A Hole in the Dam


My fly tying lasted past midnight.  I was motivated to tie another batch of #20 poly emerger bwo’s.  Even thought I just returned from fishing the West Branch of the Delaware, I wanted to replenish my supply.  Despite fishing all day and returning after a three hour drive, I was eager to restock a fly box staple for my next trip to the West Branch.  Sleep can be compromised for a loaded fly box for the WBD.  Once that fishery gets a hold of you, it has the capacity to change your habits.

IMG_4223Over the weekend I spent a day and a half fishing the WBD.  Reports from drift boat fisherman and fly shops were encouraging.  Sulphers, olives (bwo’s) and isonychia were on the menu and fish were rising routinely in the afternoon.  The only complication was the water flow.  The cfs (cubic feet per second) was at 1,700 and ideal for drift boats, lousy for wading anglers.  The reason for the higher flow was that during maintenance on Cannonsville Dam, a hole was breached thus causing an additional 1,500 cfs release into the WBD.  That’s plenty of cold water during one of our warmest months.  It’s tough to wade and fish the WBD at that high flow.  Unless you know a few approachable spots or are extremely careful, it’s also not very safe.  I know of a handful of places where I’ve successfully and safely targeted fish during high flows in the past on the WBD and decided to commit.

I’d like to say that my lodging plans are as well coordinated as my fly box.  They are not.  Typically, I call en route to the river and secure an affordable room at the lodge of the West Branch Angler Resort.  Uncharacteristically, this time they were booked.  Dam, there’s a hole in my plan!  IMG_4222Next, I called three hotels in Deposit, then the two at Hale Eddy.  All were sold out, as well as the places in Hancock.  The Lumberjack festival was going on in Deposit and it was Camper weekend (NYC parents visiting their kids at Summer Camp).  At this point, I’m starting to contemplate sleeping in the back of my Subaru for the night.  My last effort was to place a second call with my friends at West Branch Angler Resort.  I was starting to beg them to let me sleep on the coach in the lodge, when Matt kindly informed me that they had a last minute cancellation in one of their cabins.  These guys have always been good to me and I appreciate their helping me out in a pinch!

It wasn’t until 4pm that I arrived at my selected fishing spot.  Much as I expected, there were sulphers on the water and a pod of fish steadily feeding.  Best of all, these fish were within 30′ of the bank and I could reach them without going past knee deep water.  There were six or seven actively feeding fish, but visibility was tough due to the overcast conditions and direct glare in my face.  Due to the water level, I couldn’t relocate to the middle of the river to obtain a better presentation.  Another complication was that there were so many sulphers and olives on the water.   It was tough to distinguish my fly from the naturals.  I missed my first 3 takes and was frustrated.  You only get so many chances at these fish and need to capitalize on their cooperative surface feeding (albeit super selective feeding).  Finally, I switched to a large, high vis isonychia pattern.  I needed something that I could see.  My next ambition was to drop a #22 olive dry off of the iso pattern.  On my first drift with an iso dry, a beautiful 17″ brown swerved out of its’ feeding lane to engulf my fly.  We were off to the races and I landed her nearly 75 yards downstream.  Over the next two hours, I landed several more quality browns and lost as many.  Around 7pm, heavy fog materialized to blanket the river.  This heavy fog is caused by the cold water temperature meeting the warm surface air.  It shuts down visibility and dry fly fishing dramatically slows down.

IMG_4213The following day, I explored a few new spots to see how they might fish/wade at 1,700 cfs.  Unlike the previous day, it was sunny and windy.  Risers were scarce.  Around 2pm, the sulpher hatch took off and by 4 pm, snouts were feeding again.  This time I targeted a pod of fish with a large iso emerger and a smaller olive dropper.  After several casts and some repositioning, I eventually hooked and landed an 18″ brown.  This fish jumped several times and also took me well downstream.  Over the next hour, I enjoyed stellar dry fly fishing as wave upon wave of sulphers and olives floated down.  The wind would periodically shut down surface feeding, but it was still a treat.  Ideal fishing conditions don’t usually last and a nasty storm front eventually moved in, dumping rain and angry lightening all over the system.  I headed for safety, hunkered down against a clump of bushes and waited out the storm.  The rain came down in buckets and blew sideways.  In an hour, the river was muddied and rising.  The violent thunderstorm brought so much rain it was game over for dry fly fishing.  Ironically, I couldn’t generate any interest when I slung a few streamers.

Nobody is certain how long it’s going to take to repair the hole in the dam.  What we do know is that the river is flowing at 1,600 plus cfs, it’s cold and the sulpher hatches are appearing like clockwork.  The fish are healthy and responding to this daily banquet accordingly.  It’s not in the cards for my immediate future, but if you have a chance to float the WBD, go do it.  The last two weeks have provided the best fishing of the season.  You should see thousands of sulphers, gorgeous rising trout and have a chance to sample some of the finest dry fly fishing East of the Mississippi.  Don’t hesitate to present an olive pattern or an isonychia if you’re in the middle of a massive sulpher emergence.  If you’ve ever contemplated floating it yourself, or hiring a guide, now may be an ideal time.  Lastly, if you plan to wade there, bring a wading staff, go slow, take it safe and minimize your risks.  Even though the WBD is a spectacular dry fly fishery, it’s not worth an accident!



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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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