It was cold, and rainy, and there was some of that nasty frozen precip in the air. (Ah, spring in the upper river!) But nothing deters the avid trout angler, especially if it's One Bug weekend on the Delaware River.
"We love weather like this," averred Jeff Skelding, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware, which is the organization that hosts this team fishing competition.
The river itself was high and running fast, so the competition was squeezed into the East and West branches of the river above Hancock, N.Y.
"It goes without saying that it's safety first," said Skelding. "But when you've got everything you need -- waders up to your chest, great rain gear and warm clothes -- there's no better time to fish."
After all, he explained, trout don't like sunny days. They're smart fish -- as any trout angler will attest -- and sunny days makes it far easier for predators, like the resurgent Bald Eagle, to track a tasty trout.
The One Bug gets its name from one of the many rules of the competition -- once the fishing begins, at noon on Saturday, you have to declare what fly you're going to use all weekend.
Anglers, I'm told, have basically three choices: nymphs, dry flies and streamers. Dry flies are the classic trout fishing fly -- those are the ones used when you see that graceful arc of line looping out over the water. For a trout hunter, the pinnacle of trout fishing is when the fish are rising to the bugs that fly just above the water, and you aim with your cast to plop a seemingly tasty rendition of a fly just where the bugs are and where the trout are biting. This is, I'm told, the secret to great trout fishing.
Over this past weekend, there was considerable plotting and planning about which fly to use. At first, most were veering toward the streamer since the water conditions didn't seem to indicate much bug activity. The streamers imitate bait fish and you sort of drag them along the bottom near the bank. Several of the drift boats I saw on the water were close to the banks, so many did opt for that method.
Each team of two goes out with an experienced river guide in a specialized boat used for this sort of fishing called a drift boat, which drifts with the current The guide mans the boat, usually suggesting the best spot to catch the river's wily trout. He (or she, there were two female guides this time around) is the on-the-spot rule enforcer. And I'm told most of the competitors are pretty good at following the rules.
The start of the weekend is the One Bug dinner on Friday night. For the second year in a row, the dinner was held at the old Louisville Slugger Baseball Factory on the outskirts of Hancock. It was, as I might have mentioned, a rainy day -- and night -- and the dirt around the factory had turned into mud, as if to warn attendees that this was not a country club cocktail party.
The decor inside was lovely, the food was great and the various fund-raising enterprises looked to be successful. Newly elected Congressman Antonio Delgardo made a quick stop, another sign that the trout fisher men and women of the the Upper Delaware were gaining some political clout.
That could be in large part because of the work that FUDR has done to broaden its interest to include the towns that border the main stem and especially the branches. Skelding has been working along with his neighbors to create the Upper Delaware River Tailwaters Coalition.
He says that the members of the Friends of the Upper Delaware are starting to recognize that broadening its focus will pay dividends in the future. He wrote in an e-mail:
I think the guides and participants are starting to see that holistic watershed protection, which has been an organizational direction shift that FUDR has initiated in the last several years, is incredibly important to the protection of the fishery. There is an increasing awareness that this river is not just about catching big fish AND that doing things like protecting tributaries, building non-traditional alliances, pushing government in meaningful ways, engaging local residents by promoting economic recovery through river protection, and putting a brighter spotlight on the river at the regional and national level is the only way we are ultimately going to ensure water quality and aquatic habit and comprehensively protect the and restore the watershed.
OK, that's a pretty big idea, but let's get back to the fishing!
It was after all a competition, and here are the winners:
"Big Fish" Award
Dan Plummer for his 23 1/4" Brown Trout caught on the Lower East Branch
1) Ryan Furtak
2) Paul Kanaskie and Rick Watson (tie)
3) Sam Decker
1) Dan Plummer
2) Travis Conley
3) Craig Bouslough
1) First Place tie - "Caped Crusaders" (Travis Conley and Alex Smith Constantine) and "Team Mama Luke" (Dan Plummer and JC Clark)
2) Delaware Belles - Hyun Kounne and Kitty Stanton
3) Featherchuckers - Tom Swavely and Paul Robino
"Squirrel" Award - (Bestowed upon the Guide who makes the most heroic rescue of a fly in peril)