Going buggy for trout

West Branch of the Delaware DC
West Branch of the Delaware River, below the Cannonsville Reservoir, one of the reservoirs affected by the Delaware Aqueduct shutdown. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

It was cold, and rainy, and there was some of that nasty frozen precip in the air. (Ah, spring in the upper river!) But nothing deters the avid trout angler, especially if it's One Bug weekend on the Delaware River.

"We love weather like this," averred Jeff Skelding, the executive director of the Friends of the Upper Delaware, which is the organization that hosts this team fishing competition.

The river itself was high and running fast, so the competition was squeezed into the East and West branches of the river above Hancock, N.Y.

"It goes without saying that it's safety first," said Skelding. "But when you've got everything you need -- waders up to your chest, great rain gear and warm clothes -- there's no better time to fish."

After all, he explained, trout don't like sunny days. They're smart fish -- as any trout angler will attest -- and sunny days makes it far easier for predators, like the resurgent Bald Eagle, to track a tasty trout.

The One Bug gets its name from one of the many rules of the competition -- once the fishing begins, at noon on Saturday, you have to declare what fly you're going to use all weekend. 

Anglers, I'm told, have basically three choices: nymphs, dry flies and streamers. Dry flies are the classic trout fishing fly -- those are the ones used when you see that graceful arc of line looping out over the water. For a trout hunter, the pinnacle of trout fishing is when the fish are rising to the bugs that fly just above the water, and you aim with your cast to plop a seemingly tasty rendition of a fly just where the bugs are and where the trout are biting. This is, I'm told, the secret to great trout fishing.

Over this past weekend, there was considerable plotting and planning about which fly to use. At first, most were veering toward the streamer since the water conditions didn't seem to indicate much bug activity. The streamers imitate bait fish and you sort of drag them along the bottom near the bank. Several of the drift boats I saw on the water were close to the banks, so many did opt for that method.

A streamer, the type of fly that drags along DC
A streamer, the type of fly that drags along the bottom of the river imitating a fish that the trout would like to eat. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Here's a colorful box of streamers, DC
Here's a colorful box of streamers, looking like burlesque costume accessories. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Each team of two goes out with an experienced river guide in a specialized boat used for this sort of fishing called a drift boat, which drifts with the current The guide mans the boat, usually suggesting the best spot to catch the river's wily trout. He (or she, there were two female guides this time around) is the on-the-spot rule enforcer. And I'm told most of the competitors are pretty good at following the rules.

A drift boat close to the bank DC
A drift boat close to the bank, with Guide Matt Ertzinger in the middle, with Max Kennedy and Elijah Odell - two students from the Bill Canfield Fly Fishing School, hosted by FUDR in the summer. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Here are all, or most of the guides for the One Bug DC
Here are all, or most of the guides for the One Bug trout fishing competition. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

The start of the weekend is the One Bug dinner on Friday night. For the second year in a row, the dinner was held at the old Louisville Slugger Baseball Factory on the outskirts of Hancock. It was, as I might have mentioned, a rainy day -- and night  -- and the dirt around the factory had turned into mud, as if to warn attendees that this was not a country club cocktail party.

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Outside the One Bug dinner, it was muddy from the rain.... PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
IMG_6073 DC
Inside the One Bug dinner, it was bright, warm and welcoming. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

The decor inside was lovely, the food was great and the various fund-raising enterprises looked to be successful. Newly elected Congressman Antonio Delgardo made a quick stop, another sign that the trout fisher men and women of the the Upper Delaware were gaining some political clout.

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U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado made a brief stop at the dinner. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE
Jeff Skelding, DC
Jeff Skelding, excutive director of FUDR; Dan Plummer, chairman of the board of FUDR; and Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

That could be in large part because of the work that FUDR has done to broaden its interest to include the towns that border the main stem and especially the branches. Skelding has been working along with his neighbors to create the Upper Delaware River Tailwaters Coalition.

He says that the members of the Friends of the Upper Delaware are starting to recognize that broadening its focus will pay dividends in the future. He wrote in an e-mail:

I think the guides and participants are starting to see that holistic watershed protection, which has been an organizational direction shift that FUDR has initiated in the last several years, is incredibly important to the protection of the fishery. There is an increasing awareness that this river is not just about catching big fish AND that doing things like protecting tributaries, building non-traditional alliances, pushing government in meaningful ways, engaging local residents by promoting economic recovery through river protection, and putting a brighter spotlight on the river at the regional and national level is the only way we are ultimately going to ensure water quality and aquatic habit and comprehensively protect the and restore the watershed. 

OK, that's a pretty big idea, but let's get back to the fishing!

It was after all a competition, and here are the winners:

"Big Fish" Award 

Dan Plummer for his 23 1/4" Brown Trout caught on the Lower East Branch

Top Guides

1) Ryan Furtak

2) Paul Kanaskie and Rick Watson (tie)

3) Sam Decker

Top Individuals

1) Dan Plummer

2) Travis Conley

3) Craig Bouslough

Top Teams

1) First Place tie - "Caped Crusaders" (Travis Conley and Alex Smith Constantine) and "Team Mama Luke" (Dan Plummer and JC Clark)

2) Delaware Belles - Hyun Kounne and Kitty Stanton

3) Featherchuckers - Tom Swavely and Paul Robino

"Squirrel" Award - (Bestowed upon the Guide who makes the most heroic rescue of a fly in peril)

Anita Coulton

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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