Autumn Wandering

Evening light upon the Delaware.

Early autumn often brings low water to the Delaware, making it ideal for long walks along the river’s graveled margins. Water temperatures are perfect for the trout once seasonal weather patterns kick in, and the river’s wild rainbows are looking for food while the brown trout turn to spawning.

One thing the great river doesn’t have enough of is access, but low water invites exploration thanks to the ease of traversing the shallows. Once I see evidence of spawning rites in our brown trout strongholds, the Delaware and her rainbows call to me.

The river has a reputation for it’s moods relative to fishing, and that will never change. Nature weaves her magic subtly here. If the angler finds the hatches, he has a good chance of finding trout at this time of year. Amid the bubbles of foam and fallen leaves defining the lines of drift, I search for tiny insects and subtle rings, looking closely for the evidence is not easy to see, particularly when autumn winds ruffle the wide open eddies.

Yesterday I took up my Delaware rod, the 8 1/2 foot pentagonal bamboo that Pittsburgh rod maker Tim Zietak made for me several years ago. The crisp action of the pent and it’s longer length offer extended reach with the delicacy necessary to present small dries on the wide, flat eddies. It is a rod I reach for at this season, perfectly suited for the tiny autumn mayflies yet lithe and powerful when battling a muscular Delaware rainbow. With a late start, my walk along the river would be shortened by good fortune.

Mike Saylor considers his fly selection during a late September morning on the wide Lordville riff.

Stopping to knot a fresh tippet and comparadun, I was startled with a heavy rise close at hand. I had seen one or two miniature rings in the shallows there as I walked down river, expecting the work of fingerlings. My initial reaction was that my presence had spooked a shallow hunter, but I was to be pleasantly surprised. The wind began to gust, taking the first fly from my fingers as I lifted it from the box, and I grabbed another firmly and secured it to the leader. I spotted the missing fly trapped in a tiny eddy between the stones, retrieved it, and placed it back in my vest as a soft ring appeared close to shore.

Rather than deal with the frustration of fishing a size 22 olive in the wind, the fly I had been so eager to secure was an 18 Hebe imitation, a seasonal mayfly I had seen on the rivers recently. I checked the brush behind me and offered the bright yellow fly to that recurring soft ring. The trout was moving, as Delaware trout often do, and it required several casts to synch the arrival of my drifting fly with his position until we were off to the races!

It became instantly clear that this was no fingerling as my reel spun with the trout’s departure. With so much shallow water surrounding his feeding ground, this bow opted for multiple runs and changes of direction as opposed to the reel emptying runs executed under spring conditions. I touched the drag knob after his first burst, adding a bit more resistance to his runs. The little dry fly had found a secure hold, and he eventually thrashed in my net, a wide flanked, colorful bow better than eighteen inches long!

I expected the commotion of our encounter had sent his brethren fleeing from those shallows, but it wasn’t long before I spied more soft rings perhaps twenty to thirty feet further out across the flat. The current seemed to be funneling the minute naturals down my half of the river and the trout were keyed on taking advantage of the skinny water buffet.

They were warier now I learned, as the closest rise shunned every perfect presentation. The afternoon wind began to gust harder and more frequently, and I guessed my sport would be short lived. I managed to send the fake Hebe to a meeting with another hungry bow who proved to be every bit as energetic as the first, before conditions deteriorated enough that the rises ceased.

The Red Gods played their games of course, teasing me as I waited to see if the winds might lessen and the trout return to feeding. Twice I waded out to reach an odd heavy rise in a trailing midriver current, both times greeted by heavier gusts that brought my casts up short. As I said, the Delaware has her moods.

A heavy spring rainbow from the wet, moody Delaware, 2006. (Photo courtesy Pat Schuler)
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