Here’s a little about the fish you can catch on the Upper Delaware River. There are many more species in this rich ecosystem, but I’m just going to focus on the most common game fish.
The rainbow trout of the Upper Main Stem of the Delaware were accidentally introduced into the river in the late 1800’s. 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 in length, with some attaining twenty inches and the rare brute of twenty-two inches or more. The rainbow trout is a wild resident of the river not supported by any hatchery stocking programs.
The brown trout is another wild resident of the river system. They average around fifteen inches with some (very rare) attaining thirty inches plus in length. Big browns in the twenty to twenty-three inch class are common enough no one considers them rare, but always a trophy! During early spring the browns can be caught as they savagely attack your streamer, or as they sip an early season mayfly from the surface. NY DEC does stock brown trout in parts of the upper East Branch, Beaverkill, Willowemoc and Neversink River, but where they are found in Delaware River and its branches they are primarily wild bred fish. The NYDEC does an annual sampling and consistently finds the vast majority of brown trout to be wild in origin.
Smallmouth bass are the unsung heroes of the river and could very well be the most under fished game fish in the river. They are more common downstream of the traditional trout fishing section of the river offering great sport from mid June through October on both fly and light tackle. Smallmouth bass are native to Lake Ontario and the Ohio River drainage, and have adapted very well to the Delaware as evidenced by their thriving population. Long considered to be, pound for pound, the hardest fighting fish in freshwater, they average ten to fifteen inches of muscle with many reaching the nineteen to twenty inch class. I’ve had smallmouth up to six pounds (just one!) landed in my boat, but realistically an eighteen inch bass is truly a Delaware trophy. A great fishery for true bronzeback fans, and a great alternative to warm and low summertime trout streams.
Poor man’s salmon, Delaware River tarpon, or whatever you like to call them, the American shad is a true native to the river system. Popular throughout the entire length, shad are great fun on a fly rod or ultra light tackle. These anadromous fish travel up the river on their annual spawning run and are 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 an overall increase in the quality of the fish caught. I believe this is in part due to catch and release fishing. I encourage everyone to commit themselves to catch and release. When someone kills a wild fish not only is that fish forever lost, but so are all of its offspring. There is no hatchery truck backing up to replenish the supply, nor do we want one. The challenge of the catch and the tenacity of the fight is something no hatchery fish can duplicate. To leave a legacy of wildness for our children is something only we can do.
May God bless all your days on the water.