Photos by Joe Cermele
I’ve road-tripped to far-off places like Alaska, Montana, and the Florida Keys, but a few years ago I decided to stay closer to home in central Jersey. Growing up, I always considered the Delaware River to be my home water, but the truth is, beyond the familiar 6-mile stretch between Trenton and Titusville, the rest of the river was a mystery. So for five days, I ventured on a Delaware marathon with one goal in mind: to learn as much as I could about the river. Here are some notes from my trip, and the fishing lessons I took home.
Hancock, N.Y. My guide, Gary Henderson, and I had reached the junction pool where the West and East Branches of the Upper Delaware meet. As I whiffed cast after cast to the massive rising brown trout, Henderson mentioned that a few times each spring, some unlucky angler who managed to connect with one of these trout would have the fish ripped off the line by a striped bass.
Lesson Learned: Don’t be leery of hunting migrating fish farther upriver than you think they go. I always thought the stripers stopped 100 miles short of Hancock.
Delaware Water Gap, Pa. The first thing Capt. John Brylinski said to me after shaking hands at the ramp was: “Man, you have to be crazy to try to catch a muskie here in April.” For the next five hours, we watched nothing follow or eat our jerkbaits in spots Brylinski said are killer in midsummer.
Lesson Learned: It’s simple, really: Don’t waste your time chasing a fish out of season. Figure out what species is most active, and target that.
Easton, Pa. Given that the river is prone to flowing high and dirty in spring, I was glad to see it was running normal and clear when I met up with Capt. Blaine Mengel for a day of chasing smallmouths. Mengel, on the other hand, wasn’t so excited. By the end of the day we had worked very hard for just three bass.
Lesson Learned: High, dirty flows in spring make smallmouths much easier to find. They gravitate to the flooded banks, where they can be picked off with tubes.
Lambertville, N.J. There’s a family in Lambertville that still has permission to net American shad in the river as a historical demonstration. During a break from crushing shad with Capt. Dieter Scheel, we watched the net get hauled. In one pass, which covered a mere 150 feet of river, the netters brought in three trout as by-catch. The smallest weighed probably 3 pounds. Given the number of stocked streams that empty into the Delaware, it makes sense that some trout would end up in the lower river.
Lesson Learned: That haul proved there are more trout in my home stretch than I once believed, and that even if a river seems too warm or inhospitable to trout, don’t rule out the chance of hooking a stray toad.
Trenton, N.J. Within five minutes of my free-lining a live herring in the tidal zone at Trenton, a striper smacked my bait with its tail. Even though the herring still had plenty of life, Capt. Eric Kerber told me to switch it for a fresh one. He swore that no striper would touch a herring that was missing even a few scales. I kept the bait in to prove him wrong, but it went untouched. After rerigging with a fresh livie, I got a bite within minutes.
Lesson Learned: It’s since become illegal to possess herring on the Delaware River, but the experience made me put stock in casting only the most detailed, realistic plugs and swimbaits.