I had previously acquired the proper gear for Shad Fly Fishing prior to my earlier Fly Fishing adventures therefore, I had all the necessary equipment and some flies tied up on deck ready to go. I used my St. Croix 7WT Bankrobber Streamer Rod strung up with Rio Sink Tip line and a 8LB test Bass tippet material. As for a fly, I used something called Al’s Shad Fly #4. This consists of a size four or six hook, dumbbell eyes, yellow hackle, yellow hackle tail, yellow yarn and silver tinsel. I also tried out some others but this seemed to get the most attention.
Where to Look
Using the Fly Rod puts you at a slight disadvantage to a spin fisherman when seeking Shad. On the Delaware, through Warren County, where I typically fish for Smallmouth in the summer there are no major dams for the Shad to “stack up” like they do in Deer Creek, Maryland. Therefore, you must seek out pools downstream of major runs or those created by tributaries. Swinging the fly into slower water pools on the side of fast water or before a major obstacle in the river should yield results.
If you live in the New York metro area, Trout fishing in the Catskills is a traditional rite of spring. Specifically, many of us head up to “Trout Town USA” or Roscoe, NY on most modern maps. Roscoe has been famous for Trout fishing since the 1800’s when the Ontario and Western Railroad brought people up here to Fly Fish. The first dry fly fishing in America happened on fabled streams in the area. I had been to Roscoe on opening day in order to attend several events including the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s, “Catskill Legends Dinner” along with their first cast event. The following day I attended the “Two Headed Trout Dinner,” hosted by the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce. At that event I was the winning bid on a silent auction for a weekend at a guesthouse in Roscoe. All of these events are a fine time and I recommend checking them out next year.
The West Branch
This fine stream, starting out in Stamford, NY and running all the way to where it meets the East Branch at Junction Pool in Hancock, NY is one of the best wild Trout fisheries in the State of New York. The river was dammed in the 1960s to create the Cannonsville Reservoir, storing additional water supply for New York City. Though it cost Trout anglers many miles of stream the dam created a steady cold-water release on the Delaware. The East Branch is also dammed to create the Pepacton Reservoir however; the releases from this branch are less consistent because the clean water is more highly valued for drinking purposes.
Mark and I secured guide Ray Ottulich through The Beaverkill Angler Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY. We met around 11AM at the shop and motored on up the 17 Quickway to a boat put in on the West Branch. This was the first time I floated an eastern river since my trip with dad up to the Andro in Maine a few falls back. I peaked with excitement at the prospect of floating the West Branch for Trout instead of plying the Main Stem for Smallmouth from shore. Fly Fishing from a drift boat is a superior method of fishing as far as I am concerned.
Seeking the Hatch
The Catskills are renowned for their Dry Fly Fishing; this does not mean that deploying the dry fly is the only way to prospect for Trout. This may sound sacrilege however, I remind you the reader; I convinced Mark a spin fishing only man to hang up the ole bait pole and give Fly Fishing a chance. He did, point of the story, sometimes you need to be open minded about fishing. Prime hatches occur on cloudy days or in the morning and evening, this forces us to go down deep with nymphs or fish streamers in rising water when there is no hatch.
The fishing reports all indicated March Browns and some Blue Wing Olives at dawn or dusk. Setting out a noon is standard procedure in these parts to ensure that you secure the productive water at dusk when the hatches do go off. I started plying the deepwater edges with a streamer to no avail. Then we all switched over to pheasant tail nymphs in the shallow fast water, where the Rainbow Trout stage to eat the Blue Wing Olives nymphs. Mark managed to hook one repeatedly working a stretch of fast water. This period of time did allow us all to hone in our casting for when the actual bugs started coming off of the water.
Pods of Fish
The sun began to cast long shadows and the noses of Trout touching the top of the water brightened our smiles. Sporadically at first, you could detect feeding Trout by a feint splash or a glint in the water. Tying on the March Brown and an emerger enticed strikes from wary Trout. A few more missed hook ups and we pulled the boat next to a trailer park, boom Mark hooks his first fish on the Dry, a 15-inch Brown Trout! While Mark was busy fighting his Trout I was busy not landing Trout. For some reason I had a major mental block to actually set a dry fly…very frustrating.
We continued our leisurely float down the West Branch, picking up speed through some rapids; unfortunately the bug activity was much lighter than expected. This season has been a strange one, very warm in March followed by a snowstorm on opening weekend that has kept the water very cool and delayed the season. As our boat rounded the Hancock 191 Bridge we again were treated to intermittent rises. Again Mark hooks a 17-inch Brown Trout on the dry fly! Lets talk about beginner’s luck…
The Beaverkill along with the Willowemoc are two of the only undammed major Catskill streams. All of the other’s have had some sort of influence by man, negative (the Esopus) or positive (the West Branch tail water). The Beaverkill northeast of Roscoe to its source is a pristine valley, is less populated and less industrialized than it was one hundred years ago. The public water is limited, sometimes forcing you to wait your turn, however even on a busy fishing weekend in prime season, glorious lonesome water was found.
Saturday was a cloudy day with a bit of humidity and intermittent sprinkles. Perfect weather for a Blue Wing Olive hatch and we were treated to one. Arriving at a secluded though popular pool in the upper Beaverkil we were treated to an empty parking area. I quickly tied on some Blue Wing Olives I had purchases twenty minutes before and the fish were keyed on. Again, I had a lot of action but they fish kept getting a clean release.
Things to Do
Combined the towns of Roscoe and Rockland have plenty of entertainment for anglers when they are not on the river. Rockland has three great establishments we stopped in the Trout Town Brewery, the Rockland House and the Courtyard Tavern. Roscoe has a the popular diner aptly named the Roscoe Diner along with a bistro and a Pizza place. There are five fishing outfitters (fly or spin) in this town and some nice cabins for rent throughout. We are looking forward to the next summer adventure up this way, which will likely be a camping trip.
The day was predicted to be a washout, however, if we made it out to the Delaware River early enough there was a chance to engage in a couple hours worth of pre-frontal fishing conditions. Mark and I were up to the challenge; accustomed to waking up for work early, a 5:30AM wake up is not a problem. Especially since in all of summer’s glory, it is already light out by this time!
Arriving on a remote dirt road in the Delaware Water Gap NRA everything about today looked like it would have been a washout. The cloud ceiling was low, the humidity high and a marked chill in the air. The only part of this adventure not cooperating was the barometric pressure, which was rising and not falling, sub optimal for pre-frontal fishing conditions we sought. Looking out at the low hills surrounding the Delaware River there were spirals of mist lifting off of the treetops and little droplets of rain falling. I donned my L.L. Bean Emerger II wading jacket on top, filled it with fly boxes, tied on some 0X tippet and marched (quietly) out to the river.
Equipment and Tactics
At this point we have written a sizeable amount of material on seeking Bass and other warm water fish. This time I used my 7WT St. Croix Bankrobber, my Sage 4280 reel and some weight forward floating Rio Grand line. Following the advice of Barry Reynolds and John Berryman in, “Beyond Trout a Fly Fishing Guide,” I brought pearl white Zonkers, Woolly Buggers and some crawfish patterns that I purchased at Orvis NYC. The crawfish or mudbug patterns work but probably not as well in the Delaware as Zonkers or Woolly Buggers. The location to seek Smallmouth, very similar to trout is the transition area between fast and slow water where the Bronzebacks are holding to feed. The Smallmouth Bass is a river fish and can tolerate a moderate current though not to the level of a Trout. Pound for pound these are the hardest fighting freshwater fish out there.
Smallmouth Bass like streamers, they do not eat them delicately, they rip through and devour the streamer. I use the Kelly Galloup method for hucking streamers to Trout and apply it back to Bronzebacks. For more information you can check out his book. In New Jersey we do not have the massive Browns he has in Montana, we have Smallmouth in big rivers like the Delware. Anyway, I throw my streamer out on the slow water, fast water transition line near a deep pool. I do this once, I do this twice, the third time as I go to retrieve, the line goes taught as if I just drove my Zonker hook into a floating log.
Just as I hook into the juicy upper lip of this “log,” the fly line rips through my fingers that are maintaining tension. Holy crap, that was not a log that is a fish! The fight was intense; I used most of my effort to prevent the Bronzeback from moving into the fast water, once I got the fish on the reel it was easier to control. As I shortened his leash and moved him in towards my net, he enveiled the last of his evade, escape and survive arsenal. He went air born! By far the best part of aggressive Smallmouth Bass is that they not only fight you below the surface but they engage in aerial combat when you least expect it. I bowed my pole to him and kept the tension, however this Zonker was securely fastened to his upper lip do to the aggressive take. As I netted the fish, it turned out to be a one pounder, I am curious to learn what a four to five pound Smallmouth Bass fights like.
Spin Rod Verse Fly Rod
As many of you can tell from the extensive tales of outdoor adventure on this site, I often go fishing with my buddy Mark. Mark is a die-hard spin fisherman, who I can proudly say, now owns a fly rod (that he has not used). He was able to land two Smallies, however this was the day of the fly rod. I landed three Smallies, a Rock Bass and a White Zucker all on various flies. This was a bit of redemption from last summer’s adventures where Mark out fished the fly.
The rain finally came as a torrential down pour around 12:30, beginning to soak even through my rain jacket. We decided to call it quits, as the rain was about to wash out the entire weekend. However, no trip to these splendidly isolated parts of Sussex County New Jersey is complete without a trip to one of the many glorious roadhouse and watering holes at the park boundaries. On this day we went to The Flatbrook Tap House, a rustic fishing themed establishment on the edge of Stokes State Forest, the banks of the Big Flatbrook and located on 206 North. We had delicious deep friend Calzones and Chicken Parmigian sandwiches. I highly recommend this place to a hungry angler or biker in the area.
The days are long; the work is light while the air is hot and heavy. Fishing is entering the midsummer doldrums for most cold-water species. The heavy spring flows have since subsided to a trickle with the welcome exception of a midsummer freshet. Trout are hunkered down in springs and at the way bottom of pools uninterested in any fly you may wish to throw. All this while one fish is running hot and heavy in these rivers, the Smallmouth Bass. Taking in the relaxing summer just makes you want to watch old Marlboro commercials and shout, “Welcome to Smallmouth (Flavor) Country!”
(PSA: MKFF does not condone any particular brand of tobacco product or tobacco use in general.)
“Oh the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees, by the soda water fountains, By the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks,
Little streams of alky-hol comes trickling down the rocks.
Oh the shacks all have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind,
There’s a lake of stew and whiskey too,
And you can paddle all around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
The Smallmouth Bass has a scientific name of Micropterus dolomieu, micropterus meaning small fin and Dolomieu being a French mineralogist. The fish is native to the Midwestern United States, coming as far east as the St. Lawrence. It has been widely introduced throughout the United States, now inhabiting the Delaware River and its tributaries in New Jersey and New York.
The Smallmouth Bass is not as tolerant of fast flows as the Trout whom it may share habitat with. This type of Bass does enjoy gravelly streams with moderate gradients; they tend to inhabit the pools in good oxygen conditions. The preferred water temperature for the species is between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, they can tolerate up to 90 degrees.
Tools of the Trade
Throughout the summer Smallmouth Bass are prevalent in most New Jersey streams. The most well known places are the Delaware and the Raritan; they can also be located in streams connecting to these rivers. I have even dredged a Smallmouth or two out of the lower Big Flatbrook though they rarely venture up when the water is at summer flow levels.
Due to the variety of stream sizes and water conditions that this highly adaptable species will habit there are several fly rod options you can use. I prefer to consistently use floating line as the waters are never high enough at this time of year to warrant sink tip or full sink line.
I have the most luck using Woolly Buggers to prospect for these guys and girls. Green seems to work the best for me, orange is better in streams with more crayfish, sizes six through ten with a gold bead head. The body can be Chenille with some flash or Marabou; they bite it if you fish it correctly. Preferably there will be a little bit of lead wrapped around the hook shaft.
Smallmouth living in streams like the Paulinskill have an almost unbelievable biomass. Depending on the season and water temperature, the same runs where the Smallmouth will populate in the summer Trout used to frequent in the spring. Where do all the Trout go? Mostly down into the deep pools with springs, or to inlet streams and areas of high oxygenation.
The traditional northeast streamer technique, cast across and slightly upstream at the transition area between fast water and slow water. Once the streamer bounces off the bottom a little bit you are doing it right. I then let the line drift taught, hold for a few seconds and start to bring it back in a wet fly style retrieve. If this doesn’t get the Smallmouth going, they probably are not there.
Smallmouth Bass are one of the treats to look forward to during the dog days of summer. In northwest Jersey farm country, summer is a time of plenty like Big Rock Candy Mountain. The crops are coming up, thunderstorms bring fresh water to the streams, and the trees provide the shade. Find a spot to camp on some land, or rent a little campsite on the Delaware for the weekend.
If you don’t have anything going on this weekend, fire up the old SUV, load your gear and drive out here. We don’t have cigarette trees or streams of alky-hol but we do have fresh air, shade trees and Smallmouth Bass! However, if you do find a good spot, keep it a secret because loose lips, sink fish!