First Blog Post & Fly Fishing The Catskill Rivers

This blog post is a big deal because it’s my first one. I have been thinking about starting a blog for a few years now but I could never settle on a subject that I could support with an endless stream of content. A few weeks ago as I was fishing the early Caddis hatch on the Tulpehocken Creek and it hit me, I’m passionate about fishing, specifically fly fishing. I’ve been fishing for 30 years and fly fishing for 15. In recent years my fly fishing adventures have started taking me to various locations across the country and I want to share my stories, pictures, and videos. This is why I’m starting the Wooly Bugged Blog.

  The West Branch of the Delaware River at sunset.

The West Branch of the Delaware River at sunset.

What better story to share for my first blog post than my recent four-day trip to the birthplace of fly fishing, the rivers of the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York state. Last Saturday morning I drove up to Equinunk, Pennsylvania to meet my buddy Josh who keeps a permanent campsite in the area. In 2015 Josh purchased a new drift boat from ClackaCraft in Idaho and we’d been talking about drifting the Hendrickson hatch on the Delaware for months. I was excited while heading to New York because the previous week the West Branch had seen what many fishermen had claimed to be the best bug hatches in 30 years of fishing on the river. I had visions of giant West Branch wild brown trout inhaling #12 Hendrickson duns on the top. On Saturday morning Josh and I got up, hooked up the boat and decided to focus on the Main Stem because the flows on the West Branch were borderline low. We put in at the Shehawkin launch of the lower West Branch and spent the entire day fishing the five to six miles to the Buckingham takeout. The Main Stem was high from rain on Friday, running at about 4000 CFS. The fishing did not live up to the visions I had on the drive up, but it wasn’t bad either. A good description would be sporadic. When we hit the Main Stem there were some great hatches happening and we anchored the boat. There were at least a dozen fish within thirty yards that were consistently rising to various bugs, including Hendrickson duns, Caddis, and Blue Quills. A half-dozen of those fish were pushing 18”-20” in length. The biggest issue was the moderate wind that was dogging us all day. Delaware trout are tough enough to present a fly to in calm conditions, but add wind and it seems an almost impossible task. Josh was using a Scott Radian 9’-5# and I was using a Scott G2 9’-5# and both did an excellent job of pushing the fly through the wind to the fish. But as we experienced most of the day, as soon as we keyed on what the fish were taking, they were back down under the surface. Josh did connect with a PAC-MAN (PAC-MAN Trout: A trout that is feeding so frequently and aggressively on flies that it resembles the video game icon PAC-MAN eating dots) brown trout that was feeding against the rocks that measured 20”. My highlight of the day was anchoring up on a 18” Rainbow that was feeding in a small riffle about three feet off the bank and fooling him on an #16 Emerald Green CDC Pop-Caddis fly on the top. The fight those wild Rainbows on the Delaware give is unbelievable.

On Sunday, Josh and I decided to opt for exploring some other Catskill rivers on foot. We first took a drive up to Roscoe, New York and stopped in at Catskill Flies Fly Shop. The owner there has some incredible hand tied patterns, some of the best I’ve seen. We headed over to the Beaverkill River with some Golden Stone patterns we’d picked up. Josh had a beautiful brown trout on his first cast. After a few casts I hooked up with a large wild brown trout and he gave me a great fight that I caught on the GoPro (watch the YouTube video below to check out that fight). 

Before leaving I hooked into a really good fish under the highway bridge, only to have him break me off downriver. We spent the rest of the day exploring other sections of the Beaverkill like Barnhart’s Hole but were unsuccessful in landing more fish. The Beaverkill was running high on Sunday and the wind was again relentless. That evening Josh didn’t want to fish the evening session but after a lot of convincing, I got him out to the Lower Game Lands to see if we could catch some big browns cruising for bugs. When we first got there, a few small Rainbows were rising to Hendricksons in the riffles, but we were unsuccessful in fooling them. Josh walked up to the long pool and I walked downstream to the island. Unfortunately I should’ve taken the GoPro and gone with Josh. He noticed the wind blowing a pile of mayflys into the current on the left bank and found a huge brown feeding only a foot off the bank in less than a foot of water. The fish was gulping flies like a carp off the surface. With one well-placed CDC Hendrickson, Josh hooked up with the fish and fought him for 20 minutes before landing him and snapping this picture. He estimated this fish to be between 20’-22”.

 Josh's West Branch wild brown trout.

Josh's West Branch wild brown trout.

On Monday morning my buddy Steve joined us to get back on the drift boat. By Monday morning the West Branch flows were up because of release from the Cannonsville Reservoir. We launched the boat at the Barking Dog launch and navigated some low water and wading fisherman until we hit open water. We found a great stretch where large trout were rising to Hendricksons and Caddis. All three of us had numerous hook-ups but no one landed fish — welcome to the West Branch. It is both exciting and incredibly frustrating to watch a 20”+ wild trout take your dry fly, rip 50 yards of line off your reel, only to see your line go limp. We fished hard all day and didn’t pull the boat out of Ball’s Eddy until well after dark at which point the temperatures were in the 40s and we were frozen.

 Our daily camp breakfast, the bacon and egg sandwich.

Our daily camp breakfast, the bacon and egg sandwich.

Tuesday morning has us back on our feet and we first headed to the Shehawkin riffles and did some nymphing but with no success. After lunch we headed back to the Lower Game Lands. Although there were a lot of folks on the water, were able to find riffles to fish and both Steve and I had some great action dead drifting #12 Pheasant Tails and Hendrickson nymphs under indicators. Some of these fish battles are in the video above.

This was my third trip to the Delaware River system and while it wasn’t what I’d been dreaming about, it was an incredible learning experience. If you fish the Delaware and don’t come away with new fly fishing knowledge, then you aren’t paying attention. I’m hoping to head back up in mid-June.