First we went to a stretch of the Upper East that I had spotted from the road a few days before. It was raining on us, but that doesn't stop R n' R. We came to fish and we were going to fish. Getting wet payed off for me with a big ol' wild brown on the Drunk and Disorderly.
After that we had some food in Hancock and waited out the rain. The forecast had been atrocious, but the rain actually cleared fairly quickly and it was not long at all before we were on the West Branch and I was looking for that next big streamer eat. We fished spots that required a little bit of walking, because good trout fishing isn't usually right off the sidewalk. We ended up finding some magic water.
The best spot we found on the West branch pretty much started out as good streamer fishing. I caught two really nice browns and missed a few others on a white Heifer Groomer. Oh, and we were on the PA side, so these were my first fly caught fish in the state I was born, so a bit of a landmark moment despite the fact that I was a long long way from my original home town.
Then, suddenly, what had been a fast and furious streamer bite shut off like the flip of a switch. In half an hour the reason manifested on the surface. Sulfurs. They were sz. 16 to 14, a tiny bit bigger than the sulfurs I'm used to in CT. And the trout really started to chew on them! Rik had left his dry fly stuff in the car, so he left me to get that. I was one my own. It did not take me long to drop the 8wt and pick up the 5 and tie a parachute sulfur onto my 13 ft leader. I hooked the first fish I put that fly over, a huge rainbow. It was not on for long. It jumped and broke off before I could even think. No matter, on went a new fly. The next fish took just as quickly. It was just a gentle sip, but the fish very quickly revealed itself to be a very large brown. I steered it away from the other rising fish, some of which were plainly humongous. I got it into the lee of an island and did my thing. After a tedious battle I was able to tail the fish and grab the leader. My thumb could not touch my other fingers around that thick fish's caudal peduncle. I was a bit stunned, this was a 24-25 inch wild brown on a little dry fly on a river I had never fished until this day. The kicker? It wasn't a polite fish, the fly pulled out and it took less then a second for him to get out of my grasp. I didn't have time to be bummed that I couldn't get a photo of my biggest ever wild trout, There were more and bigger ones rising. At that point, however, the hatch had literally become so thick it was nearly impossible to get my fly in the fish's mouth. It wasn't until the bugs started to taper off that I caught another. And that fish could have been eaten by the one before.
We saw dear walking into the West Branch spot, and we saw another on the way out. It was surprising how close we got. The next morning we had a turkey bust out of the brush not a rod's length from us. Wildlife abounds in the Catskills.
Our last stop of the day was somewhat bigger water. Rik took first blood, first with some little fallfish and then with a wild brownie. It took me some time to get on the board there, and I did so in a very unorthodox manor. When I fish a big river I like to carry two rods, and it is sometimes it is a little inconvenient to leave one on the bank. As I made my way down this juicy looking riffle, I was ripping the big white Groomer with the 8wt and had the 5 tucked under my arm. When I hooked up it didn't at first seem like a big fish. I still quickly made my way to the bank. When I was close enough, I turned and tossed the rod onto the island, trusting the knot weed would break the fall. I had the fish on the reel at that point, and it began jumping. Yup, it was another nice one. Another wild brown trout over 20 inches, probably just 21.
Rik caught one more just a short time later. That pretty much ended things for the day. We went to build camp. We drove in to the site in some of the thickest fog I have ever seen. It was a cool night. I slept in a hammock for the first time. A little black bear came into camp not much after midnight, just strolled up nonchalantly. I heard him brush along the back of the car, not 12 feet away. I had my light in one pocket and my bear spray in the other. Quietly as I could I slipped both out. All at once I hit him with the light, slapped my tarp, and said "hey bear". He turned and looked at me with just a hint of surprise on his face and just politely walked away. That was a highlight, I'd never been so close to a bear before or seen one so clearly in the wild. I could actually smell the little guy, he smelled just like a wet dog. It was awesome.
In the morning we went back to our money spot on the West Branch. Before we walked down I took a couple casts in a pool by the parking area and caught a lovely little brookie. I wasn't even in waders yet.
When we got down to the river we found sporadic risers, not much of a streamer bite, and all around tricky fishing. I hooked one, a hefty female brown well over 20 inches, and she broke me on the jump. I gotta fish for these big trout more... I mean come on what a fight. After that we went down river and found fish rising to sulfurs in slower water. Rik missed a couple and I landed a beauty on an emerger I have had great success with. That was my last trout of the trip, though I came close with two others.
I was getting cramps about then that plagued me to some extent for the rest of the trip, until well after I fell asleep in my own bed. That made it hard to focus on fishing. But we were on a magical stretch of the Upper East for a while, and that was an incredible experience. We fished one of the spring creek like sections. Super clear, slow water, spooky trout. I was lucky to fool two, though I botched the hooksets on both. It made me feel pretty comfortable with my trout fishing skills, to fool large wild trout in some of the most difficult conditions I have ever seen. I'm ready to go to New Zealand!
At the very last spot of the trip Rik caught a nice chunky brown. It was a fitting end to an awesome week. I couldn't wait to get home, but at the same time I can't wait to get back to the Catskills. Thanks for joining me out there Rik, those were two of the most unbelievable days of fishing I've ever had. Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible and made it fun. You all know who you are.