Upper East Branch Delaware River 5/7


I wound up cancelling all weekend trips due to high winds and I had Friday off anyways, so it was time to try something different. My fishing buddy Mike has been trying to get me out to the Catskills over the past two years. It’s been hard to coordinate a trip with our schedules, but everything lined up just right this week, so we met on Friday AM at his place near Otselic.

Mike’s really the catalyst re: my fly-fishing. He taught me the basics as well as a lot of non-basics in the mid-1990s and onwards. He spent a few years (around 2005) living in Catskill and fishing the high-quality trout streams there, his favorite being the East Branch of the Delaware. So I had a guide – and on this river, it’s a big advantage.

Once we drove into the Catskills, it wasn’t hard to see how people could fall in love with the area. The vibe, the waterways, pine and hilly terrain reminded me of Alaska. The pace of life is slower. The reservoirs alone (NYC Water Supply) are incredible fisheries for big brown trout. I was impressed by the photos at the tackle shop we stopped at.

There are plenty of pull-offs along the East Branch and plenty of PFRs (Public Fishing Rights) along the river. It’s a fishermen-friendly area. We stopped by one of Mike’s favorite areas and got on our gear and headed down. We didn’t see any other anglers at the time. We saw plenty of caddisflies as well as a few Hendricksons both flying (emerging) and drifting (spent – i.e. dead) down the river. Mike explained what we’d be doing and handed me some flies.

I was glad to see that with all the lake fly-fishing and fly-casting I’d been teaching that my stream fly-casting was in very good shape. The goal was to present dry-flies below us (a downstream presentation) with a drag-free drift. It’s very challenging. You need to get into position above the trout – close enough to cast but not so close as to put the fish down (momentarily spook it.) You need to be able to read the currents well enough (like golf) to decide where the cast needs to go, and how the fly is going to drift. Then there’s line management involved. Letting the leader straighten out. Feeding line into the drift. Then there’s the luck quotient – you can make a perfect cast, have a perfect drag-free drift and still not get a grab! My sympathies go out to the Delaware guides! If you can’t cast well, you’re in for a tedious day. The water level was low, the flows are slow and the fish can really get a good look at the fly.

We spotted a few fish rising and I gave it a few tries. Mike thought I did a very good job, but no grabs. We tried another pool and I told Mike to give it a go, while I grabbed my camera. Mike made a few casts then got a grab! Fish on! After a spirited battle Mike beached the gorgeous wild brown trout – 15″ to 16″ of Delaware beauty!

Downstream we found some more rising fish and we switched off – Mike grabbed his camera and I made some casts. The fish were grabbing flies off the water violently. Were they taking caddis? I don’t know. I went with a Hendrickson imitation which is what Mike used. After a few casts and some repositioning I made a perfect cast and got a grab! This fish didn’t fight like any brown I’ve caught. It jumped high, at least 3 times! Great fight! I told Mike I think I had a rainbow, and it was. They are supposedly fairly rare in the upper East Branch, but numbers are going up according to what I’ve read. It was around 14″. We released it after a quick couple photos. Those fish were highlights of the trip. Mike landed a couple small wild browns later. I watched an angler land another rarity further downstream – a drop-dead gorgeous wild brookie that had to be 14″ to 15″ long! What a fish! The angler wasn’t very adept at holding it for a photo, so he blew a rare opportunity, but I did get a shot of the fish as it started coming in.

We had high expectations for the evening fishing, but the hatches dwindled and the amount of rising fish greatly diminished. Mike hadn’t fished the river in a couple years, so we weren’t as in touch with the river fishing as we would’ve liked to be. A couple days spent here in a row is the way to go.

The amount of fishing we have in New York State is staggering. Between Lake Ontario and it’s tribs and bays, the St. Lawrence River, the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Champlain, the Adirondacks, the Hudson, Long Island Sound, Catskills, Chautauqua Lake, Oneida Lake etc… You’d need to spend ten lifetimes here, and you still would be skimming the surface!

We had a great time and will be back in a few weeks to fish the next big wave of hatches. For great reports and info on the Catskill fisheries, check out our favorite Catskill Website: www.baxterhouse.net