The West Branch, East Branch and the Main Stem of the Delaware are generally what is referred to as the Upper Delaware River System. These three rivers are all outstanding fisheries in their own right with each having its own unique character. Also part of this system is the fabled Neversink River.
The West Branch begins at the base of Cannonsville Reservoir. It's a tail water fishery with cold water almost always found in its upper reaches, even during the hottest days of summer, often extending the full length of the river into the main Delaware. The West Branch has abundant insect hatches. The variety of aquatic insects with the gentle flow of the river make the West Branch a dry fly fisherman's dream. Early season and high water flows often make streamer fishing outstanding.
The East Branch is made up of two parts, the upper and lower. The "upper" is that part upstream of its junction with the Beaverkill. Mostly a brown trout river and also a tail water, the upper section usually remains cool all season long. Beginning at Pepacton Reservoir, it's spring creek like, "closer" and more overgrown than the lower section. Stealth tactics provide the best angling description.
The lower section of the East Branch is a wider and more open waterway. Not that this makes it any easier to fish, it's just the character changes. A mix of browns and rainbows are found here. This is an early season fishery as the water warms during summer and sends the trout migrating to cooler water. Some head upriver and some go downriver to the junction of the East and West Branches where the cooler water coming from the West Branch is more to their liking.
The main stem of the Delaware River begins at the junction of the East and West Branches. This river harbors some hard fighting rainbows. During the hottest days of summer many of the trout move to the colder water of the West Branch. Some deep pools and springs in the main river also give them a place to hunker down during warm water periods. As you travel down the Delaware River, it becomes an exceptional smallmouth bass fishery offering great sport on fly and light tackle. A spring run of American shad has an almost cult following of light tackle enthusiasts greeting them as they migrate from the sea to their spawning grounds. Shad are also great fun on a fly rod, and with the right techniques not all too difficult to catch.
The Neversink River can be best broken down into "above the reservoir" and "below the reservoir". The section above the reservoir is a smaller river comprised of two branches and is for the most part private with very limited access. The lower stretch, below the reservoir is an excellent tail water fishery with a combination of wild and stocked brown trout, rainbows and brook trout. The fish average in the 12-13 inch class with the occasional 18- 20 inch fish making an appearance. The Gorge area, known officially as the Neversink River Unique Area is very secluded and picturesque, situated in close to 5,000 acres of pristine forest lands. Fishing this area requires a good bit of hiking and stealth tactics to fool its wary trout.
Much has been written about the selectivity of the Delaware River trout and how specialized fly patterns are needed to catch fish. Quite simply, these are wild fish in a fertile river with an abundance of food. With all the natural food available they are not likely to eat anything but a perfectly presented fly. And, presentation is more important than the pattern, although when you get both right, life gets better!
These fish are dodging bald eagles, ospreys, mergansers, mink, otter, bigger fish, and other predators trying to eat them from the moment they're born. They grow up nervous. It's these nervous fish that head for cover at the slightest unnatural thing that live to be adults. These nervous fish breed with other nervous fish and over the generations we end up with a predisposition to nervous fish. Yes, you often need "flush in the film" dry flies ( like parachutes and comparaduns and snowshoe and cdc emergers) to fool them on the slow runs and quiet pools. But I can't help repeating, most of what is needed is a perfect presentation. Fortunately, the fish will let you know when you have one!