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Bronzebacks on the Delaware

Posted 7/19/17

For us fly fishermen the warm summer months are the prime time to pursue the Upper Delaware’s other game fish. Now that the river has warmed up, smallmouth bass rule the lower river. These hard …

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Bronzebacks on the Delaware


For us fly fishermen the warm summer months are the prime time to pursue the Upper Delaware’s other game fish. Now that the river has warmed up, smallmouth bass rule the lower river.

These hard fighting fish are plentiful in most river sections, and they seem to have an insatiable appetite once the water has warmed to over 70°. Over the last two weeks, my daily trips have been more focused on chasing smallies, and the action has been improving every trip.

Right now prime conditions exist from Callicoon downstream. Most days I have been choosing to fish somewhere between there and Lackawaxen, but I am sure the good fishing continues downstream.

Currently there are quite a few options for chasing smallies on the fly. During every day there is opportunity to take fish subsurface with baitfish imitating streamers, on the surface with popper flies and with match-the-hatch dry fly fishing. It is, however, important to match the technique to the correct time of day. The heat of the day is best spent fishing streamers and buggers down deep with very slow retrieves. Poppers are about the most exciting way to take bronzebacks, but they respond best to this method both early and late in the day. For those who don’t mind staying on the river until dark, there is a good flurry of surface feeding most nights. There are good amounts of Isonychia, Cahills, and White Flies emerging and the smallies feed pretty well on this banquet. My favorite fly is a big White Wulff and most nights it is all you will need to keep your rod bent.

As for tackle, I prefer to fish both five- and six-weight fly rods. These rods are well matched for the average size of the Delaware Bass. Most of the fish fall into the 10- to 14-inch range, and they are incredible sport on the lighter rods.

Below the surface

When fishing deep, I like to choose small baitfish or crayfish imitations. Good choices for the Main Stem Delaware include fly patterns that imitate the abundant local forage. The fly styles I like best are Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, EP Minnows and articulated baitfish colored to match the local forage. Right now, the species to match are baby shad, elvers, dace, sculpins and crayfish. For the patient angler, nymphs can also be a killer at times. The best to try are rubber leg stoneflies and hellgrammites in larger sizes.

On the surface

There is nothing more exciting to see than a Delaware Smallmouth exploding on a popper fly! At this time, this action is great every afternoon. I like to fish traditional popper flies of about three to four inches in total length. I like the colorful ones, and my favorites are fire tiger, chartreuse and orange. I also regularly use Dahlberg Divers, Gurglers and Mouse Patterns. All of these flies are very light, and as long as the winds are light, I prefer to fish these on a six-weight fly rod.

The best action is from about 5 p.m. until dark. The best areas are the rocky shallows and flats that are three feet deep or less. It is important to loudly pop the fly and take lots of pauses. Almost every fish attacks when the fly is still.

If you have not yet pursued smallmouth bass on the fly, now is the time. The action will remain reliable right through the summer and early fall seasons.

Wade safe and good luck!


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