We are back! After a week in the Catskill Region of New York state, our distinguished group of fisherman have returned! The group comprised of Dennis Burns (of Redfish fame), Phil Napolitan from Spring Valley Anglers, John Middleton from Duke, Randy Imel from Five Oaks Lodge in Tulsa, and yours truly as their host. With perfect conditions (those being overcast, cool and rainy at times) on the Upper Delaware River and Beaverkill, we were able to see some amazing hatches, beautiful scenery, and most importantly, land big fish – ALL ON DRY FLIES. No nymphing here. Big fish all on top – is there anything better?
Here’s how it went:
May 2 – Arrival in Rochester for Phil, Randy and me.
After a bit of a flight snafu (Phil’s early AM flight to Chicago being canceled), the three of us were able to mass at my parent’s home in Dundee, NY for dinner and a quick night’s sleep prior to our departure for the Delaware. A great meal of Dinosaur BBQ (best outside of Texas) greeted us, along with a peaceful night out in the farmlands of western New York.
Bailey, our 14-year old German Shorthair greeted us with a crazy run all around the house and property, and saw us off in the same manner the following morning.
May 3 (Day One) – Float with Phil, Randy and me on the Main Stem
After borrowing the family truck for the week, we headed down the 2 hour drive to Starlight, PA and the Delaware River Club (the DRC) to begin our trip.
Upon check in, we quickly ditched our bags in our recently-remodeled rooms, and hooked up a Clakacraft so generously loaned to us by my friend and DRC guide, Wylie Paul. After arranging a shuttle with one of my best friends, Jeff White, and artist extraordinaire Flick Ford (illustrator of Fish, and Big), we were on our float of the Delaware.
The only unforeseen “issue” that we experienced on the trip was the lack of water. To be brief, the Delaware system is a non-power generating tailwater, with the water stored in the reservoirs used as drinking water for New York City, who through a convoluted process determines how much water to release into the rivers. There are two branches fed by these reservoirs – the West Branch of the Delaware (on which the DRC is situated), and the East Branch. They meet in Hancock, NY forming the Delaware River proper, or as we refer to it – the Main stem. For the past week, the release of 165 CFS from Cannonsville Reservoir left the only float fishing available for drift boats in the Main Stem. So, we launched at Fireman’s Park in Hancock, NY, and floated to Buckingham takeout downriver in PA – about 8 miles of river or so. This low water also allows wade fishermen unusual access to the river, so dodging the pylons that the waders presented made for an interesting day of rowing for yours truly!! The day was marked by spotty rises, and sporadic fish, but the bugs were there, and the guys got a good view of what the river is like, and some good tales (I hope) from my guiding days there.
Phil also brought his new ‘toy’ – an Abel Super 5N with a custom artistic graphic – see below. Phil played pro ball, and the reel was a birthday gift from a generous benefactor. Pretty damn cool, and it makes my ULA seem pretty dorky.
At the end, by the area known as The Wall, we had some sippers right at dark. I was able to land a BIG brown on a small Hendrickson (Ephemerella Subvaria for you fellow bug nerds) CDC emerger.
This is the way to break in a new rod! I had purchased a Sage’s brand new “big gun,” the TCX in 9′, 5-wt. (pic) What an awesome big water rod – I couldn’t be happier with it!!
As the night closed in, Randy and Phil each had takes as we slid into the dark, but the wily trout managed to avoid their hook sets. As the light faded, we hooked up the boat, headed back to the lodge, and then went on to have dinner at Lydia’s Crosstown Tavern, the big fisherman’s bar, where we met up with Dennis and John, and a gaggle of my old fishing buddies and fellow guides, including my former mentor at the DRC, Al Caucci, co-author of the definitive book on mayflies: Hatches. After the meet & greet, Dennis informed me that he had hooked a fish out front of the lodge shortly after he arrived, which promptly took him to his backing on a screaming downstream run, and gave him his fly back shortly thereafter. This brought a smile to my face as he now knew the caliber of fish we would be tossing to over the next week.
May 4 (Day Two) – Dennis and John float with Bruce, Phil and Randy with Joe wading, Bart with Jeff, Flick, Brad, Kenny, and Alan on the East Branch.
Our first “official” day began with a hot breakfast at the club, followed by introductions for the boys and their guides. Bruce Miller, a great guide and a great guy with decades of experience on the river would be taking Dennis and John out on the same float Phil, Randy and I had completed the day before. Joey Marinzel, one of the best fishermen, guides, guitar players and flint knappers I have ever met (and also someone who had help train me on the Delaware’s intricacies) took Randy and Phil wading on the West Branch. I floated the East Branch in Wylie’s (muchas gracias again!) raft with Jeff White and Flick Ford. One of my other great buds, Ken Grescek floated with us as well, accompanied by Trout on the Fly guide service owner Brad Yoder (another good fishing buddy), and his friend Alan.
Dennis and John had good luck with bugs, and much less crowded water than the boys and I had the day before. John was the big fish man for the day with an awesome Main Stem brown. I should also pause to say that catching ANYTHING on this river is a big deal. “Technical” just scratches the surface when it comes to describing how tough these fish can be, as everyone quickly discovered! (john fish pic) Dennis hooked up several times, and as these fish are wont to do, broke him off yet again!
Phil and Randy had a fantastic day with Joe (who is also an MMA fighter, FYI), wading the West Branch in various spots. The fish were a bit tougher going, but the bugs did not fail to impress either of them with their sheer numbers and sizes as they covered the river. Randy was the ‘winner’ with several fish landed….
The East Branch is a fickle lady, and today was no different for us. Giant Chubs inhabited some of the best trout lies, tricking us with regularity. After seeing a HUGE explosion of a rise in one hole, I quickly threw a big cast over to the fish, only to have it miss my size 12 March Brown (Stenonema Vicarium) on another vicious take. One more toss to it, and BAM! A football of a brown with a big body, and the strangest little head of all time. What a good fight!!
Flick also had some great shots – check out this video on YouTube of an awesome cast, drift, and set. Be sure to watch the whole thing, as there is a good surprise at the end!
Later in the afternoon, we found some rainbows slashing in heavy riffles near the highway, which we set up on for about 2 hours. The fish were moving around a good amount, which made timing the biggest factor in hooking the buggers. Each of us had a few misses, and I finally got one to eat, landing a nice 19+ incher after a few screaming runs.
As we were sitting in the riffles, we kept noticing “rises” and rings below us in the slack water / tailout of the run. What we found out later was that Kenny and Brad had purchased a wrist rocket sling shot, and were hurling rocks up at us to make us think fish were coming up. Revenge has not been dealt out yet, but don’t worry – victory will be ours!!
We had a great southwestern style dinner at the club, and after another late night of BS and laughter (some generated by John acting as our waiter for the evening) hit the hay.
May 5 (Day 3) – Dennis and John with Joe on a Wade, Phil and Randy with Bruce. Bart with Jeff -wading at the campground.
Dennis and John hit the stream with Joe today, and we rewarded with several fish, with the most notable being a 24” MONSTER that Dennis landed at Hale Eddy on an Hendrickson comparadun that he had tied specifically for the trip. Here are some photos:
Phil and Randy headed out on the river with someone in good rowing shape for a change, and had another good day with reasonable targets, and a few smaller fish. Randy broke off a few bigger ones, which is actually the norm, as everyone quickly discovered!
I waded the Campground with Flick and Jeff, which also constituted some palaver with former DRC owner (and one of my former bosses) Jerry Wolland. With spotty fish and few decent shots, Flick managed one of the only big fish of the night, whacking a BIG colored-up German Brown. Don’t be surprised if this one ends up as a painting.
I managed a “small” 18″ brown, but have no photo evidence to back up this claim aside from a lame “in the net” shot that I won’t bore you with.
Another piece of gear that I acquired prior to this trip was a pair of Simms Guide Boots with the new Streamtread Vibram sole, and I was able to put them to work today. They are definitely comfortable from an ankle support and squishiness point of view, but how do they perform in the water? Supposedly they are stickier than felt, and will not carry/transmit waterbourne scourges such as didymo. Well, I told Corey before I left exactly HOW I would know if they were as legit as everyone said: if I wore and did not think about or even realize that I had them on, they are winners.
That is the way it worked out, and then some. I DID notice that I had them on, but in a great way – I have never had so much control when wading, and will never wear felt again. The grip you get with those things is absolutely spectacular. On flat slippery rocks, Jeff was slipping in his new felt, and I was rock solid. Even more so, when walking on loose gravel (freestones, if you will), I had tons more feel for the bottom, without that slippage you feel with felt. The pattern of the Streamtread lets you grip around small rocks, just like a good hiking sole. Also on dry land (and sand) you actually have grip. In case you can’t tell, I’m in love with these things.
Dinner at the lodge consisted of BBQ ribs – a big chance taken by chef Chris with the crowd we had, but a home run for sure! The guys also got to experience a very OLD Pennsyltucky tradition – Yuengling (prounounced Ying-Ling) beer. The oldest brewery in the US. Needless to say, they were happy campers.
May 6 (day 4) – Everyone to the Beaverkill. I fish Stockport with Jeff, and have dinner at Fabio’s.
Today was the “heritage” part of the tour – fishing on the Beaverkill River, one of the birthplaces of American Fly fishing. This day was interesting, with fish being on far banks, and uncharacteristically deep water, forcing the boys (all of them) to wade deeper and deeper. Three swims ensued, but paid off with good fish, and Phil landing an excellent 20-incher.
It is with great humility and in the interest of full disclosure that I mention some poor advice that Dr. Dennis Burns received from his trip host regarding this water. Dennis, I publicly apologize for sending you to the Beaverkill with a 4-wt. I see large amounts of Single Malt Scotch in your future as a mea culpa for my misdirection.
Jeff and I met the boys in Roscoe to discuss their trip, and then headed over to the Main Stem for some scouting, eventually fishing the Stockport area of the river. Of course, the only consistent fish were on the far bank, unreachable by wading or casting. That being said, Jeff set the hook on what he perceived to be a dink, but after a few HUGE bump-bump-bumps, realized he had erred, and was promptly broken off. I found a fish rising enough to target, and was rewarded with the biggest brown I have ever caught on a dry, and the largest I’ve ever caught (size-wise, not length) on the Delaware.
For dinner, I arranged for a “family-style” meal at Palmi in Equinunk, PA. The restaurant is owned and operated by Fabio Chindamo, from Lake Como, Italy. I know Fabio from my days at th DRC, where he was responsible for the 10 extra pounds I packed on every school season. An amazing chef, and a definite “character,” we were able to meet him late after our day on the river for an amazing feast, where we were joined by Al, Jerry and Jeff. The food was amazing, blowing everyone away, and the floor show did not disappoint – Fabio and Al are ALWAYS entertaining when they get together!
We retired to John and Dennis’ room for some commiseration and Scotch (my first mea culpa), which ended up lasting until 2:30 AM – well worth the pain the following morning when 7:30 rolled around!!
May 7 (day 5) – Dennis and John wade with Stevie Shen, Randy and Phil float the main with Kevin.Bruce and I float the lower Main Stem.
Dennis and John had the opportunity to fish with Stevie Shen, one of the club’s younger guides, and also one of the sharpest and passionate on the river. While at the PA State Gamelands, Dennis had multiple shots (and hook ups!) but none made it to the net, in typical Delaware fashion. Afterwords a trip to Home Pool (in front of the DRC) yielded great hatching, and a great leaper for Dr. Burns. Although not the most productive day, perhaps the most memorable!
Phil and Randy floated with Kevin, another younger guide, and also one of the most patient- if he sees fish, he will put a stalk on like nobody’s business. They floated the Main Stem, and stuck a few fish, but saw plenty of bugs and rises throughout the day. Phil had a nice one take right before evening.
I floated the lower Main Stem with Bruce, heading farther south than I had ever been. After some SERIOUS takes and follows on streamers, the day slowed down a little bit for us. Brucie managed to hook an awesome rainbow, and a decent brown by the time the day was over – not bad for his birthday, huh? I would have included the photo of the brown, but Brucie’s “moose knuckle” isn’t an image I thought I should share.
I managed to set new tippet class world records for River Chubs, one of which was sexually assaulted by several male American Shad as I brought it in – very strange behavior, and one that neither of us had witnessed before. Pretty dang cool, and an amazingly beautiful float.
May 8 (day 6) – Museum tour where we meet Joan Wulff, Randy and Phil leave, John, Dennis and I fish the campground with Big Al.
Today was the day we went to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, also the home of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. Prior to our arrival there, we took the time to drive down the winding forest road to Delaware Delicacies, a local (and very famous) smokehouse situated on the East Branch. Ray, the owner, catches Freshwater Eel in the the only licensed and operational eel weir left in the United States. An eel weir is basically a funnel in the river made of rocks, that sends the majority of the current into a central chute, where a wooden slat-trap allows water to get through, but not the eels. Trout are supposedly strong enough swimmers to get out if they find themselves in the trap. Ray then smokes the eels with applewood, creating a very unique, and desired product. Just about every Asian tour bus that comes to the area makes a stop there! Randy got some good pointers on smoking salmon, and after helping capitalism along, we headed over to Livingston Manor and the museum.
As we drove in to the Catskill Center, we saw a slight, white-haired woman walking up to the gift shop at the museum. Dennis and I quickly realized who it was, and he exclaimed, “Holy shit, that’s Joan Wulff!!” We quickly headed into the shop, and after introductions, were able to get some photos with the First Lady of Fly Fishing. She is incredibly sweet, and was very accommodating to a bunch of hooligan fly fishermen looking for a picture!!
After a nice slow tour of the museum (where we saw a fly tied by Theodore Gordon, and one of the first fishing vests ever (invented by one Lee Wulff), we parted ways with Phil and Randy, who had to drive to Syracuse to catch flights back to the central time zone.
John, Dennis and I headed back to the DRC, where we went to the campground to fish for the evening. Al was fishing there, and after kick-seining some bugs, and an informal entomology class with the master, we focused on the river.
Fish were few and far between, but I was lucky enough to hook a fish, at which point my rod tip broke, and the fish threw. Awesome. I assure you no cursing was involved. Kinda. After switching back to my new TCX, and about 30 minutes later, the fish came up again. At least I hope it was the same fish – it was in the exact same lie, and just as big. After all, I had a score to settle. A big toss later, a slight little rise (the big guys rarely make much noise), and a rod lift, and it was game on, with another awesome West Branch Brown. I need to buy a bigger net.
A final dinner at the lodge was quite nice, although we missed Randy and Phil’s always amusing input. I said farewell to John, as he was leaving at the crack of dawn, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to fish with him again in the near future.
May 9 (day 7) – Departure day.
Dennis and I said our goodbyes (not for too long, as I am sure I’ll see him in the shop on Monday for his daily “decompression”), and I headed out to fish with Brucie and friend, Bernie. We decided to fish just downstream of the lodge, to avoid the wade crowds that a Saturday can bring. As we walked down to the river, we came to the edge of an island, where I saw a brown that had to be close to 26” in a lie that I would NEVER have expected. I could see all his color, hook jaw and all. He just moseyed away as we approached – no chance of catching that one.
After not seeing many rises, Bernie went up into a riffle, and promptly hooked his first fish for the year – a big, fat brown. Not a sucky way to start a season, that’s for sure! Nearby was a nice, flat rock, not unlike a drift boat in size. We all took advantage of it to sit and watch the water (while we BSed), and as we sat there, Bernie and I saw a rise about 20ft off of our perch. I got up to cast, and Bruce said,”Where was he?” I replied, “Right there.” His response: “was he over there by that rock?” To which Bern and I replied pretty much in unison, “NO! RIGHT THERE!!”
I threw two casts over where it had risen, and on the second shot, we saw the fish move from about 6 feet away from my fly, come up and take it. I have no idea how the hell I kept my nerve and didn’t just rip the thing away from the fish. That usually happens when you see the sucker coming a mile away. It was a beautiful fish, smaller than Bernie’s, but still another fat, West Branch brown.
After a bit more watching and waiting, I had to call it a trip, and headed back to the Finger Lakes, and eventually Dallas.The trip was a tremendous amount of fun, and definitely a humbling experience for everyone – basically a typical Delaware scenario! Good fish, good food, good friends, some celebrities and a little bit of history – what more could you ask for?
Randy Imel sent me his thoughts on the trip, and I thought I would share them in closing. I think he truly ‘got’ what the Delaware is all about:
“I cast my first fly line only four years ago, but I read almost daily about the sport. Three months ago I was reading an interview with Nick Lyons, author, publisher and lifelong angler. He commented that at this stage of his fishing career, the thing that excited him most was not the big numbers, but difficult fish that challenged him as an angler.
I simply love to catch any trout and spend time in their environment, difficult, easy or just plain luck. The “tug is the drug” for me and I am not ashamed to admit it.
Going ‘back east,’ where American fly-fishing was born, was a trip I had eagerly anticipated for about two months. The hatches (March Brown) can be epic on the Delaware, and if you are fortunate to be there, 30-fish days are common that include monster Browns.
I traveled there to throw dry flies (Hendrickson Caddis and March Brown) to rising fish. My biggest fish was a fat 18 inches, while Phil, Dennis and Bart had a 20 and 22 inchers respectively; and Bart’s personal best, a 24. We earned every fish we caught.
The highlight of the trip, other than getting into my backing twice, was a private dinner with fly-fishing legend Al Caucci. With the restaurant door locked and the room to ourselves, eight anglers had an Italian feast by Chef Fabio, half Robin Williams, half Mario Batali. The only way to duplicate the event would be to charter a jet, fly everyone to Tuscany and hopefully have some connections with a top Italian chef. The food, wine and camaraderie with AL combined to be one of the top five dining experiences of my life.
When asked about the demanding nature of the fishery, Joey a local guide, said you just have to “embrace it.” His words were so correct and my mantra for the rest of the trip. When you fish the Delaware, it reminds of the line in the Frank Sinatra song, “New York, New York“ — If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
If asked, ”Would you go back?”, my answer would be yes with the following conditions:
I’m a better caster.
- I’m a better mender
- I’m a better “big guy”
- I’m ready to throw at some of the most challenging trout in America.
Bart, thank you and Tailwaters for including em in this memorable trip. I’m not quite at the same stage as Nick Lyons and the Delaware trout are safe for now.”
Randy Imel, humbled angler