The Search for Dan’s Spot
With Tropical Storm Danny safely past, I decided to make a go at fishing on Sunday morning. This would be my first outing in two long (and grouchy) weekends. The family practically hand-carried me away, so concerned were they with my incessant pacing, mood swings, random outbursts, and excessive quaffing of dry gin martini’s.
I studied the USGS charts a little reluctantly and wasn’t crazy about what I saw. Smallmouth bass fishing was out of the question with the big rivers roaring as they were. My only hope was a stab at the West Branch of the Delaware, and based on the flows at Hale Eddy, it would have to be Stilesville – the upper stretch above the mouth of Oquaga Creek.
When I crossed the West Branch in Deposit, my greatest fears were confirmed. The Gentleman’s Pool just below the bridge was running fast and dirty. I exited off Rt 17 at Deposit and headed upriver along the river road. As I rounded the big right angle bend in the road I saw another bad sign: there were no parked cars at the Stilesville DEC Access and it was already late morning.
The river was stained like weak tea and up some, but fortunately I could still see bottom in the shallow areas. Streamers immediately came to mind. Stained higher water is always a good time to “chuck meat” as a guide once told me, so I strung up my Scott A2 6 weight with sink tip line and donned my Filson strap vest, stuffed with streamer boxes, shot, stout tippet, and my hip flask of mighty-fine Jim Beam rye.
Upon closer inspection of the river I saw something every West Branch angler cusses like a sailor: the “crap”. The crap is long stringy algae that rides the river current like dark green jellyfish in the tide. I swear this stuff has a homing device for any fly cast in the river. If you’re nymphing when the crap is running, you end up cleaning your fly on every couple of casts. If you’re streamer fishing when the crap is running, you’re cleaning the fly on EVERY cast.
I waded downstream from the DEC access thinking it would be good to get the casting arm going again, but then a devilish smile formed on my face as another even more worthwhile mission came to mind. This was an opportunity of historic proportions – a chance to find Staff Hydrologist Dan’s “honeyhole”. Avid STFF readers all remember the taunting, jeering, and downright mocking comments I received from Dan in an earlier post on Stilesville. On that day I fished upstream of the access, took some pictures looking downstream and received comments like, “you’re getting warmer”, “look harder”, and some others that this fine editor had to remove. You’d think Dan would be a little more hospitable to his part-time employer and motivational fly-fishing sidekick!
As I fished downstream toward a broad riffle in the river I spied a Chevy Suburban quickly pull off the road. Out jumped two fisherman and judging from the speed in which they were rigged and river-bound, I knew these had to be spin fishermen. They waded in just below the riffle I had in my sights, sensing they’d better occupy it fast before yours truly had a chance to work the pool over. Their enthusiasm told me this had to be Dan’s “spot”.
They camped there too – a Mutt and Jeff combination if I ever saw one – a pudgy-faced younger guy who stuffed his camo neoprenes like a knackwurst and a string-bean Ichabod Crane type who never seemed to know what to fish or how to fish it. This blocking action kept me high in the riffle, at best allowing me to swing my streamer down to the deeper section on a long line. I fished this way a while, keeping a respectful distance from my pool captors. Mutt and Jeff doggedly held their position. The big guy was throwing a spinner across the pool while Ichabod stood there and watched, causing me to wonder if the guy had been hired as a fishing place holder.
I tried several different streamers and finally it was a Black Ghost that managed to elicit a good strike and a nice brown that came thrashing to the surface. He quickly decided he had enough, however, and waved a good-bye with a long distance release. If there was any justice to be had that day, it was that the fish had been holding just upstream of my neoprene-clad friend.
After a good hour of working the head of the pool, I decided to explore downstream where I found a small island and some fairly deep and shaded bank water. Beyond that area, the river was fairly featureless. I fished another half hour and then began the long wade upstream. To my delight I watched from afar as my two pool-party friends slowly moved out of the river.
I now had total command of what I presumed to be Dan’s “spot”, but fishing it thoroughly produced nothing, other than an opportunity to study it. I soon decided to call it a day, and give the pool up to three fly fishermen waiting just upstream in the riffle water.
My ride home was made pleasant with the thought that I might have found, subject to confirmation, another of Dan’s fishing holes, which I profess, have been very good to me. Then too, the distant sight of a few early fall colors – red dots of sugar maple in a sea of hillside green – made me think of the really good fishing to come – a welcome respite from the spate of high summer water we’ve experienced in the southern tier.