and Photos by
mist blankets the river as you embark in a flat bottom boat.
All is still. You neither see nor hear other people.
is spring 1997 although it could be 1897. We're ready for you to
join us as we travel downstream floating along with the current of the
Upper Delaware River Valley begins in Hancock, and runs south for about
75 miles to Port Jervis, New York. This waterway has had the
distinction to be named a "Scenic and Recreational River" by the
United States Government.
valley offers the river traveler a variety of wildlife during their
voyage. Bald eagles, great blue heron, hawks, white tail deer,
mink, beaver, and black bear are a sampling of the birds and animals that
inhabit this area. In addition, the river supports wild
rainbow trout, shad, walleye, smallmouth bass and an assortment of panfish.
This roster of wildlife would be impressive if this region was in Northern
Canada; it is even more so since the Upper Delaware is but a two hour
drive northwest of New York City.
your guide today, I'd like to give the reader a thumbnail sketch of some
of the fish that you will encounter on the river along with some tips on
technique - but first some background history of the river and its people.
history of the Delaware River dates back to the Lenape Indians and of the
first white settlers that populated this area around 1640 near what is now
known as Cochecton, New York. Later on, in 1754, a group known
as Connecticut Yankees, came to this region seeking land.
Among those early colonists was Daniel Skinner whose son, Daniel, was to
become "Lord High Admiral" of the Delaware.
was the first man to utilize the Delaware River as highway for the lumber
trade. In 1764, he constructed a huge raft made of white pine
that had been harvested from nearby forests. He then managed
to navigate this raft downstream from Cochecton to Easton, Pennsylvania
and on to Philadelphia. The lumber industry increased to such
a degree that by 1830 at least 1,000 rafts were floating down the Delaware
River to market each year.
were made in early spring when the river was high and fast.
Enterprising souls, many of whom were farmers and lumbermen, would
sometimes make two trips each year depending on the flow of the
river. The peak years of the lumber industry coincided with
that of the coal trade in 1840. One would think that both
enterprises could co-exist in this rural area.
The coal trade
was comprised of a network of canals linking the mines of northeastern
Pennsylvania to the Hudson River for coal export south to the New York
City markets. A canal for coal barges was constructed which
ran due east parallel to the Lackawaxen River and terminating at the
confluence of the Delaware River in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania.
reaching the Delaware River, the operators of the barges found that the
Delaware was teeming with large rafts heading downstream. Who
had the right of way? Fighting broke out. The
bottom line to both the coal and lumber executives was this - time is
board of directors of the Delaware and Hudson Canal hired an engineer by
the name of John Roebling, who would later achieve fame for the
construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, to design a bridge, or aqueduct, so
that the canal barges could "float above" the Delaware River
thus expediting their cargo. The bridge still stands today and
is open to vehicular traffic. It is credited with being the
oldest suspension bridge in the nation.
As we float down
the river, occasionally you might see a freight train running along the
stone embankment tight to the river. I am awed by the time and
labor it took to place those stones piece by piece. The
laborers who built these walls and laid the railbed worked for the
Erie-Lackawanna train line. Most of them were immigrants and
by 1850 the rail system was completed.
The Erie was an
innovator in that it was the first railroad in the United States over 400
miles in length, the first to link the Atlantic seaboard with the Great
Lakes, and the first to construct a telegraph line along its right of way.
As with any
network of high speed travel, accidents occurred and the most famous of
which as the railroad disaster that took place during the Civil
War. A northbound train carrying close to 800 Confederate
prisoners en route to Union prison camp in Elmira, collided with
another train because of a drunker dispatcher. The result was
49 Confederate prisoners dead along with 17 Union guards.
Rail travel was
more profitable and faster not only for those transporting goods but also
for urban dwellers looking for an escape from the grimy
cities. With the increase in rail travel came the influx of
tourists and the resulting wave of Victorian boarding houses, spas and
country resorts. The tourist/recreation industry was born and
continues to this day.
Whether it be
canoeing, camping, bird watching or fishing, recreation plays a major role
in the Delaware River Valley toady. In my opinion, this river
has one of the best fisheries in the United States. So, if you
care to wet a line, now's a good time for a few tips.
anadromous fish. This means that they live their life in the
Atlantic Ocean but return to freshwater to spawn. The Delaware
River was where these fish were born and by instinct they return to their
natal beds after three to four years at sea. Shad are related
to the tarpon and are very strong fighters on rod and reel.
The area between
Hancock and Barryville provides exciting sport from mid-May until early
July. Shad can be fished from shore or boat and will
strike a variety of shiny lures - spinners, darts or flutter
spoons. The object, though is to get your lure down deep -
that is where the shad are. They strike not out of hunger but
out of some primal spawning urge. Location varies depending on
river height. With high water anglers should concentrate on
side eddys and when the water recedes, the pods will follow channels as
they make their run upstream.
traveler will also encounter eel weirs on their voyage
downstream. Eel weirs, or traps, are made of rocks and may
stretch out in the shape of a "v" to the width of the
river. You will probably encounter these structures from July
until October. Why? Well, these "rock
wings" have to rebuilt by hand every year since the early spring
freshets of high water and ice destroys the weirs. In
addition, they are easier to build when the water is lower and warmer.
At the end of the
"v' are wooden slats angled upwards with wooden crates to hold the
eels on either side of one "v". The eels are
funneled into this "v", drop into the crates and are harvested
at the end of each day.
The American eel,
which is highly prized as table fare, are catadromous fish.
Quite simply, that means that they live their lives in fresh water and
return to salt water to spawn - exactly the opposite of the shad.
weirs, which at one time were quite numerous on the Delaware River, have
dwindled down to a few. Voyagers should always be ware of
these structures and should travel to the right or left of them - never
In recent years, eight pairs of
bald eagles have nested or made the Upper Delaware River valley their year
round home. This is in addition to the 100 or so eagles who
migrate down from Canada during the colder months. Eagles have
found the river valley to their liking as there is an abundance of fish
along with plenty of secluded forests for them to roost. The Eagle
Institute offers year round seminars and field trips for those interested
in learning more about the majestic bald eagle.
Rainbow trout were first
introduced into the Delaware River by accident in the 1880's.
As legend has it, containers of trout were being transported by rail and
there was an accident. Quick thinking on the part of the
trainmaster salvaged the cargo. He dumped the trout into
Callicoon Creek, a tributary of the Delaware, and these rainbows have
naturally reproduced since then.
To my knowledge, there has
never been any stocking of hatchery raised trout on the Delaware.
The rainbows that you may catch
are all wild. They have beautiful markings and possess an
electric energy that will strip your line before you know it.
By the way, the trainmaster who rescued those trout back in the 1880's was
one Dan Cahill for whom the popular Light Cahill fly is named.
Rainbows, for the most part, like
fast pocket water for that is where there is oxygen and plenty of
food. They will feed on caddis larvae, stonefly and mayfly nymphs
under rocks in fast shallow water. Travel a few yards
downstream of these riffs and chances are good that you'll hook into a
If you're one of
those anglers that gets a tad impatient if you haven't had a tug on your
line every twenty minutes, the Delaware smallmouth population won't
disappoint you. These fish are abundant and are always scrappy
on light tackle. A few years ago, the legal size was increased
to twelve inches and, in my opinion, that has made the fishery better than
average eight to twelve inches but you'll find a number of bronzebacks
that will exceed fifteen inches and they'll really put a bend in your
rod! Smallmouths are most active when the water temperatures
reach into the seventies. I prefer June through September
period for non-stop bronzeback action. My favorite plugs
during this period would be small floating Rapalas and Tiny Torpedos.
They are just the ticket when the water is warm. In the fall,
when the water cools, try using a lead head jig tipped with grub tails or
deep diving small crawdad crankbaits.
Delaware River has a sleeper of a walleye fishery. In this
writer's opinion, the best time to target ol' marble eyes is when the
water temperatures fall below 45 degrees - that would be from late October
until ice-up or ice-out until March. The season closes between
march and May to protect spawning fish.
Walleyes can be
found in deep holes throughout the river. The preferred method
is to jig with live bait or to use a lindy rig tipped with a baby lamprey
eel. Make sure that your bait is ticking along the bottom with
no slack in the line. If you find yourself on the river on an
overcast day or when the water is a bit stained - so much the better since
walleyes are sensitive to bright sunny days.
Before we bring
our boat in and go ashore for the day, I just want to stress a few points
about river safety and courtesy.
Always wear a
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
woolen clothing in cold weather
overload your boat or canoe. Keep your weight evenly distributed
courteous. If you're boating, go behind wading anglers -
they have the right of way. And if you're using a boat
with a motor - slow down! You're on a river with lots of
rocks and canoes.
Be alert for
changes in the weather. Get off the water in the event of
If you get
swamped, hold onto the upstream end of your boat to avoid being
crushed between the boat and a boulder. Float on your back
with your feet pointed downstream. Do not attempt to stand
in fast water unless it is too shallow to swim in since the current
can pin you under if your foot is caught in the rocks.
brought on your trip - take it out with you. No litter
Much of the
land on both sides of the river is private property.
Always ask the permission of the landowner when on private land.
Delaware River Valley is a very special place. No matter what
season of the year you choose, the scenery is unsurpassed with new
adventures around each bend. I hope you'll have a chance to
experience this great river.