Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pepacton Reservoir Smallmouth Bass, Channel Cat, Rock Bass; East Branch Delaware River Fly Fished

We began by drifting out of the large cove or hollow where the rented rowboat is kept. Using 3/4- ounce slip sinkers, our herring or sawbellies as they're called in the Catskills rode at almost a vertical angle, line easily measured down by two-foot increments to just deeper than 30 feet, barely below the thermocline. We had tied eight-foot leaders to barrel swivels and hoped for the best. I found the batteries to my graph recorder dead, must have forgotten to turn it off after Hopatcong. Perhaps the one item I forgot to bring along was a Phillips head. But a couple of other boats fishe
d nearby and marked trout, so we moved through the vicinity.

The day had begun before sunup at about 48 degrees and as we trolled, four and  five colors of leadcore line out and a very thin metal Sutton spoon tied to a fluorocarbon leader six-pound test, a cool breeze felt just like October. I had a look at a topographic map before we left New Jersey and found that no shallow flats exist. All the shorelines fall off into great depth quickly, some from sheer faces of giant boulders and continuing down underwater with shelves and cavities below--excellent smallmouth bass habitat. Pepacton is about 20 miles in length with even the back sections very deep. The reservoir's mean depth is 70 feet; deepest water is over 160 feet and acres of it exist.

We rowed to the shoreline at the right of a cove facing out upon the reservoir's main body. My son caught a couple of rock bass and I noticed--through very clear water--the bottom become too uniform a mix of gravel and small stones as we drifted, no real structure to hold bass. I heard a wood thrush in the woods--my favorite songbird--and my son spotted a deer maneuvering the slope. All was very quiet out here. The area has very high quality wilderness value and you feel at the center of things, since after all, reality is mostly without us. We rowed out of the cove and headed just to the right, trolling again over water that must have been at least 70 feet deep, attracted to rock formations on shore which, if they extended into the depths, would certainly be bass habitat.

On my first cast, I hung something good-size and soon felt puzzled. Could this be a walleye? It wasn't a bass, I could tell. Not even a largemouth. It fought just like a walleye, but we soon saw in the clear water a channel cat. It was a beautiful, white fish with black spots like a trout and a gray back and head. The bottom here had more boulder-size rocks and Matt soon caught the first bass after I released the cat. Further west, underwater shelves and surely cavities inward in relation to what we could see form magnificent structures. I got into casting my jig on top of the shallow shelves I could plainly see and letting it slide over the edge to drop in front of the recesses from two down to 15 feet or so. I fished the jigs right in the rocks as deep as 35 feet or so and lost plenty to wedge snags, although I suppose most or all of the bass stage shallower than the thermocline at 30 feet, although every bass we caught was at least 25 feet down. Some of the rock bass seemed to be deeper, but I'm not certain.

None of the bass we caught larger than Matt's photographed, which is pathetic and unfortunate judged against my hopes that we might catch our year's largest, perhaps even that elusive five- pounder we've come closest to on Lake Hopatcong. But you don't let inevitable broken hopes determine a day's value. We had a deeply absorbing time and it's not easy fishing from a heavy rowboat with strong breeze and water too deep to anchor effectively. And once the mist burned off, the sky felt like an empty expanse with a huge blue curtain, letting all that light in. We heard of two trout caught, one by each of the guys who marked fish to the left and right of us as we drifted herring early. Two browns about three pounds each.

We drove back to Roscoe Campsites, had a late lunch in town, and stopped in at Beaverkill Fly Shop, picking up a couple of #20 sulfurs as fit the report for the East Branch Delaware. We grabbed power naps and then headed out. And then we drove as far west as some grove or other, stopping along the way where we could to judge the water, but not actually walking and wading the river to find any holes. The spot that looked best was at Downsville by the covered bridge. Nothing rose at all, so I cut off the sulfurs I had tied on back at camp, and we tried to provoke interest with Woolly Bugger streamers. A fast run and pool down below looked better than the run and pool below Roy Bridge on the Flatbrook where I always catch trout on streamers in late May, but I got no hits at all. Finally evening came on, and I tied the sulfurs back on. We did see a very few rises, but I suspected at least most of these were carp! Here we were at the fabled East Branch Delaware with its 55-degree water in July and trout tales to fill volumes, and I had spotted a school of small carp of some unusual specie I couldn't judge, from between a pound to three pounds. I watched the water surface intently and finally I clearly made out the back of a carp break the surface.

Oh, well. Back in Roscoe, before we arrived back at camp to fix a steak, we checked out the confluence of the Willowemoc and Beaverkill. Both of these streams were about 70 degrees, so we didn't dare fish them, although we saw quite a few more rises than at the East Branch and suspected these were indeed trout. It's a beautiful hole at the confluence. It would be sacrilege at this world famous fly fishing stop, but if you were to roll a nightcrawler along the bottom at night--given that the water is lower than 68 degrees so as not to kill the trout by lactic acid reaction--you might find that hole holds some real lunkers. I think the real reason it's so famous is because back in the 1940's a train connected Roscoe to NYC and the wealthy came in the spring, summer, and fall. Not that some real nice trout don't reside there. I don't know if it's fly fishing only or not, but we didn't fish it with water warm to the touch, although a size 20 dry fly of some sort would have been about perfect.

 The blue haze wasn't really that dense.


  1. I can't believe yous got skunked at the papacton resivor for the trout...I got there with my father James Whittaker and we nail em...5-6-7 pounders all the time..we get our bait night before we go..we live in Ulster county ny and it's a hour drive easily for us to get there..we have been pounding the trout at 35-40 feet of water..

  2. I can't believe yous got skunked at the papacton resivor for the trout...I got there with my father James Whittaker and we nail em...5-6-7 pounders all the time..we get our bait night before we go..we live in Ulster county ny and it's a hour drive easily for us to get there..we have been pounding the trout at 35-40 feet of water..

    1. Yeah, I'd heard of catches like that, and you see all those rowboats on the banks, so you know there's motive. What got to us is how poorly we did for the smallmouths, because that's chiefly what we fished for. I heard glory stories about the bass fishery, and, wow, does the structure look it. As related in the story, there were a few other boats out for trout, fishing trout exclusively, and for hours--two browns caught, and no 5-7 pounders, either, about 2 1/2. One thing I had no doubt about--what a fishery. We just weren't on them or they weren't hitting. Round Valley Reservoir used to be a trophy trout fishery, down here my way, but the alewife population crashed. Still, lots up to about three pounds, rare fish over seven, besides the lakers, some of those up to 20, but it's no trophy laker fishery, really. We had a really nice time up there. We don't really depend on fish, nah, we sort of like the fish to depend on us, and sometimes that works out, sometimes not, and it sure does more often where we fish regularly. At least we caught some little bass that day up at Pepacton, and the catfish, a surprise.


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