The Delaware in October
This is one of my favorite months to fly fish the Delaware River and its branches. The mountains are lit up with color, and it is very pleasant time to spend a day in the outdoors. The autumn is also a time when many outdoorsmen are torn among multiple activities, so our rivers have little pressure. Over the last week or two, I have seen very few people along the river each day.
We have been in a period of warmer-than-normal weather that has all of our rivers fishing like it is still summer. But the best dry-fly fishing is still ahead of us. We will not see the big blue wing olive hatches of fall until we string together some cooler weather. These tiny but abundant mayflies emerge by the millions every year, but not until colder weather settles in.
All of my recent guide trips have been very good. Both our brown and rainbow trout are aware that our days are getting shorter and are looking for every opportunity to feed.
Currently we have a lot of options. dry fly, nymphing and streamer fishing are all effective at times.
Most days I have been starting my guests with nymph rigs and working the faster water sections of the river. This technique is keeping our rods bent, as this type of water is full of wild rainbows. My best approach has been to fish one large nymph, normally a #10 bead head isonychia or stonefly. I will follow the large nymph with two smaller nymphs tied directly to the hook bend. I will normally choose a #16 BH pheasant tail followed by a beadless #18 flash back pheasant tail or caddis pupa.
This is my go-to method for fishing the non-hatch periods of the day.
Dry-fly activity is now possible at any time of day in flurries that pop up here and there. There are isolated places where the insect activity is good, but the vast majority of the river will not see steady insect activity until the cold-weather blue wing olives start up.
If you are set on fishing the dry fly, then covering lots of water is the way to go: if you are observant there are always a few fish sticking their heads up. Many times a move of only a short distance may reveal activity. Isonychia dry flies are still a good searching pattern, and all Delaware trout are also suckers for small rusty spinners.
But olives are the main staple in the trout’s diet, and as this month progresses, they will become about the only food source available to the trout. As the larger insects fade out there will be a major shift in how the trout use the river. Much of the river environment will become void of fish, as the trout population transitions from summer holding water to the slowest pools and eddies. This movement is essential so that the trout can feed efficiently on the smaller insects. So late-season success is always tied directly to how well you search the slow water flats and tail outs of the bigger pools.
Once the olives are established I like to fish a few dry flies that always get the job done. My favorites are traditional Catskill-style dry flies, CDC Knock Down Duns, Hackle Wing Cripples and Hackle Wing Spinners. All of these flies are fished small and all are tied to imitate olives. I will try #16 through #20 flies, but the #18 is usually the sweet spot.
One last note: Many people are unaware of just how long the trout will stay active and continue surface feeding each year. It continues long after most of us have given up due to uncomfortable weather.