Jerry Darkes breaks in the Stealth Drifter.
For info on a stealth drifter contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyway, about a month back a bunch of the SAO gang headed out to the Delaware River in New York to do a little fishing. By the end of the trip I was the designated blogger. Partly because I have a little more experience with that type of water, and mostly because... well I was the only one lucky enough to hook and land a nice brown. Best of intentions and all that, and several reminders later I was still ruminating on my Delaware experience. That is until I picked up a hardback copy of Mike Lawson's Spring Creeks while I was waiting for the boys to finish up their business.
Sign should read, "Anglers beware of highly selective trout".
Now, I'm no expert on fishing spring creeks... but as I leafed through the Lawson's book I took a certain amount of pride in recognizing a number of the creeks he lists as places I've fished and or even guided a time or two in past, all western rivers I was familiar with from my 10 years experience on the West Coast. What I hadn't expected however was to find the Delaware listed as the finest "spring creek" fishing on the entire East Coast. In fact, I wasn't aware any of the western trout gurus could see over the Rockies let alone leave their rugged mountains to sample spring creek fishing east of the Mississippi. Inspired by reading about the fishing on a river I had recently been on, I thought it might be time to blog and throw in my 2 cents on the matter.
Broad pools and long tails provide excellent feeding lies.
On the run up to the trip I was excited for two reasons. First, I would get a chance to be behind the oars again; one the few things I really miss about fishing out west. Second, I would be doing a complete 180 from my previous trout trip to Penns Creek. From stomping through pocket water tight lining my way through every fishy looking slot and bucket to anchoring up 60 ft away of a suspected big nose making the slightest dimple on the surface of the water. Talk about a change up!
Back in the Captain's chair; John Miller's BT Screamer.
I'd like to think I was on top of my game, I still had all the technical knowledge, but it had been a while since I'd actually gone after some "wily" trout. Stealth is the name of the game when fishing for selective trout. Part of that stealth is keeping a healthy distance from the fish and that almost always means a down and across drift. DAAC is the best way to keep or feed slack into the line to achieve a drag free drift. That means anchoring the drift boat far above the fish and then sneaking down to them either by lifting the anchor and off the bottom just enough to slide down or letting out the anchor rope. Selectively feeding fish can be very spooky to the loud noise of the anchor hitting bottom or oars slapping the surface of the water.
Wading angler casting to risers on the bank.
Of course we didn't always fish in the boat, especially in long shallow flats that allowed for easy wading to the center of the river. Typical of most spring creek style fisheries, the larger fish are along the banks or in the tailouts in areas that provide both a good feeding lane and easy access to cover. So most of the time having a boat to fish from is better not only for the height advantage for spotting fish and casting, but for the ability to position the boat in any depth water anywhere in the river.
Looking for head on a "drive by".
Once rising fish are spotted, the normal etiquette is for one angler to fish at a time until a fish is hooked, pricked, or put down. Then the next angler is up. Of course, gear problems (tangles, breaking off flies in the bank vegetation, etc.) result in an automatic trip to the penalty box. Long leaders and fine tippet are the norm to help defeat the micro currents on the surface of the water. One thing I had forgotten, and was reminded by our SAO resident professor of Spring Creeks, John Miller, is the importance of the type of leader material that is used. Most extruded tapered leaders have too limp a butt section to accurately turn over a fly and have only the TIPPET section land in pile. It wasn't until about the second day that I realized my casting was fine, but my leader sucked. I would have been better off fishing a hand built number with maxima chameleon butts or buying a hand tied leader. (Using a fly line with a long front taper is also key for a delicate presentation).
Slack line cast down and across.
July for the most part is a small fly time of year. Typically each successive generation of the hatch is smaller than the last and by the time spring is over the tiny guys are left and the fish are quite picky. Plus the water is low and clear and they are spooky. We mainly fished sulphurs and beatis patterns in all stages of the hatch in sizes #18-22. Most of time a slightly larger indicator fly is needed to provide a visual clue where your size #22 floating emerger or spinner is 50 feet from the boat. One thing I didn't remember to bring, but would have come in really handy while sitting in the rower's seat was a pair of binoculars to spot fish, watch the drift, and even try to figure out what some of those stubborn bastards were eating.
Tiny Beatis emerger.
Perhaps the most difficult part of spring creek fishing, and the part I think that everyone else who hadn't fished for selective trout before, was the waiting around for something to happen. Spring creek style fishing is selective all around, not just the fish being picky with their vitals and it's presentation BUT when and how often they choose to eat. Unfortunately for us, the hatches nor the fish never really got into a steady rhythm for most of the trip. We had a lot of one time charlie rises and sporadic signs of big noses, but even the junk feeders seemed to be on a diet. For guys used to the fast action of opportunistic feeding freestone river trout spring creek fishing can sometimes feel like torture.
Kicking back with cold fried chicken waiting for it to happen.
Dude, no amount of staring will make the bugs hatch.
Well, I didn't lie at the beginning of my post. I really did catch a nice brown at the end of the trip. Here's how it went down. After the rest of the crew left, JM and I kicked back, tuned up and took a more sober approach the dire situation the last two days had impressed upon us. No reason to be on the river before noon, if it was going to happen it would be late afternoon to dark at best. Lucky for me because I had the opportunity to cast two of the best fly rods I have ever picked up.
Besides being an incredible macro photographer, Prof Miller is one hell of good cane rod builder. I never knew that cane could be so light and have such a quick recovery rate. Not only were they fantastic to cast, but I had never seen a "quad" can rod before. Effortless to cast super short and able to bomb out almost the entire line, sexy ferrules, hand turned reel seats and a proprietary seating system that shifts the weight of the reel for a different balance point in the hand. Have to say I'm seeing cane in a whole new light these days...
Anyway, to cut right to the chase we floated a lower section of river that had a higher gradient and the opportunity to nymph throughout the day. Got a bunch of smaller fish and John explained that as a result of NYC monkey @#$%^$% the D by holding back flows during a critical spawning time a couple of year classes of brown trout were wiped out a while back. So, where I would have expected a good number of 12-17 inch fish they just didn't exist. Only dinks and trophies inhabited the river. Furthermore, none of the big fish hung out in the riffs, they preferred the banks and tails and impossible current seams and back eddies, etc.
Sun setting on the Delaware River.
Finally, in the last couple of hours of light we came upon a pod of fish. We could see four big noses steadily working the far lane of a tailout in current that pushed gently toward the middle of the river at it flowed into the tail. We set up about 60 feet out and waited to establish the rhythm of the rises. I picked the closest of the four and dialed in the drift. Down and across, no take, let it slide past, slow retrieve back, cast of to the side to shed water and not spook fish, one false cast and lay it down in the lane again. After many fly changes and a couple tippet changes, there was barely enough light to see. The fish had taken bugs all round my fly as it drifted down his feeding lane and not once nosed up on my bug.
We slid down to within 40 feet and JM tied on a good sized march brown on my leader. I said a silent prayer and spit a tobacco offering off the side of the boat. I couldn't see, but make a cast to the spot I thought would drift right between it's eyes. After all, I had been casting to the same spot for the last hour or so. I let it drift and shook line, but something seemed different this time. Not able to see the fly and just barely making out the fly line I could make out a belly of line forming downstream of where my fly should be. Either I made a really bad slack line cast or... the fish finally took the fly. I tentatively stripped a little slack out, slowly lifted the rod to set the hook using the drag on the line in the water, and the fish was on!
19.25 inches of Success!
After a quick maneuvering of the drift boat and a tough but short battle, my first real Delaware brown was to hand. By that time the sun had just gone down and it was time to row out the rest of the float to the boat launch. I'd like to think I outwitted that wily trout, but my gut feeling is that I just got lucky. That is, if lucky means I didn't give up and throw in the towel when it refused every offering the professor gave me to fool him. I didn't lose focus and start shot gunning the area in desperation casting from one fish to the next. I didn't rush my drifts and put the fish down. And I didn't react wildly when I thought I it might have taken the fly. Yep, I'll admit I got lucky.
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