Delaware River Flashback

Memories are the treasures in old age

Oh happy days; the new edition of American Fly Fishing arrived in the mail this week. I subscribed to this magazine when it was Pacific Northwest Fly Fishing and was initially not very happy when they combined their regional publications into one nation-wide version. However, the articles on various destinations in the East, particularly NY and PA, bring back a lot of wonderful memories of fishing these waters.

To my delight the January/February issue includes an article on the Mainstem Delaware River. I have so many wonderful memories of trips to the Catskills, many with my long time fishing buddy, Mike Krol, and with other fishing friends from Rochester. In the early years our trips were focused on the famous Beaverkill River around the hamlet of Roscoe, NY (a.k.a. Trout Town USA). In later years I was more regularly attracted to the big waters of the Delaware drainage, West Branch, East Branch and the Mainstem or “Big D”. Mike and I did occasionally venture over to the Big D a few times.

Mike Krol working a run upstream of Equinunk, PA on the Big D
Mike at the vice in hopes of matching the hatch

One memory of the Big D the article brought to mind was a trip with Mike. Our first stop was near Binghamton, NY to visit Mike’s friend and fellow lover of English Setters, Mike ‘Mac’ McDonald who would be joining us on this trip to the Catskills. We stayed at Mac and Wendy’s place the first night. I recall waking up on the pull-out sofa staring into the eyes of Mac’s setter with his head laying on the edge of the bed. One second after opening my eyes I was joined in that bed by a slobbering dog anxiously waiting for someone to wake up and pay him some attention.

In Roscoe we met up with another of Mike’s bird hunting buddies, Galen Wilkins, who had the air of confidence of a man who had waded many miles of rivers in his day. His travels in the West even earned him a mention in Gary LaFontaine‘s classic reference book, Caddisflies.

My copy

Above, Galen Wilkins at my vice demonstrating the Wilki Bug and with a nice Beaverkill River trout

Mike and Mac fish the Beaverkill River above Painter’s Bend

The four of us visited another bird hunting friend, Dave Williams, who owned a house (a.k.a. fishing camp) in Equinunk, PA with the river in his backyard. Equinunk is just a wide spot in the road with one store that includes the post office, general merchandise store, and a deli. Interestingly, you can get an amazing deli sandwich in most any backwoods town in the Catskills run by an escapee from New York City. We ordered sandwiches to go and as I was waiting for mine I heard the other guys laughing in the back of the store. As we were leaving Mac said, “where else would you expect to find tampons and .30-06 ammo on the same shelf”? To me, that has always summed up Equinunk, PA.

Delaware above Equinunk, PA.

After fishing a couple of runs on the Big D we went back to Dave’s house to talk fishing and have a beer or two and wait for the evening sulfur mayfly hatch. This is a particularly prolific hatch on the Delaware. As evening approached we pulled on our waders, grabbed our rods, and headed out the back door of Dave’s place to fish the large bend pool. We joined the line of fishermen along the near shore of this deep pool, all a respectable distance from each other. A light drizzle had begun and in the growing gloom it made for an surreal kind of atmosphere. As we stood waiting for the trout to rise within casting range I could hear the muffled voices of the collected anglers along with the patter of rain drops on the hood of my rain jacket. It was so peaceful and magical at the same time. As if they knew, the trout began rising steadily just beyond the range of any of the proficient fly casters in that collection of anglers. These were experienced Catskill anglers that know how to make accurate casts of 50 feet or more. When I realized I was never going to get my small yellow dry fly out to these fish, I just stood there and soaked it all in. Some how I knew this was going to be a time I wanted to commit to memory. I looked across the river which was becoming harder to see in the growing darkness and looked up to the tree tops. Against the overcast sky at the very top of a dead pine tree was the silhouette of a Great Horned Owl. I suppose taking in the scene of a dozen men flailing nine foot sticks with no apparent purpose.

The author of the article made a great point about the challenges of fishing for Delaware River trout. You better have your skills well honed before you go or you are likely to be humbled. To paraphrase my friend and fly fishing mentor, Carl Coleman, “If you can consistently catch fish on the Delaware, you can catch them anywhere.”

1 thought on “Delaware River Flashback

  1. Great memories, Steve, I well recall that time on the Big D made possible by the generous welcome from Dave Williams, God rest him. In retirement I have made a point of making annual trips to the Catskills and managed to improve my casting and fly tying to at least a presentable level. The trout still outwit me for the most part but I wouldn’t trade the experiences for the world. Best of luck with your blog. Tight lines, Mac

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