The Upper Delaware Grand Slam
The Upper Delaware River flows between Hancock, where river’s Main Stem begins, and Sparrow Bush, NY. It also forms the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania. This distance is just over 70 river miles, and within this area, the fishing opportunities are close to endless. The river meanders through a beautiful valley with small towns about every five to 15 miles. Most of these towns or places where bridges cross the river offerpublic access to the Delaware. As of last year, there are now signs along Route 97 pointing out a majority of the public river access points. Using these access points for fishing purposes can provide many chances for a Delaware River Grand Slam.
So, what is the Grand Slam? The Grand Slam is when you can catch four species of game fish in one fishing outing. And because as fishing guides we spend a lot of time on the river, we often swing for a Grand Slam on a daily basis.
The main four species we target for a Grand Slam Day are rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass and walleye, all of which are plentiful within the waters of the Upper Delaware. Mixing in American shad, tiger trout, brook trout, channel catfish, pickerel, or perch can all be argued to count toward a Grand Slam Day as well.
Targeting these species simultaneously can be difficult sometimes and easier at others. As is typical with fishing, weather and water conditions have a lot to do with an average day of success. When choosing to target trout on a spring day, locating a bass in the same water is nearly out of the question. This is where understanding fish habitats and patterns is essential. When we catch trout in the cold, fast water, we know bass will be waiting in the calmer, warmer water of the river. Water temps can have a large effect on fish and their daily routines. The spring is often an easy time to get lucky catching a walleye while trout fishing, because walleye spawn in the spring, meaning they move into shallow gravel-bottom runs where trout also reside this time of year. Brown trout and rainbow trout spawn at different times, so catching a rainbow in the river can be difficult in the spring, because these fish move into tributaries to spawn. So again, lining up a Delaware River Grand Slam Day is not the easiest feat to achieve.
My favorite time to pursue a Grand Slam is the late spring/beginning of summer, or anytime in the fall. These are times when most fish are not spawning, and four different game species can be found on a five- to 10-mile float on any stretch of the Upper Delaware.
So here is my general recipe for lining up a Grand Slam Day. It will not work every time, but if you fish the Delaware, stick to these tips and follow fishing trends, then your Grand Slam Day could be just around the corner.And keep in mind: catching four game species in one waterway or lake over any period of time is a respected accomplishment.
I like to start early in the morning targeting trout. The water temperature is at its coolest earlier in the day, and trout like this for sub-surface feeding. Targeting any two- to five-feet-deep, medium- to fast-current area in the morning hours will often produce a rainbow or brown trout. A good way to target them is to use gold or silver spinners on four- to six-pound test line and a six-foot spinning rod, or with a fly rod using nymphs or streamers. Being diligent with casting and keeping your lure or fly down in the water column are keys to success.
By now, we have caught our two trout species, and probably a fallfish or two. Fallfish are one of the most prevalent fish in our Upper Delaware River, but they hold little to no game species reputation, so they don’t count toward our Grand Slam. Mid-morning, as the day is beginning to warm up before reaching its peak temperature, is a decent time to target a walleye in a deep pool or run of the river. Bouncing any variation of jig or live bait on the bottom of the river will often lead to a walleye hook-up. Walleye are notoriously finicky fish, especially when the sun is out, so pursuing them on cloudy days or finding them before the sun comes out or after it has set will increase your chances of catching one.
Moving on, we are now into the afternoon hours; sub-surface trout bites have shut off, walleye are hiding from the sun, but smallmouth bass are just waking up. The smallmouth bass is probably the easiest of the four species to catch in our river. Virtually any slow water between four and eight feet deep often holds smallmouth bass. These fish are aggressive and eat almost anything presented to them. Pick a bait or lure, throw it into any calm water you find during an afternoon, and a bass will jump on your line.
Late in the day is also a great time to make up any ground you may have missed earlier. All fisherman hate having deadlines or places to be, because we never want our fishing days to end. So, if it is nearing the end of your fishing day and you still need to catch a trout or walleye, you are in luck. Trout will often rise for flies of various kinds in the evening and can be easily targeted with fly rods and an imitation fly. Throughout the late spring into summer, rainbows and browns alike eat flies off the river’s surface almost nightly. This fun experience, watching the fish eat your fly and landing it into a net, can bring much joy.
If you had a tough time finding one throughout the day, the walleye window reopens once the sun goes down behind the horizon. Again, targeting them in deep water and staying consistently in the lower half of the water column is important to locating a walleye.
In conclusion, the Upper Delaware River has over 30 different species of fish in it, leaving many combinations of four to compile in your Grand Slam Day. The four I mentioned are, in some sense, the more difficult and respected fish to catch, but if you enjoy fishing and like challenges, get out on the Upper Delaware for a day or two and see how many different species you can catch. And, of course, you may be a lucky enough fisher to catch the Grand Slam or even a trophy-size or near-to-trophy-size fish of any species that make their home in the Upper Delaware River.