The driving distance from Wiscoy Creek, in western New York, to the West Branch Delaware River, east of Binghamton, is about three hours. I didn’t drive the route in a single shot, but connected the streams on two occasions, six days apart.
My reason for establishing a connection between the stream and river has to do with fly-fishing, naturally, but aside from the enjoyment that I hoped to gain by fishing through these hot and dry conditions, it was paramount to consider the health of wild trout.
Although it looks as though a long stretch of wet and stormy weather is finally about to settle on my region now, a drought was here, for sure, and it took its toll on the region’s waterways, overheating the diminished flows and imperiling the lives of trout, a fish that struggles to survive when water temperatures climb into the 70s and deplete the oxygen levels of the water.
The Wiscoy and the West Branch Delaware are possible exceptions to the water problem in my fly-fishing realm, at least for now. Both streams have sufficient water flow and temperatures cool enough to allow some fishing with a clear conscience. Despite some similarities, there’s a world of difference between the small stream and the mighty river.
The Wiscoy, flowing through a fairly level agricultural district in New York, is sustained by numerous springs and tributaries. It’s a small creek feeding into the Genesee River near Letchworth State Park, and it’s arguably the finest trout stream in the western sector of the state. The West Branch Delaware, on the other hand, is a Catskill Mountain tail-water flowing southward from the Cannonsville Reservoir (a water source for New York City) to its junction with the East Fork at Hancock, New York. There the branches join together and form the main stem of the Delaware that rolls on southward into Delaware Bay and the Atlantic.
It’s hard to imagine a more disparate brace of waterways, but both the Wiscoy and the West Branch are important streams in this rivertop realm. The Wiscoy is an unassuming little trout stream and the Delaware’s West Branch is a world-class fishery that is sometimes described as the “eastern-most western river in the U.S.”
The big river has it all, from brook trout to giant browns that dwell with a smorgasbord of dining possibilities, from heavy insect hatches to the alewives that flush out from the Cannonsville Reservoir. Here the fish can be highly selective at times, and the angler has to cast precisely, or be skunked. This is big water, and it’s cold, even in the heat of summer. When I fish the West Branch, I tend to enjoy the experience and do pretty well, or have a frustrating time and catch nothing at all.
On this occasion, I did nothing. I fished for two hours in the wind and the high afternoon sun. Sulphurs and occasional Cahills were hatching but I saw no obvious sign of a rising trout. There was algae in the 55 degree water, and it snagged every cast of a wet fly. There were drift boats passing by but, oddly enough, I didn’t hear a single hoot or holler, the typical expression of success.
To fish a small stream like the Wiscoy, on the other hand, was to fish with greater confidence at home. The water was 63 Fahrenheit degrees and alive with surface-feeding brown and brook trout, at least for a little while. I could cast a dry Black Ant and watch the rise; I felt the intimacy of a stream that helps produce what the writer Ted Leeson called the “archetype of fly-fishing.” Here was a link to the earliest days of fly-fishing, to the possibility that fishing on the Wiscoy, and small streams like it, was related to casting on the Greek river Astraeus, known to the Roman writer, Aelian, who wrote of fly-fishing as early as 200 A.D.
Sure, the fish in the smaller stream are going to be sized more modestly when compared to the big ones in the river. Modest, but delightful nonetheless. And undervalued, too, in today’s big push to fish “the best water available” and to get its trophies for display. I don’t care if the small fish of the archetypal Wiscoy streams are sniffed at by the hook-and-bullet press. I’m proud, as always, to picture them here, where readers understand that we take even the small ones seriously.
But fishing is fishing, and the West Branch Delaware is a hoot of a river. It’s not always easy to work, to say the least, but you can do real well there. Just recently, the night before my latest river stop, my friend Tim D. caught a couple of massive trout nearby while fishing in the middle of the night with ungainly streamers.
Then, of course, there’s the cultural aspect to consider when fishing the West Branch. It’s not far from “Trout Town, U.S.A” (Roscoe) and Livingston Manor’s great Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum where L. and I had just made another visit to the annual Anglers’ Summerfest. The history and magical presence of that Catskill location is still more than I am capable of absorbing, though I keep on trying. And when its famed Beaverkill and Willowemoc Creek have warmed too much to fish safely, as they’ve done again this summer, there’s always the neighboring Delaware to beckon the compulsive flinger of the fly.