Tuesday, May 1, 2012
A Blanket of Bugs
The first time I fished the fable waters of the Upper Delaware was late August. It was super hot, the water was as cold, and there was nary a rise in sight. A fresh algae hatch from the reservoir made sure to attach itself to any fly I put in the water, which made for difficult conditions. I came to fish dries and ended up nymphing up a lot of smaller than average fish. However, I liked the character of the river and the images I always saw of large wild browns and rainbows made sure I didn't stay away for long.
We awoke from our slumber in the parking lot of a distant Wal-Mart to temperatures in the low 30s. The windows were covered in ice and a small dusting of snow coated grassy areas. I was freezing, a little unprepared for the colder weather. I decided to head back to bed in the bed of the pickup and left Adam and Ben slumbering in the front and back seats. We were sleeping in on a fishing trip...
We made the drive to the West Branch and I consulted the bible, Paul Weamer's Fly-Fishing Guide to the Upper Delaware. It was a Christmas present a few years back and I was finally going to use it. We decided on an access area and took our grand ole time rigging up in the parking lot. We took the path down to the river under a bright sunny sky and moderate wind. Within an hour, the sun disappeared and the wind increased in intensity to a steady 25 mph with gusts towards the 40s. Then it began to rain and sleet. What happened to the early summer?
Freezing, I sat on the bank awaiting the bugs to come and the fish to rise. It began very slowly at first, too inconsistent to entice any fish to our offerings. As the swallows increased in intensity and joined us in gathering riverside, things started to come off. Blue winged olives and blue quills at first. Later, hendricksons and quill gordons joined the fray. The fish began to rise en masse and we struggled for accurate drag free presentations in the high winds amongst thousands of naturals.
Before the brunt of the hatch, I was on the opposite side of the river awaiting a few fish to rise that never came. I decided to check out a slow side channel. In the very low river flows, the side channel created a deep cut that probably provided shelter to some big fish. I parked myself atop a mud bank and scanned the perimeter for any signs. I saw a dimple and immediately thought small fish. I was looking for him when my eyes settled on tail. A large one. As my eyes adjusted, the river bottom revealed a twenty inch brown trout. He was two feet off the bank, slowly rising and barely breeching the surface of the water. I had to cast directly into the wind surrounded by high grass and branches. On the fourth cast, things finally aligned and my fly drifted towards the zone.
I love sight fishing, especially when one can spot, stalk, and present a fly to a fish. I think this is why we love carping so much. Sight fishing allows you to see the entire act. I particularly enjoy watching the moment the fish spies the fly and how the body language completely changes. You can tell almost immediately if the fish is going to eat or not and can watch the whole moment in complete satisfaction. This particular brown was feeding ever so slowly, and the take was agonizingly slow. When his mouth finally settled down onto the small dry fly, I set, and let out a triumphant roar.
At the height of the hatch, the entire surface of the water seemed to be covered in a blanket of bugs. They floated down the water at the mercy of the current and the feeding trout below. Large quantities of mayflies congregated in eddies and along the banks. With one swipe of a finger, Adam's finger was covered with their shucks. Outside of Penns Creek, I haven't seen a hatch of this magnitude and the pictures don't do it justice. I guess I have been missing out.
We did pretty well despite the conditions. We lost a lot more fish than we landed. The fish of the Upper Delaware are pretty sufficient at throwing hooks and shaking free in the current. Most of the fish that we hooked were actually rainbows. Towards the end of the day, Ben was able to land a few brown trout in a glassy calm pool. I spent the last hour of light getting schooled by a pod of trout that didn't want a single fly in my box.
Good times once again.