Outdoor Articles

The Fish of the Upper Delaware River

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in Freshwater Fishing

The following is just a little about the fish of the Upper Delaware. There are many more species present in this rich ecosystem, some less abundant than others, and still others not of significant importance to the angler. The species I’ll touch on are the rainbow trout, brown trout, American shad, and the smallmouth bass.
The rainbow trout is what makes the Upper Main Stem of the Delaware such a popular fly fishing destination. Accidentally introduced into the river in the late 1800’s, the rainbow trout quickly acclimated to its new home. They are found in isolated pockets throughout the entire Upper Delaware River and become increasingly abundant as you near Hancock, NY. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring and coexist nicely with brown trout that spawn in the fall and share the river with them. These hard fighting fish average fifteen to sixteen inches. Although not native, the rainbow trout is a wild resident of the river not supported by any hatchery stocking programs.
The brown trout is found more frequently in the East and West Branch. Also another introduced species, the brown trout has become a wild resident of most of the river system. NY DEC does stock brown trout in the upper East Branch, but where they appear in the rest of the system they are primarily wild bred fish. The wild fish average around fifteen inches with some (very rare) attaining thirty inches in length. Big browns in the twenty to twenty-three inch class are common enough not to be considered rare. During early spring the brown trout can be caught as they savagely attack your streamer, or as they sip an early season mayfly from the surface!
Smallmouth bass are the unsung heroes of the river. They are more common downstream of the traditional fly fishing section of the river and offer great sport from late June through October on both fly and light tackle. Smallmouth are native to Lake Ontario and the Ohio River drainage, and have adapted very well to the Delaware as evidenced by their thriving population. Some consider the smallmouth to be, pound for pound, the hardest fighting fish in freshwater. They average ten to fifteen inches of muscle and I’ve had smallmouth up to six pounds (just one) landed in my boat.
Poor man’s salmon, Delaware river tarpon, or whatever you call them, the American shad is a true native to the river. Popular throughout the entire length, the shad is great fun on a fly rod or ultra light tackle. These anadromous fish travel up the river on their annual spawning run and are often not reluctant to take a fly, be it wet or dry. Strong and acrobatic is the best way to describe their antics at the end of a fly rod.
Over the years I’ve seen the ups and downs of the various fish in the river. I’ve also seen what appears to be an overall increase in the quality of the fish caught. I believe this is in part due to catch and release fishing, which is practiced 100% by me and my clients. I encourage everyone to commit themselves to catch and release. When someone kills a wild fish, there is no hatchery truck backing up to replenish the supply. Nor would we want one. The challenge of the catch and the tenacity of the fight is something no hatchery fish can duplicate, no matter how hard it tries. To leave a legacy of wildness for our children is something no one else can do.
May God bless all your days on the water.

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