. So still I search, asking questions, sending inquiries over the wire to those who may know distant waters. Stream gages are a wonderful tool, though useless without practical experience to bring the numbers into real focus. One hundred cfs can be a delightful, somewhat low flow here, and a raging torrent there. Everything depends upon the river channel, its depth, gradient and bottom composition.

A favorite mountain stream, a small tight channel with undercut banks and log jams, where deep water comes to your knees.
The wide Delaware River near Buckingham, Pennsylvania where 1,000 cfs is the beginning of low flows.

With freezing nights and days in the fifties, the high mountain streams are still icy cold, their trout not conditioned to rise. The larger rivers, while more resistant to the cold, offer little in the way of surface feeding lies in high water flows. Neither welcomes the dry fly angler under current conditions.

Forecasts call for more than an inch of rain over the next four days, something I would welcome under different conditions. The City kept their reservoirs near capacity in April, as the rainfall for the first months of the year was less than normal, and there was no place to store the rainfall from recent events. Things balanced nicely for April, with perfect wading flows and plenty of feeding lies available to the trout as the Hendricksons heralded a new angler’s year, but nothing lasts forever.

My window is shrinking; it may be a mirage after all. Is there one smaller stream I could visit, one that reaches that just right flow and temperature on this afternoon, one where I could steal a few hours with wild trout rising to the fly? The tools are available; the little one piece Smithwick stands in it’s wooden case, nearly as tall as I am. It has been far too long since I cast a line with that magic wand!

Sixty-five inches of classic cane, the smallest CFO, and a lovely wild Appalachian Brook Trout

I have been seduced by trophy trout prowling broad rivers, places where half the game is finding the niches where such fish rest and feed, and live their lives in avoidance of casual anglers. As the unwanted result, I have left the Brook Trout to their mountain rills, forsaken the pure joy of weaving along these bright ribbons through the forest, ducking beneath the fallen branches ever watchful for the wink of a quiverring fin. Brookie streams are secret places, tight quarters where each cast, and each backcast must be planned, mapped out for their prospective paths through the understory. It is too long since I have listened for the sparkle of water within a solid hedge of rhododendron, and wondered…

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