The Delaware River, or Big "D," is located in the South Central part of New York State on the Pennsylvania border. It has a rich fly-fishing history and a reputation for being one of the best wild trout fisheries in the world. The cold water from the Cannonsville and Pepacton reservoirs, accompanied by the abundance of insects and wild trout, make this river a "must visit" for all fly fishermen. From the 1870s through the mid-1900s, the Delaware River was known for its outstanding small-mouth bass fishing. There are several different stories about just how the Delaware River's amazing rainbow trout population began. The most memorable one was the tale of an Erie train that was carrying cans of rainbow trout to stock the cool waters of the West Branch. According to the story, there was a train wreck and in a plight to save the fish on board, they were dumped into Callicoon Creek. Despite any of these "tall tales," in the 1880s, rainbows were stocked into small feeder streams on the Delaware in both New York and Pennsylvania, where they thrived for more than 80 years. The Delaware River wasn't known for its trout fishing until the l960s. In l961, the Pepacton Dam was built in Downsville on the East Branch, which took over most of the down-stream releases from the other rivers. These were bottom releases, making some 45 miles of the river cold enough for trout. This cold-water zone extended all the way down to Long Eddy on the main stem.
In 1967, another dam was completed in Cannonsville on the West Branch. The Cannonsville Reservoir took over the majority of the down-stream releases. With the Cannonsville Dam just 11 miles up the West Branch, the cold-water zone was extended all the way down to Callicoon on the main stem. The construction of these two dams changed the upper main stem of the river, turning the East Branch and West branches into cold-water fisheries, suitable for trout fishing. The main stem begins at its famous Junction Pool in Hancock, New York. This pool is where the East and the West branches of the Delaware join, forming the main river. The cold water, or cold-water zone, runs some 27 miles down to Callicoon. The main stem is made up of long, slow moving pools that are interrupted by shallow, faster moving riffles. These riffles are valuable to fly fishermen, since they are well aerated and contain many insects for trout to feed on. The riffles are from one to three feet deep and are made of gravel and small stones.
The Big "D" is the only major Catskill River that is not stocked with trout; however, it contains a great number of both rainbow and brown trout. The farther you travel down river, the fewer brown trout you will find. The greatest reward in fishing the main stem is the opportunity to catch large wild trout. You won't catch enormous quantities of fish in the main stem, but the quality of the fish here is unbelievable. Most fish average from 15 to 18 inches long and weigh between one and two pounds. Fish more than 20 inches long are not uncommon. And these fish are like rocket ships. Most fish you hook will run you into backing. The chance of fooling one or two of these fish into taking a dry fly is worth its weight in gold.
The biggest problem in fishing the Big "D" is access to the river. Most of the river is public, but the land bordering the river is private, so, fishermen must gain permission from the land owners in order to gain access. Once on the river, you can walk up and down the river because that land is public, up to the river's high-water mark. The river does, however, have some public access points off Route 191 on the Pennsylvania side, and off Route 97 on the New York side. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has multiple access points along the river where fishermen also can gain access. For additional information regarding access to the river, contact one of the local fly shops.
The entomology of the Big "D" is absolutely incredible. Almost every eastern species of insect can be found on this river. The variety of habitat and cold water creates great hatches of Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddis. On some nights, the hatches are so thick that it's difficult to see. So, you must know your entomology in order to be successful. It's common to see complex hatches with a number of different types of insects on the water each night. And don't miss the Hendrickson or Green and Brown Drake hatches each spring. Blue-Winged Olives, Sulphurs and Tricos fish well during different times of the summer, and there always seems to be some type of Caddis or Stonefly on the water. The Delaware River system is a dry-fly fisherman's dream.
Although most focus on the Delaware's amazing trout fishing, I like to call attention to the fact that it's also an incredible warm-water fishery. Below the cold-water zone, the river still has great bass fishing. Larger numbers of good-sized large- and small-mouth bass can be caught during most months of the year. The former New Jersey State record Musky also was caught in this river. As fishermen approach the lower end of the river, they can catch striped bass. There have even been reports that striped bass were caught in the cold-water zone, which is more than 220 miles from sea. Each spring, the shad make their annual run up the river to spawn, giving fishermen the chance to do battle with this powerful species of fish. Fishermen should realize that this river offers much more than just trout fishing.
When fishing this river system, don't get frustrated. There's many a night on this river when fish are rising everywhere and the fishermen can't touch them. I've seen this river humble some of the finest fisherman. These wild fish are well educated and very selective when feeding. I believe that's what makes it so special, and it's what keeps fishermen coming back. Once you've experienced an evening on this river, you will come to appreciate the Delaware trout and look forward to return time and again.
Click here to
view the archived articles.
to send comments or feedback on this
here to check out a river near you.