The West Branch is known for very large fish and a 33-inch whopper of
a brown was taken in the no-kill stretch in 1998. Some large fish are
taken during springtime when water spills over the top of the Cannonville
Dam bringing alewives into the river. Anglers should fish very large
white streamers (i.e., Zonkers in size 2) on sink-tip lines (200 grain
is preferred) along the banks and around grassy knolls, ideally from
boats during high water. The fall is also an excellent time to catch some
very large trout.
The time of the Brown and Green Drake emergence and spinner fall
sometime in early June also presents a perfect opportunity for taking
big fish. An added bonus during this time is the nighttime emergence
of Acroneuria stoneflies (best imitated by yellow
Stimulator patterns in size 8) and big Pteronarcys
salmonflies (in size 4). Anglers braving the night are sometimes
rewarded with 20- to 24-inch rainbows and browns. By late May, water
levels are unusally low, making the river easily navigable and more
The no-kill section is located from Rt.17 Bridge down river for two
miles. According to the NYDEC personnel, this stretch probably holds
the most number of fish (about 1000 per mile) and the largest in the
West Branch during most of the season.
Downstream from Hale Eddy begins the "border waters," where on the
west side, the river is bordered by the state of Pennsylvania. There
is good access (angler's parking is marked by Pennsylvanis) along the
road which parallels the river. The "Gamelands," as it is referred to,
contains miles of good fishing water.
In Hancock, easy access is found at the bridge on Rt. 191. This pool
gets fished heavily but is also known to hold big fish. Work your way
down from the fast water on top (from the east side) to the deeper
section below. Good fish tend to rise just out of reach on the far
side of the deep section and a boat is needed to effectively present
the fly. Moreover, the current slow in the tail out of this pool just
to make things more difficult.
The Main Branch
The Main Branch of the Delaware River is formed by the confluence of
two tailwaters, the West and East Branches of Delaware. From the
Junction pool in Hancock, New York, the Delaware meanders around
hills where towering conifers abound, flowing through four states
and finally emptying into Delaware Bay. However, it is the first
twenty or so miles which harbor decent wild-rainbow populations,
consisting mostly of browns and rainbows. Summertime releases from
the Cannonville Reservoir keep water temperatures fairly cool but
only for a few miles downstream of Hancock.
The main Delaware is characterized by a series of long and deep
pools. During heavy water releases, the "Big D," as it is referred to
by Delaware River regulars, resembles a giant spring creek. With its'
grassy banks and huge boulders that occasionally spot the river bottom,
the main stem is big water with huge, mile-long pools that resemble
small lakes. Trout are all wild in the Big D and its rainbows are
legendary in their blistering runs, often peeling off yeards of
backing. Large fish often sip small insects off the top in "chum
lines" created by eddies and structures. Precise hatch matching is
a must and frequent refusals by seasoned fish are a common occurrence.
Delaware's water is relatively calm and flat and so can be intimidating
to the novice anglers. Learning how to fish a large river with flat
water can be difficult and so hiring a guide for a float trip on a
McKenzie style drift boat is highly recommended.
Important Mayfly Hatches
There are many species of mayflies that inhabit the Delware
watershed. Due to their abundance, some are more important than
others for the fly-fisherman. The following is a list of important
mayflies in the Delaware River. [For the FLIES of the Delaware
Epeorus pleuralis, or Quill Gordon, is an early
season hatch, usually occuring in mid-April. Nymphs inhabit the
oxygen-rich fast waters and bolt to the surface during their
emergency. They are fast swimmers and anglers can best imitate
their emergence by allowing a wet-fly imitation to swing downstream
and rise up at the end of the presentation (i.e., Leisenring swing).
An effective way to fish this "miserable weather fly" is to cast
a duck-quill winged wet fly upstream and allow it to sink. As the
fly swims downstream, twitch it to entice the fish into striking.
At the end of the swing, twitch the fly again as it rises up toward
the surface. This famous hatch can last to mid-May during some
seasons. I have found that hatching can occur when the water
temperatures and is sustained at around 50 degrees. Unfortunately,
pollution and siltation has restricted the range of these mayflies
in the Delaware.
I have experienced good hatches of pleuralis species
on the lower stretches of the Delaware, especially around Collicoon.
However, the unpredictability of the weather in the early season
makes this hatch a very difficult one to fish. Quill Gordons
have been known to hatch on cold and windy spring days. Try to
stick to days with warm afternoon temperatures for more predictable
Publishers Note: Listed below are other major hatches
by name. The book provides the same depth of information on each
of them as for the Quill Gorden above.
- Paraleptophiebia adoptiva: Blue Quill.
- Ephemerella subvaria:: Hendrickson.
- Ephemerella rotunda: Red Quill or Dark Henrickson.
- Ephemerella dorotheas: Surphur.
- Ephemerella cornuta: Blue-Winged Olive.
- Epeorus vitreus: Surphur.
- Stenonema vicarium: March Brown.
- Stenonma fuscum: Gray Fox.
- Stenonema ithaca Light Cahill.
- Ephemera guttulate: Green Drake.
- Ephemera simulans: Brown Drake.
- Ephemerella attenuata: Blue-Winged Olive.
- Tricorythodes: Tricos.
- Baetis: Baetis.
- Pseudocloeon: ultra-tiny Blue-Winged Olive.
- Isonychia bicolor
- Isonychia bicolor
- Potamanthus distinctus
- Ephoron leukon
- Heptagenia hebe
Traditionally hackled Catskill patterns excel in riffled water.
They are designed to float high and stay buoyant. Delaware's flat
water, on the other hand, requires the use of flies which float
lower on the surface film. "Low-profile" flies present a better silhouette
and imitate more closedly the emerger stage of the mayfly. There are many
fly patterns which fall under the catagory of low-profile flies that
are effective on the Delaware. In Selective Trout
Doug Swisher and Carl Richards claim that the most effective fly to
emerge from their studies was the no-hackle fly . . .
Selective Trout popularized the no-hackle patterns and
flies in turn revolutionized the low-profile theories. Swisher and
Richards' innovation ideas led the way for the creation of other
low-profile patterns which are so effective in catching fish.
Comparaduns were developed by Caucci and Nastassi on the Delaware
River. In their book, Hatches II, Caucci and Nastassi
write, ". . .if the water is relatively calm and the duns are riding
the current peacefully, a hackleless pattern such as a Comparadun,
which features a distinct wing silhouette, would be the correct
Presentation is even more important than using the right fly when
fishing the Delaware. Since is river is large, long casts are
frequently made to reach rising fish. Windy conditions are quite
common, a five-weight fished on a nine-foot high modulus graphite
rod is preferred. As a rule of thumb, try to get as close as
possible to rising fish. The shorter the line, the less currents
will have to be dealt with and therefore, less drag on the fly.
If long casts must be made, move up and above the target and
make a quartering downstream cast. However, just before the fly
lands, bring the rod back and allow the fly to land a few feet
above the target. Then instead of mending, bring the rod gradually
forward in the direction of the current so the line will not drag
the fly. Moreover, strip out line to float the fly downstream;
this allows a lot of water to covered below with minimal effort.
Just cast quartering downstream and start stripping out line
without creating too much slack line in case you need to set
According to the NJDNR, close to a million shad enter the Delaware
system each year making it truly the king of shad river. In early
March, shad begin to collect around Delaware Bay; they move into
the Delaware River by late March to early April when the water
temperature rises to about 40 degrees. The shad then travel about
330 miles upstream to the town of Hancock, New York where the main
stem separates into the East and West Branches. At the junction of
the two branches, the majoriety of the shad swim up the East Branch,
some all the way to Pepacton Dam. Even before the reservoirs were
built in the 60s, shad seldom ascented the West Branch. . .
My initiation to shad fishing came as an accident some twenty years
ago. While fishing a dorothea spinner fall one late
June evening, I hooked what I thought was a monster rainbow trout.
After a fierce 10-minute battle (which included spool-clearing runs
and cartwheeling jumps), the fish finally came to my net and to my
amazement, it was a 5-pound silvery shad. I was not only surprised
at the accidental catch but what the fish actively took. From the
time I knew about shad, I thought shad did not feed once they entered
a river system. Many years and countless shad later, I realized this
earlier notion not to be true.
Smallmouth bass are prevalent throught the main river, especially the
warmer sections down river, from Callicoon to Port Jervis (about 40
miles). Walleyes inhabit the deeper pools of the Delaware. Although
not a fly-rod quarry, muskies are stocked in the Delaware. I have never
seen nor caught a musky but hear that they are sometimes taken from a
section of river in Narrowsburg, which contains the deepest pool on the
Delaware. Pennsylvania stocks tiger muskies in certain sections of the
river and regular muskies in others.
Recovery of the striped bass in the Delaware came in the late 1980s when
sewage treatment and discharge into the Delaware was improved . . .which
increased the dissolved oxygen content. Due to lack of data not much is
known on the migration pattern and reproduction of the striped bass in the
Delaware. What is know is tht some very large fish are being caught
throughout the river, sometimes fish as large as one lucky angler's
36-pound 44 1/2-inch monster caught in 1996.
Most striped bass on the Delaware are caught from late summer into
early fall at night. Heavy tackle, up to a 9-weight, is advisable.
Large flies, such as Zonkers in size 4 and minnow patterns up to 1/0,
are recommended. Most stripers are in the 18-28-inch size but on
occasion a large fish will keep things interesting. ~ George L. Spector
For a MAP of The Delaware River, click
For the FLIES for The Delaware River, click
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Credits: From Delaware River part of the River
Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.