Last Friday morning I headed to the sacred fly fishing grounds of the Catskill Mountains in southeastern New York. If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, you may remember my friend Josh that keeps a permanent RV site in Equinunk, PA. It was almost one year ago that I visited Josh and made the decision to start writing the Wooly Bugged blog. Read the first ever Wooly Bugged blog post here.
This is the second year in a row that I’ve attempted to hit the peak of the Hendrickson mayfly hatch on the waters of the Catskills. Typically late April is a solid bet, but this year we’ve had a wet spring and the water has filled the reservoirs and this has led to cold bottom water release on the West and East Branches of the Delaware River. The reports out of the West Branch Angler have said that bug activity has been limited and most action has been happening on the warmer water on the Main Stem, south of the town of Hancock, New York.
I arrived in Equinunk on Friday morning and Josh already had the ClackaCraft hitched to the back of his Toyota. I transferred my gear to the boat boxes and by lunchtime we were backing the drift boat down the Shehawkin boat ramp on the lower West Branch. Late last week the water flows were on the high side because of heavy rains from earlier in the week. We got the boat in the water and were on the Main Stem in a matter of minutes. We anchored up at the Main Stem junction and observed bug activity on the swift, but clear water. There was a steady Caddis fly hatch happening with the occasionally Blue Quill mayfly skittering off the surface. The fish however, were nowhere to be found.
Josh and I drifted for a good thirty minutes before we finally found some rising fish. As Josh was setting the anchor on these fish I noticed there were Hendricksons coming off and drifting into the slack water close to the bank where these fish were feeding. Using my Scott G2, a 12 foot leader and a CDC Hendrickson Dun imitation, I put several drifts over these trout and eventually I was able to convince one to take my fly. This fish screamed down river in the heavy flows. I was able to fight him for a minute or so and I eventually saw the fish near the surface and it was a nice wild brown trout. As he surfaced in the heavy current my fly popped out of his mouth. My first wild Delaware River brown trout of the year, gone!
There were a lot of boats on the water. Obviously Josh and I aren’t the only ones that know late April is a sweet time for Delaware bug activity. We drifted downriver past guide boats and private anglers enjoying the sun. We spent the afternoon searching for rising fish and Hendrickson mayflies that were hard to come by. Josh hooked up on a beautiful fish in the midafternoon that popped the hook out. It wasn’t until late afternoon that Josh and I anchored up on a couple of trout that were rising to a prolific tan Caddis hatch. Josh was able to fool a wily brown trout and fought him for a good five minutes. I was finally able to net him and it was awesome to see this fish up close and take some pictures.
As the sun dropped and the air temperatures dipped into the high 50s Josh and I arrived at the Buckingham take out, pulled out the boat, and headed back to camp to grill some venison and sit by the fire.
On Saturday Josh and I headed to Roscoe, New York to wade fish the Beaverkill River. It was an overcast day but the Beaverkill was at an optimal flow and we were again hoping to find the start of some Hendrickson action. We fished a section of water along Old State Road, which is only five minutes outside of Roscoe. When we arrived no one else was on the water. As usual, the Junction Pool and many of the bridges were cramped with cars and fishermen, but for some reason this area was empty.
Josh and I waded out and fished the first run along the highway. The Caddis activity was incredible. There’s a Caddis fly that comes off in New York that the locals refer to as a Shad Caddis or Shad Fly. In many other fly fishing circles, this caddis is known as the Apple Caddis. These Caddis flies were everywhere. They were bunched up on the edges of rocks and the air was thick with them. But in true Catskill style, the fish were not rising to them. While fishing this first riffle, Josh hooked up with a very nice wild brown trout.
This was the only morning action we would see. After two hours of fishing, Josh and I were disappointed; the Beaverkill fish just weren’t active, either on top or sub-surface. There was an overwhelming feeling that we were just too early this spring. Around lunchtime we headed downstream to the trestle bridge and found a handful of fish sporadically rising. I was able to fool a beautiful wild rainbow on a Caddis nymph drifted under an indicator. This would be the only fish I’d catch on Saturday.
If you’re wondering why Josh and I didn’t drift the Delaware, it’s because the annual one bug tournament was going on and the river was covered with more boats than you can imagine. However, that tournament supports the Friends of The Upper Delaware River, so in the end it is good for the region. With uncooperative fish, Josh and I ended the day early and headed back to camp.
When Josh and I had been in Roscoe on Saturday we stopped in at the Catskill Flies fly shop and chatted with Dennis. He mentioned that the Neversink Gorge had been fishing well the past couple of days. Josh and I decided that on Sunday we’d drive to Rock Hill, put on our hiking boots and make the 30 minute trek into the gorge at the Katrina Falls Road access. With full stomachs from a Roscoe Diner breakfast, we laced up our hiking boots and made our way to the banks of the Neversink.
The New York Department of Conversation has almost 5,000 acres of public land that is known as the Neversink Unique Area. There are many access points and miles of wild trout water to fish. This truly is a hidden gem of east coast wild trout fishing. When we got on the water I was fishing with my Scott G2 9’-5wt and a 9’-5X leader, using a nymphing rig that included my own Hare’s Ear pattern with a Caddis emerger dropper. During the first twenty minutes I didn’t have any success with the dropper fly so I changed the Caddis out for a small #18 Pheasant Tail Nymph. I don’t know if it was the fly combination, time of year, or bug activity under the surface, but the remainder of the day turned into one of the best days of wild trout fishing I’ve ever experienced. Using my nymph rig under an indicator I worked my way upriver, working ever riffle, run, and pocket and I just kept hooking up with wild brown trout. These fish were hungry and aggressively took my Hare’s Ear Nymph. It was incredible. Many of the fish I caught were in the 10”-12” range, but I caught a handful in the 16”-18” range and they were incredible fish. I felt blessed to be there. I ran into other fishermen, and almost everyone I chatted with was catching fish.
Throughout the day the Caddis hatch was prolific, with clouds of Caddis covering the water surface at times. Later in the afternoon the fish were consistently rising to Caddis on the surface. I switched over to a #14 Caddis emerger pattern and fished it dry on the surface. I caught a dozen good fish on this fly before days end. At 6:00PM I had worked my way upstream to the upper Unique Area boundary and I started to get concerned about getting out of the gorge before dark. I made my way back downriver and was fortunate enough to run into some really nice local guys who pointed me in the right direction. They showed me pictures of some wild brown trout they’d caught the week prior that were well over 20” and I was blown away. After finding the trail, I hiked my way out of the gorge and found that Josh had been waiting in the parking lot for a couple of hours. Fortunately he stuck around to give me a ride back to camp! Friends, if you’ve never fly fished the Neversink River, it’s an adventure waiting to be found. Put it near the top of your bucket list.