Listening to guides…

When local fly fishing guide Wayne Aldridge recently spoke to our Trout Unlimited chapter, I took copious notes. Part of my studiousness was in the interest of writing a report on his presentation: “Fall fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware”. But most of my note-taking was out of pure self-interest: I have learned to listen to guides. This past Sunday was a perfect example of how listening to a guide can pay off.

After recent dousings of rain, the weekend had looked like it might be the perfect set-up for fishing the Cayuga Lake tribs. A good push of water along with the sting of some frosty nights this time of year is typically what sends a love message to the landlocked salmon and brown trout staging in the lake. The fish sense that the time is right and move up the tribs to spawn, giving fly fishers a golden opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime. But timing the run is never a sure thing, and while monitoring the USGS river gauge and the weather report are key, there’s nothing like being on the spot and testing the waters to really know when the run is on. And so, an email inquiry was quickly dispatched to fellow blogger and trout bum extraordinaire, Artie Loomis, and the inquiry was just as quickly answered: “Fall Creek isn’t happening yet”. As I stared at those disappointing words early Sunday morning, I immediately started thinking about plan B…

Plan B...

A quick glance at the Hale Eddy river gauge showed perfect wading flows, but the potential for dirty water loomed large in my mind. The tailwaters are known for producing a turbid discharge in the Fall, the result of turnover in the reservoir that feeds the river. Most fly anglers would not even give discolored water a chance figuring the fish can barely see their nose in such conditions. But the advice of Wayne Aldridge suggested otherwise – that stained water in combination with the presence of spawned-up male brown trout in a bad-ass mood can make for some truly outstanding fishing. What’s good for a guide is always plenty good enough for me…

Shortly before 9 am I crossed the river at the Rt 17 / Deposit overpass. The Gentleman’s pool was flowing picture-perfect and its banks were totally void of anglers but the river water was the color of dirty wash-water. I made my way to the river road and was butt-deep in the 45 degree water in no time, armed with my Scott A2 9 foot 6 weight streamer rod, a vest stuffed with flies, and hope in a guide’s advice.

The river was in its peak autumn glory and I had the entire stretch of river to myself. Mist rose off the water and encircled me like cigar smoke, but despite the frosty morning temps, the constant casting, mending, and stripping that’s required when streamer fishing warmed me up in no time.

I started the morning fishing a white conehead zuddler on a river braid above the pool. The water was cleaner there – the channel was fast in spots but the far bank was undercut and laden with thick cover. A downed tree created a deep green pool with a gorgeous back eddy as well. I had once streamer-fished this braid on an early spring morning and experienced one of those vicious, arm-jerking strikes that momentarily stops one’s heart and left my 1X tippet clean of any fly.

The channel failed to produce, so I made my way to the riffle at the head of the pool where two spin anglers had taken up position and now broke the morning solitude. They were throwing what appeared to be spinners based on the glint of light that beamed off the end of their lines. It wasn’t long before the taller of the two caught a small brown, and then another. That was enough for me to change my fly. Tucked in my fly box was a black maribou streamer with a zonker-style body of gold. I figured the gold flash and contrasting black color might show better in the murk of the pool.

I walked downriver below the spin anglers and worked the water thoroughly, hanging up every now and again. Losing flies, especially streamers, can get pricey, but I chalk that up to the price of success after another “guide-ism” that states; “if you’re not losing flies on the bottom every once in a while, you’re not fishing deep enough”. I quartered my cast upstream, then stripped it hard, down and across. After every few casts I moved down a few steps and continued this way, eventually hooking up with a few feisty browns, small but full of spirit.

Mid-morning, I headed back to the car for a break, my legs numb from the cold water. The spinning anglers had also left the river and we chatted a bit in the warmth of the sun. These guys were from New Jersey and had apparently done well on a Saturday float trip of the Main Stem. They inquired as to the fishing of the West Branch and I told them that fall was regarded as the best time to catch the brown trout of a lifetime. Indeed, towards the end of his presentation, Wayne Aldridge had gone even further stating that every year the river gave up a fish in the 27″ – 30″ range.

I returned to the river fishing tandem streamers, starting at the head of the pool and slowly working down-river. Partway through I changed flies again (another guide-ism – to change type and color often when streamer fishing) and this time tied on a snow-white bead-head zonker as my lead fly with a black ghost riding shotgun some 2 feet back.

Halfway down the pool I snagged what I thought was the bottom but then watched in disbelief as a very nice brown launched airborne and tail-walked across the river at the end of my line. The fish fought deep – a solid heavy slug-fest and much more in character with what brown trout are known to do so well. I gradually worked him out of the main current but saw little of his size in the discolored water. Minutes later and after a few misguided attempts, I finally got him part way into my woefully inadequate net…

The pay-off...

After releasing this beautiful male brown, regaled in spawning colors and sporting a pronounced kype, I thanked the good Lord for two things: the advice of guides and ears to listen with…

Tight lines…


3 Responses to “Listening to guides…”

  1. Great report! What a massive brown, too! Nice job!

  2. Great story and looks like an awesome fish too! You’re gonna need a bigger net!

    • stflyfisher Says:

      Thanks for your comments. It does pay off to listen to guides. But a bigger net? – I sometimes consider that bad luck for some reason!

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