Today was a day I'd been looking forward to for some time. As a teacher, we too look forward to the last day of school. It had been a busy and productive time, my students are talented and it's my vocation but I was ready for a break. I had day dreams as I cleaned up my classroom of abundant hatches and either native Brookies splashing around me or maybe a submarine Brownie or big Rainbow sipping a big Iso Parachute or Yellow Drake. Instead, I was greeted by yet another rainy day, the story of our spring and rising dirty water.
After closing the shop still a bit crest fallen by the prospect of more rain, I pondered what to do. An early dinner and a little rest? No, I decided. There had been too many days this spring when I hadn't fished because of high water. I was going to meet it head on. Truth be told the water on the South Branch was only a little over 200 cfs so I wasn't heading on to the Niagara or anything. I ran into Tim Flagler, he had a guide trip and they were doing well on Mop flies, Timmy's unique contribution to the world of mop, the Mop & Glo. We laughed when I told him that Len Ruggia, our Head Guide tied another 50 of them today and that they wouldn't last the weekend.
My plan was a little different. Tonight I was breaking out the heavy artillery, the St Croix Legend Elite 9' 6wt, a fast action rod that could handle the 7 foot long 7 IPS (seven inches per second) sinking leader to which I would tie a two way barrel swivel and attach a trace of about 20 inches of 3X tippet and a fly from the meant to be fished under such conditions, a JC's Sculpin tied by the sculpin meister himself, John Collins. Watching JC successfully catch and release many over sized trout made me a believer in the approach. At other times, I'll use a straight 9' 3X or 4X leader and an unweighted streamer. Still, it's hard to beat the sinking leader in water of any depth beyond that of a riffle.
With Tim and his client, Jim within view but well down stream I hit the first pool and a small Rainbow leaped into the air attached briefly to my Sculpin. "At least their looking at it," I said to myself. I headed downstream and had another trout on briefly. Soon enough, the mist began to cover the water and I could see my breath as the last light dissolved into yet another rain shower. The river took my first Sculpin, it's on a log and maybe I'll retrieve it. As Tim and Jim waved good bye, I re-rigged and resolved to stay, slipping further downstream into the gathering dark. The trout were there and so was that solitude surrounded by water. The first fish came quickly, a pretty and stocky 15" Rainbow. My confidence growing, I took a couple of steps downstream and soon was into a second, larger fish. This one didn't come up or thrash. A couple of head shakes but just a steady deliberate pull against the rod and the 3X tippet. The 20+ inch Rainbow slid into the large Brodin Frying Pan net and after a few photos with the fish in the water the entire time, I had a clean release. A perfect close to a day that although slightly different from what I might have imagined, was tremendously satisfying nonetheless.
Large trout maybe taken at any time of day, but in my experience are often caught an hour before first light and two hours after last light. Joe Cermele, Fishing Editor for Field and Stream magazine filmed a video of fishing streamers on the upper Delaware with well known guide, Joe Demalderis of Cross Current Guide Service and this was their conclusion as well. Flies don't have to be huge, they need to match the profile of the available forage two-four inches in most places. Be careful removing the hooks on a landed fish as well. There aren't an unlimited number of large fish in any stretch of water. I won't use a hook larger than a size 8 for that reason.The biggest mistake people make is not using heavy enough tippet. It's hard to steer fish in the dark away from obstacles and in the dark the fish aren't leader shy. The other key point is to know the water you're fishing very well. I always carry a headlamp of some sort, in my case a hat light and I would advise using a wading staff. Tonight I fished solo, but I also usually fish with someone else. Keeping those tips in mind can make fishing at night quite enjoyable. Here are a couple of suggested pattern videos from Mr. Flagler.