Loving the Lackwaxen; Tribute to a tributary
Voted River of the Year in 2010 by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Lackawaxen River is known far and wide as a spectacular freestone mountain fishery. The Lackawaxen was made famous by the well-known western novelist Zane Grey. Grey spent much of his time out west, but it was in the village of Lackawaxen, where the Delaware and Lackawaxen Rivers converge, that he spent his recreational time. It was here that he penned the famous “Lord of Lackawaxen Creek,” written for the May 1909 issue of Outing magazine. The tale is of a smallmouth bass that repeatedly taught the young angler the many thrills and frustrations of freshwater fishing.
The Lackawaxen River offers unique outdoor opportunities to modern day adventurists. The river gets its start miles north of the Prompton Dam in Wayne County and flows almost 30 miles to its confluence with the Delaware River in Pike County. According to Zane Grey, “It is a little river hidden away under gray cliffs and hills black with ragged pines. It is full of mossy stones and rapid ripples. All its tributaries, dashing white-sheeted over ferny cliffs, wine-brown where the whirling pools suck the stain from the hemlock root, harbor the speckled trout.” The Lackawaxen offers up an abundance of excellent fish habitat that is perfect for trout. Rock bass, smallmouth bass, suckers, eels and chubs or “fall fish” also find the cold, clean waters of the Lackawaxen favorable. In recent times, American shad have also been caught in the lower reaches of the river near its confluence with the Delaware.
In the Wayne County town of Honesdale, the Dyberry Creek dumps into the Lackawaxen, creating an excellent spot to hook into some nice fish among the northern stretch. There is a parking area and walkway to get to the pool. Trout and even crappies have been caught here.
This upper stretch of the Lackawaxen runs a bit warmer than the tail end, and anglers can expect rock bass and panfish to be a possibility. Some also like to try their hand during the spring melt-off period when water levels are naturally high but equally cold.
There is only one commercial livery located along the Lackawaxen River. Most enthusiasts use non-posted pull-off areas as access points, usually taking out at the Zane Grey launch area in the village of Lackawaxen. Caution should be exercised at all times, but especially when water levels are high. There are large boulders that create very strong eddies and currents that can suck a boat under and hold it there. High water also carries debris that can be dangerous, especially when passing under bridges.
When water is released from Lake Wallenpaupack, it brings alewives and other food with it. Trout take advantage and gorge themselves to trophy proportion, creating the perfect scenario for fishing live bait, salted shiners, wobbling spoons or streamers. The river level can change rapidly during a release, though these are generally timed for non-peak use periods. (Visit www.lakelevelppl.com or call 800/807-2474 for water release schedule information.)
Spinners are an excellent choice of lure to use on the river. Rooster Tails also produce well. These lures offer a variety of blade sizes and feather trailers that come in all colors. Yellow seems to be a really good producer, and chartreuse is an all-time favorite. Thomas Lures are made in the town of Hawley, and their spinners flash tantalizing gold and fish-colored spots that big trout find irresistible.
Those casting flies will do well with streamers and Woolly Buggers, as well as with nymph imitators, especially early in the season. In early May, the river will come alive with the emergence of multiple species of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies, giving anglers the chance to “match-the-hatch” with dry fly imitations.
If you don’t know your insects, visit one of the local fly shops located along the river for assistance. These experts can tell you what is hatching and when, and they will have on hand the imitations you will need. It’s not uncommon to see multiple hatches coming off at the same time on a given evening.
The Lackawaxen is well stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, both before and during the seasons. Anglers can expect to hook into brook trout, browns, rainbows, the golden palomino and even some cross breeds, such as tiger trout. Recent years also have seen supplemental stocking of giant trout by local businesses.
Be aware that much of this river is posted as private property, with no trespassing allowed. You would do well to visit ahead of the season to contact landowners, locate areas open to fishing and find convenient parking for running the rapids in a canoe or kayak.