One Bug: It’s all in the fly

Posted 4/5/18

The guide jumps into the icy Delaware and fights upstream, following the fly line. Reaching the bank, he slips and slides on the rocks and finally reaches a small tree. Shinnying up the tree, he …

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One Bug: It’s all in the fly


The guide jumps into the icy Delaware and fights upstream, following the fly line. Reaching the bank, he slips and slides on the rocks and finally reaches a small tree. Shinnying up the tree, he works his way out on the smallest branches he trusts will hold him. Reaching out as far as he can, he picks a leaf off the end of the branch. “Got it!” he yells, and is answered with whoops and hollers from the boat. Back at the boat he carefully removes the fly from the leaf and securely ties it back on to the leader. All this for a $2 fly?

Well, this isn’t just any fly. It belongs to a contestant in the One Bug competition, a fundraiser for Friends of the Upper Delaware (see opposite page). To him, it’s a matter of survival. Lose that fly and you’re out.

Every year since 2008, teams of fly fishers congregate in Hancock, NY to participate in this wonderful event. I say “fly fishers” because there have been women in every competition, and I am one of them. Monies raised by the event are used to support and protect the Delaware River watershed.

The idea is that a team of two fly fishers competes against other teams fishing with only one fly each day. They can count only those trout caught with that one fly they have chosen, and all fish are released unharmed. If the fly is lost, they are done competing for the day.

There are awards for the team with the most points, the biggest fish and the individual fly fisher with the most points. The guides compete for the Top Guide award, signifying that the four contestants they guided accumulated the fish whose total inches of length is the greatest.

Winning any of the categories brings the participant only a trophy and bragging rights, but by watching and listening to the participants you would think it’s much more than that.

As the One Bug approaches, you will see boats with folks fishing, trying to find their killer fly. I have heard members planning the next year’s fly at the banquet dinner of the one just completed. You can’t take the choice too lightly. But as I always say, I don’t want yesterday’s fly, I want today’s fly! You fisherman know what I mean: you go into a fly shop, and they say these worked “yesterday”—but of course they don’t work today! My fly boxes are filled with yesterday flies.

Having been in both the contestant and guide category at the One Bug, I do have a little insight on the fly selection issue. Fish target different life cycles of the bugs that are in their diet. Early in the day, they may target the underwater stage, called a nymph. As the day goes on and if the water temperature increases, then the main course is hatching bugs. These sit on top of the water and are visible to both the fisher person and the trout.

There are many different types of bugs that live in the river, and each has a time frame during the season when it hatches. Fly selection depends on the bug and which stage of its life cycle you are targeting. There are many different patterns for each cycle.

So this is the dilemma facing the contestant: Which fly do I use? Let’s not forget that there are bait fish too, so one could choose a streamer, which looks like the small fish swimming around. The choices are endless. And of course, this is a two-day competition, and what worked today just might not work tomorrow. But then again, maybe it will….

Normally, around the time the One Bug is held, the Hendrickson mayflies are hatching. If you were to look up Hendrickson fly patterns on the Internet, you would see that there are over 1,200 different patterns. Most of the competitors will be fishing a pattern representing this bug. Walk around the morning just before the competition starts, and groups of fly fishers decked out in waders will be huddled, secretively looking in little fly boxes or cups deciding if their pattern is going to be the killer fly.

Many times there is a last-minute change in the competitors’ fly choice due to the input from their guides. All the guides have their tried and true flies, and many times they have had more recent experience on the river than the competitor.

The event starts on Friday with a big barbeque under the tent at the Fireman’s Park in Hancock, and it is open to the public. There is both a silent and live auction. The following two days consist of fishing, with breakfast, lunch and dinner included. The awards banquet is held on the final evening.

You can never really predict what will happen on the river. One year it was so windy you just couldn’t cast. My client cast so hard his fly fell apart within 10 minutes. We have had extremely high water, making it difficult to slow the boat down, and very few rising fish. Some days it has been so hot all you really have wanted to do is get out of the waders and swim. The fish on those days have been in the same mood, staying low and waiting until evening to eat. We have had rain and cold, but also more than our fair share of beautiful spring days.

I can’t wait to see what this year will bring. If you want to participate too, see the opposite page for more details about FUDR and this year’s One Bug event.

[Sam Decker is a licensed fishing guide, and she was top guide in last year’s One Bug competition. She can be reached at]

Friends of the Upper Delaware and One Bug
Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR) is a community-based watershed conservation organization based in Hancock, NY and the leading advocacy voice for protecting and restoring the magnificent and unique cold-water ecosystem of the Upper Delaware River watershed.
FUDR leads multiple coalitions of diverse constituencies to build strong public support and amplify the growing voice calling for the protection of this special place. FUDR engages in a wide variety of river protection initiatives through policy development, public education, grassroots organizing and on-the-ground stream restoration projects. The two main priorities of the organization are: 1) ensuring consistent and plentiful water releases from the New York City Delaware basin reservoirs and; 2) developing and implementing a comprehensive stream protection plan for tributaries below the dams. Both of these efforts will reap multiple social and environmental benefits including protecting public health, mitigating the impacts of flooding, maximizing recreational opportunities, improving local economies and protecting aquatic habitat.
In late April, FUDR will host its ninth annual One Bug fly-fishing event. A festive community banquet is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, April 29 at Fireman’s Park on the river in Hancock. The keynote speaker this year will be New York Congressman Chris Gibson, who has been a strong supporter of protecting the Upper Delaware River in the U.S. House of Representatives. All members of the public are welcome to the banquet, which includes dinner, music, dancing and a live auction. Tickets cost $100 per person and can be purchased online at
For more information on the One Bug Banquet and everything else FUDR is working on to protect the river, visit, or email Executive Director Jeff Skelding at or Sherri Resti, executive assistant, at
— Jeff Skelding, Executive Director


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