West Branch of the Delaware

September 29 – Tuesday

We picked the day as it worked for both our calendars and we wanted to get to the Delaware before October. As Tom and I drove past the Willow and the Beaverkill we could see how dry they were. Wadable for sure, even on your knees. The East Branch had water but not much flow and the West was dropping fast.

We met John at West Branch Anglers. “They shut off our water!” was how he greeted us. Flows dropped (and were dropping) from over 1500 to under 700 cfs in a few hours. Our plan was to fish from Ball’s Eddie to Shehawken so he warned that we’d be doing a lot of wading.

With this news we could not complain about the 2 days of rain that were predicted. We dressed accordingly and once on the river and tracking our drifts, hardly noticed.

A big fly (Iso) with two trailing Pheasant Tail nymphs, one with a bead, was the rig of choice and we stayed with it most of the day.

We fished the run below Ball’s Eddie and stopped at the willow tree (those who have fished it know) where Tom nailed the first fish of the trip.  The second came a little later, a very healthy brown (see photo above), a nice fish.

We continued down hitting small browns, mostly taking the nymphs – the big boy took the Iso. At one point we got out and covered a good stretch on foot.  I was upstream and John indicated the likely places, noting in particular that there is usually a big one by the log with the weeds.  Having fished with John before, I have learned to listen to his tips.

I went well above it and worked the shore line – just a foot or two off the bank. As I was just out of range of the weeded log, I checked my rig and the three flies had tangled.  This is the bane of multiple fly fishing, especially where some distance casting and light tippet is involved. I took the time to re-tie and grease up the lead fly.

I moved a bit closer to the log but decided it would be better, in this low water, to feed it down to him, fly first. I took a few practice drifts off to the side to determine the range and then made my move. The fly moved well with the current, swaying just off the log and as it passed, he devoured it. Took the dry in a ferocious gulp.

When I got him to the net I went to unhook his lip, upside down, but could not find the fly. I looked to see if it fell out or if I had snagged him – but he didn’t fight like a snagged fish. Then I saw the leader going deep into his mouth.  He really swallowed it. I cut the line and put him in the stream.

As I was beginning to repair my rig, I noticed that he was staying very close to me. I had not exhausted him and wondered why he didn’t run off.  That is when I realized my net was being pulled downstream by something other than the current.

The double nymph rig, which I forgot about as I cut the leader, was attached to the net and the fish to the trailing tippet. Once I clipped it again he was of like a shot.

Tom was hitting a few fish down below but as the day progressed the river continued to drop and the fishing slowed.  We worked the area above…well, no sense giving up all the secrets – we waded another area and worked the rock riffles from bank to bank. Tom hit a rocket ship that blasted upstream and broke him off without a second thought. Nice fish. We speculated that it was a big rainbow. Fish of the day!

I am not sure if we had any more after that, but we may have. The fog was getting thicker and a tiny fly hatch was emerging – maybe 28’s.  My eyes have trouble with a size 12 Iso so we put on tiny nymphs behind the bigger dry, saw some fish moving, but no more hits.

It was dark by 7:25 when we pulled out at Shehawken.

Driving home in the rain on Wednesday, the upper tributaries were mud brown and water was cascading from the hill sides.  Should be fishable in a day or two. Maybe…

September-on-the-West-Branch-of-the-Delaware
September on the West Branch of the Delaware

The Delaware system is, in my mind, the most valuable asset we eastern fisherpersons have. We need to watch it and act when it needs help.  Please check out Friends of the Upper Delaware for more information on how you can get involved.

For more adventures on the Delaware check out the Letters to Mack series.

Tom's Fishing Stories

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