May 9 – 12, 2017 – Catskills
Mother’s Day was always the marker for our Hendrickson trip (the week before or after). Year after year we would go and all too often were met with high water, cold conditions, no bugs and few fish. I am hoping that this year will be different. It’s me and Joe on a 4 day jaunt.
We always stop at the Rockhill Diner, usually for breakfast, but with all the cold weather and high water we make it there in time for lunch. It is near Bridgeville, named for the bridge that crosses the Neversink.
There are a lot of options when fishing the Neversink and we consider them all – from the Gorge all the way up to the headwaters. Today it makes sense to not travel (or walk) too far. We choose two pools close by. The first has fisherpersons in the water and more suiting up, so we go to the next one which is empty. Its early afternoon on a decent day with no (or little) rain. The water is manageable although still high. We work the usual places with a variety of flies – nymphs, emergers and a Green Woolly Bugger. The last one did the trick, fooling a big fish that swirled and ran and swirled again, showing himself to us twice before taking my 5x in his teeth.
Nothing else is happening and we head back to the first spot which is now empty. It looks quiet but we let momentum carry us. A bug or two in the air, a few on the water, no rises yet but as we walk the hatch grows in intensity, quickly evolving into one of the thickest Hendrickson hatches I can remember.
The water is 49 degrees but the day is warming. The fish are not going crazy (as they do with a March Brown hatch on the Carmans) but they start coming up. Joe has the first and a second, on one of his emerger patterns. More followed for both of us. After several cold-water and rainy-weather trips it is a pleasure to see this annual event finally arriving. It is a good start to our trip. We grab some dinner and check in at Smiths Colonial in Hancock.
Wednesday is a wading day. We take a tour of the area after the Sportsman’s Breakfast at the Circle E. It makes little sense to get on the river before noon, so we take our time visiting Dennis at Catskill Flies and checking out the new Beaverkill Angler store. We are surprised to see the Little Store closed. They have a modified schedule so if you are planning on some of their fudge, call ahead.
Barnhard’s is the decision for the afternoon and we end up staying for the duration. Joe has a number of fish on and a few in the net, but it didn’t explode like the Neversink. I walk it from the head to the Portal, and all the way to the tail, with a few rises to tease me. I finally land a fish when I walk back to where Joe spent the day. Next is Rockland House for a substantial meal and then back to Hancock.
Thursday is drift boat day. We have reserved a guide through Cross Current Guide Service which is operating out of the new White Tail Fly Shop on Route 191. Tim is our guide, a Michigan native who has been fishing the Delaware for a few decades. He asks what we are interested in doing: did we want to haul streamers in the hope of some big browns, or nymph, or…
We are looking for lips.
We let him know that we understand we’ll have to watch and wait for the rises, and that is okay. He smiles and puts the streamer rods back in the truck.
West Branch is the destination.
Earlier, Joe and I stopped at the Delaware River Club to say hello to Jeff and pick up some dubbing mix. The place was buzzing with guides and boats. Same at White Tail; everywhere you looked trucks were zipping by with drift boats in tow, or kayaks and float boats on the roof.
We put in well below the Hale Eddy Bridge and anchored, waiting for the bugs to get organized. By 12:30 the fish started to move here and there, although it would not be apparent to the untrained eye. I am sure that, years ago, I went right by fish like these thinking that nothing was happening, pressing on down the river.
Tim knows the river and we came to trust that each time he set up on a spot, fish would materialize. We have hits and hook ups and move down bit by bit. That is the pattern for the day.
We set up on one fish, under some spruces, that rose consistently as we each tried to entice him into a bite. We alternate, Joe and I, rather than both flailing away all day long. Joe goes first and makes good casts with a fly that doesn’t turn the fish on. Then I try with another fly, throwing sidearm as Tim advises to go over my head. The distance is outside of my comfort zone, although Joe reached him easily. With some instruction, I try again but am all discombobulated, hitting the water behind me and piling line in front of me. It is like I never fly fished before. (I don’t do well with instructions.) I sit for a while as Joe takes another shot. We catch a few other fish in the area but the consistent riser is still coming up as we lift the anchor.
The rest of the day goes better. The flies on the water, small tan Caddis, Paraleps and Hendricksons, are imitated with emergers, duns and spinners, each working when properly presented. All dry, of course.
Joe decides to switch to some of the flies he tied for the trip. The DS Emerger works. Later, while Tim is releasing one of my fish, Joe puts on a Muddler. Tim and I both balk saying no way is that going to work. His first cast produces a fish, one that fights like a bull. 19 inches as I recall. (It is a small Muddler, probably taken as a caddis.) You are amazing Joe!
Fish of the day, or I should say fight of the day, is also Joe’s. He hit him just above the mud flats and he runs and pulls; Joe recovers line and brings him close. Then he runs again, 4 – 5 times. The last time, he goes into Joe’s backing and is heading for the anchor line of a boat downstream. Tim sets us adrift but with our neighbor in the middle of the river we have to pick a side. We go right, the fish goes left. We holler at the guy to duck as Joe lifts the rod high and we pass with the fish on one side and us on the other. Below we are able to re-anchor and Joe brings him to the boat one last time. Just in view, the fish breaks off and was gone. Whew!
We finish up feeding spinners to sippers. What a great day.
As darkness falls we arrive at Balls Eddy to find a line of drift boats waiting to use the ramp and more up the lane stowing their gear before heading home. It is jammed. I have never seen such a crowd on the Delaware. (Last time I saw anything like this we were getting in line on the San Juan at Navajo Dam.)
While we are waiting our turn, I overhear the chatter and it seems that the other boats didn’t see the same fish we did, nor did they have the right flies, nor were they set up for the presentation (without spooking the fish). Thanks Tim.
We finish up with a Friday morning at Sunoco Pool, a few rising fish and no hook ups. The day promised to be spectacular, given the improving temperatures and dropping rivers, but its time to go with Mother’s Day weekend ahead. Time to be home with family – and think about the next trip.
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