One Year Later

Finding the right fly on the Upper Delaware River

I have fished this little caddis fly under different names. Our first meeting came on the historic Beaverkill nearly thirty years ago. There the fly was known as Shad Fly, named for their timing coincident with the shad run on the Delaware system. There were light and dark variations, the former a bright apple green, the other having that green mixed with a caramel tan coloration. I tied a pair of Gary LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupas with an impromptu blend of dubbing and sparkle yarn and made my first memorable catches of Beaverkill trout.

Over the decades I altered that original dubbing, always staying close to the original green with just a hint of the tan. On the Delaware and her branches, the fly is called Apple Caddis, and my green fly has brought many trophy trout to hand in those ensuing decades. Last year I belatedly tackled preparing a blend of dubbing for the Dark Shad Fly, and tied a few flies I called the Caramel Apple Caddis. I was testing the new Dark Shad Fly along the big river one year ago. Casting to a rise I had a solid take and an immediate, monstrous pull. I reeled in my wounded dry fly with it’s hook straightened out.

While waiting for my visiting friend to make the long drive from the Cumberland Valley yesterday, I decided to scratch my itch to fish for a couple of hours. I strung up my big 8 1/2 foot Thomas dry fly rod with a vintage Hardy St. George and a number six line. Second chances are a wonderful thing.

It was a temptingly gorgeous afternoon, the wide river clear and calm, nearly windless, and the mountainsides full of the vibrant green of spring’s first blush. A fine day to be a landscape artist. There were just a handful of the little caddisflies about, very few actually, as I scanned the water carefully for signs of life beneath. Looking left, I heard a distinct plop to my right. I turned, but saw no remnant ring upon the surface. I took the leader in hand and pulled the fly line through the tight little English snake guides, ready for a cast…

I saw the next rise clearly, a playful little plop good trout often display when taking these little caddsflies leisurely. I lofted the line, false cast twice to work out some more, and made a cast, shocking the rod then dropping the tip to acheive the required drift. Plop! The ancient cane came up into a deep, deep arch and the fish started straight for me. I knew I had a good trout, as I stripped line madly to keep tight to him, but I didn’t know quite what I had just yet.

When he turned that hideous bow returned to the frail bamboo, and I though about the casting wonders of old Fred Thomas’ fly rods with their fine, delicate tips. My suspicion had been rainbow, but instead of the classic run and wild abandon of the Delaware rainbow, my foe parlayed short bursts of power to win his freedom. We fought at close quarters, so I kept that fearsome bend in my rod tip. The first time I brought him near the surface I saw him clearly. You know a two foot brown trout as soon as you see him, there is never a doubt.

We battled for a long time, each slugging hard and neither giving up. Each time I tried to bring him to the net, I reeled the end of my line and half my leader through those tight vintage guides, and each time my heart skipped a beat as he took it back, the line/leader connection hanging on each guide and the tiptop. Each time he rushed away I expected the frail tippet to part when that connection fouled at the tip, yet each time the rod showed enough power to turn him just enough to avoid disaster. Clearly, this one was meant to be.

I got a good measurement, checked it twice, and fumbled one handed for my camera while I held the laden net down in the water. The comedy of trying to lay the fish below the rod for that quick snapshot offered some flopping and tense moments, but I managed to click off two shots, then set the camera on a clump of grass so I could quickly revive and release the fish. Twenty-four and one half inches of wild Delaware River brown trout: last year’s opened hook? I’ll never know for sure, though big fish tend to haunt favorite areas, just as old trout fishermen learn to haunt them.

Just a little better than two feet of Delaware River brownie and the 1939 F.E. Thomas Bangor cane rod that subdued him. The Bangor grade rods were the Thomas Rod Company’s working man’s fly rods, with no special wraps or frills, just the same legendary Thomas quality and casting power that made Fred Thomas one of the legends of his craft.

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