Heavy rains at mid-week had raised the level of streams and rivers in the Catskill Mountain region to unfishable conditions. Things didn’t look good for my weekend visit to the West Branch Delaware, but hope springs eternal, and I hoped the river, a bottom release from the Cannonsville Reservoir north of Deposit, New York, might at least be clear enough to roll-cast off the banks.
The West Branch, arguably the finest wild brown trout fishery in the eastern U.S., is a big river, by my angling standards, when it’s flowing at an average of 600-800 cubic feet per second (c.f.s.). On my arrival at the Dream Catcher Estates on Friday, the mighty West Branch was pushing a good 3000 c.f.s. and would remain at such force through Sunday, through the period of my stay at the fishing lodge.
In this post you won’t find any photos of big Delaware browns, unfortunately. I didn’t catch any, nor did anyone else while I was there, with one exception. The small group of TU fellows I was with could watch the big fish chasing alewives that had swept over the dam and swum downriver. We could step from the mile-long private river bank and suddenly be to our waists in forceful water. We could make long sweeping casts of a white streamer with our nine or 10-foot fly rods, but those 16 to 21-inch browns were usually well beyond our reach.
The TU guys who had been at the lodge earlier in the week, before the river had drastically risen, had been luckier. They could wade across the river, and several of them had caught big browns on sulphur flies or other small patterns that imitated the various insects hatching on this famous bug factory. But everything changed late in the week. At first we tried for hook-ups by casting nymphs and emergers. It looked as though the trout were taking just below the surface, then the truth came out.
George and I decided to take a small channel that helped form a large island in the river. The channel was narrow and deep, and almost wadeable. Only three of us would fall, either there or someplace like it, and go under to our chins. Luckily nobody lost their hats. But George saw a feeding trout, and eventually went after it with a streamer.
It had taken us quite a while to realize the trout were chasing alewives swept down from the reservoir. The forage fish were everywhere, and often sheltered in the flooded grasses along the channel.
Problem was I didn’t have a camera. The memory disc of my waterproof instrument was defunct. I had just bought a new camera and wasn’t about to take it swimming with me. Then George remembered that, in fact, he had a little camera in his vest somewhere. I floundered toward the action, through the water and the six-foot knotweed on the bank, like a hippo gone mad.
It was a beautiful wild fish measuring 20 inches in the net. It was the only fish I got my hands on in this three-day visit. Soon I returned to the fly shop situated across from our lodge. Since I hadn’t brought along white streamers, I purchased a few alewife imitations, not that they would do me any good. We just couldn’t get close enough to those big fish chasing small fish in the humbling West Branch waters.
Driftboats passed, and the guides had clients casting streamers in every direction. Streamers would hit the water to be stripped in quickly before they sank. I’m sure some of those anglers had a great time on the water, not that I bothered to envy them.
Truth is, I enjoyed the visit. Hook-ups would’ve been a dream come true, but as a famous fisherman-of-life once said, there’s more to angling than simply catching fish. There were veeries and robins that awakened me at dawn. There were bald eagles that passed by the lodge. There was an eagle nest with young that I photographed. There was sitting at the kitchen table with friends while drinking “Rum Cask” Innis and Gunn. There were excellent meals prepared by the Chef.