Floating the Main Stem and East Branch of the Delaware

It was time to dust off my Tri-Balance Kayak.  Spring Break arrived and the occasion called for floating.  Flows were too high on the West Branch, East Branch and Main Stem for comfortable wading.  So, I readied my kayak, strapped it onto the Subaru and made an early morning pilgrimage to the West Branch.  After checking in with Ben, Jake and Matt at West Branch Anglers Resort, I decided upon a float.  I also secured a simple room for a night at the Lodge and paid the $40 cash fee for a 15 mile car shuttle.  My first float was from Balls Eddy on the West Branch to Lordville on the Main Stem.  It was partially sunny, windy and the WBD flow yo-yo’d due to an annual dam maintenance routine.  Bugs were sparse to non-existent.  Refusing to nymph, I opted to throw streamers.  While my initial hope was to target a few surface feeding snouts, I only saw 1 rise during the 12 mile float!  That didn’t exactly instill confidence in dry fly ambitions.  In addition, the wind gusts blew me around the river and I lost one of my two anchors.  My approaches were a bit off.  I pounded the West Branch with various streamers and couldn’t move a fish.  Once I reached the Main Stem, my fortune changed.  In one particular stretch around Stockport, I moved 4 different fish in a 150 yard run.  That was cool!  My best brown of the float was upper teens.  I stuck another jumping brown around Buckingham, but the whitecaps and wind made floating difficult.  I left the river content to have shaken off rust from the Winter, to be back on my kayak and to have tangled with a few streamer eating browns.  It was also empowering to float so much of the river and to enjoy the scenery.

The following day I opted for a change of direction.  I floated the East Branch from Fish’s Eddy to Hancock.  It was a 13-14 mile float and conditions looked perfect.  It was sunny, around 61 degrees, the water temp was upper 40’s and the wind minimal.  I floated that stretch and never saw another drift boat, nor angler until Hancock.  It was cool to have ten plus miles of rive to myself.  There must have been a reason for this, because apparently the trout refused to cooperate.  I saw 5 rising trout over the entire float.  That averages less than 1 rising trout per 2 miles of river!  Each time I set up on one of them, they never resumed.  However, there were a few more visible insects (caddis, blue quills and stoneflies).  After a Winter of nymphing for steelhead, I refused to nymph.  Instead, I slung streamers the entire stretch.  Despite varying retrieves, lengthening leaders and experimenting with over a dozen different patterns, I only managed 2 bites on streamers.  Both fish didn’t stick and I went fishless on the East Branch.  It’s good to be humbled as it keeps you hungry! 

Timing and conditions are essential for quality fishing.  I was likely 3-4 days past the stellar streamer fishing and rivers were clear.  Trout aren’t as streamer happy in bright sunlight either.  Lastly, the water hadn’t warmed up enough to get the bugs going.  As a result, trout weren’t looking up.  This year looks to be more typical.  Spring is gradually arriving and trout/insects are following a more traditional timeline.  If you plan on fishing the Delaware River system, expect caddis, blue quills, quill gordons and stones to steadily get going each day.  It’s not in the cards for me, but I’d love to re-do those same floats a week later to experience the improvement.

Lastly, Seth Green Trout Unlimited is hosting the Fly Fishing Film Tour 2017 this Saturday, April 22nd at the Little Theater.  Come join us for some raffle prizes (I’m donating a box of streamers and Fly Fisher’s Workshop Apparel), angling connections and great fly fishing footage from around the globe!  


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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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