Fishermen…

I managed a few hours on the West Branch of the Delaware recently since the local warmwater river haunts were still somewhat high and discolored from a previous spate of rain. While the West was flowing at nice levels, it too had a bit of a stain to it. To those who plan on fishing the tailwaters in late summer / early autumn, be aware that as the weather cools, turnover begins taking place in lakes and reservoirs. Dropping air temps cool the surface water which turns more dense and sinks. The sinking colder water displaces the underlying warmer water, causing an upwelling effect. This cycling continues until water temps reach equilibrium. Any time turnover is occurring, the tailwater drainage picks up color. And as I drove home from fishing on Saturday, the upper section of the West indeed, was very stained, much more so than it was at Ball’s Eddy. When these conditions prevail it is best to fish the lower West for clearer water, and the farther downstream the better.

We fishermen are an odd lot; anyone who plies the waters on this good earth in search of fish is indeed one who remains a little set off from the mainstream. And the ways we ply our trade vary widely: I may be over-simplifying, but on one extreme are bait fishermen – “fundamentalists” – and, dare I say, at the other are the purists, those who seek to elevate the techniques of angling, such as casting, for perfection’s sake.

I set about Saturday morning to nymph a long run that always seems to yield nice trout. I cursed the stain in the water as I fished into mid-morning; the wading levels were ideal and around 9:30 clouds of blue wing olives began lifting off with the strong breeze that moved up-river.

Another fisherman soon joined me. He was an older gentleman, clad in olive drab waders and vest, topped with an old camo hat. He waded into the river slowly and confidently like a king grizzly arriving to partake in a fresh salmon run. He had a bait canister hanging low from his neck and was using a fairly stout spinning rod. Every so often I would turn around and watch this river rat as he worked the water below me – deftly and deliberately following his bait with his rod high in the air. Occasionally he would lift up almost imperceptibly as if he was allowing his bait to swim just above the every rock of the river bed itself.

After a short while I could tell he was into a nice fish – a brown, no doubt – and he played it with this same slow and steady style, carefully working it shoreward. I watched with dread expecting he’d kill the fish, unceremoniously string it up, and then return to his baitfishing ways, but I was relieved when I saw him do the exact opposite; releasing the fish with the same care he seemed to apply to everything he did. So good was he, in fact, that he never touched the fish in unhooking him – and the fish seemed to realize the gentleness of his soul, because it barely thrashed as he held its head slightly out of water and with one flick of his wrist, dropped it back to let it fight again…

The goodly bait fisherman at work...

The old gentleman continued his crawl downstream and caught another nice brown in due time. I could smell a smokey cherry fragrance of pipe tobacco on the air and noticed a cloud of smoke about him as he fished. I let him be after a little more fishing of my own at the head of the pool. The river was not prejudiced in its reward as I caught two feisty rainbows before deciding to call it a morning.

Heading back to the parking access I stopped briefly to watch a dry-fly purist in action. This younger man perched in a fine drift boat, anchored at the tail of the pool above the run I had just fished. His gaze was fixed on the glassy water below him, rod extended and cocked for action. I soon saw what he was after: trout were sipping the water below him at irregular intervals. I watched him awhile but suspected that in the bright light of late morning in such shallow clear water, his chances of hooking up were slim-to-none. I left him too, not wanting to distract him from his match-of-wits game…

I reached my car and began the process of breaking my equipment down and shedding my waders. The parking lot was filling up with anglers setting out for the day, most with drift boats in tow. But one angler was not at all anxious to fish and I immediately recognized him and his blue Jeep from many past outings.

The caster at work...

This older gentleman always parked in the same location, had the back-end of his vehicle open, and would either be carefully practicing fly casting or sitting in a chair by his Jeep taking a rest. He was a very competent caster based on the loops I saw him throw. Perhaps he does this to improve or maybe he does it just to dust off “his wings” prior to the evening hatch but whatever the case, he represents someone dedicated to his craft.

Sometimes you go fishing and catch fish. You come home feeling good and tired and happy, full of fish stories, and a little more schooled about your quarry. Other times, for me at least, you come home a bit wiser about the ways of fishermen. You learn from them in interesting ways and in so doing, realize that just maybe you are a better fisherman because of them…

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