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Delights of Drifting Down the Delaware
John Stuart Martin
October 12, 1959
When the sentinel sycamores shed their yellow tatters and show their skeletons, when the oak-and maple-cloaked valley ramparts come all afire—in a word, when Indian summer truly arrives, then is the time for float-fishing down the Delaware. It is a sport as old and adventuresome as the Indians, and almost as forgotten. Take live minnows if you can, then hellgrammites, craws, grasshoppers or bass bugs, and always lamprey eels. If you can't gel live bait, go anyway with spinners and imitations. But do not miss float-fishing. For that golden idle moment between when the trout peter out and the woodcock tweeter in, there is nothing quite like it.
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October 12, 1959

Delights Of Drifting Down The Delaware

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My canoe mate from the mouth of the Big Flat Brook to Pahaquarra, where he is a ranger at a scout camp, was large-sized Leonard Rue, naturalist and wildlife photographer. Rue conducts canoe trips through the Canadian wilderness where they put back fish shorter than 20 inches, so he wasn't vastly interested in run-of-the-river smallmouths and walleyes. This made my fishing luxurious. He took over the handling of my aluminum 15-footer and twirled us through the whitest of water with the greatest of ease.

The Delaware's sandspits and stony points were severely scoured by the high floods of four years ago, so lamprey eels, crawfish and hellgrammites are hard to come by. When our River Runts and other bottom-crawling artificials failed to produce, Rue knew where to go ashore for frogs and grasshoppers. The latter worked best for us—huge olive-green brutes with yellow bellies that infested a clover field.

Under a steep promontory where a shoulder of mountain had plunged off into the main current, one of those 'hoppers, already chewed by an impudent sunfish, brought me a bass as long as my forearm—and an aching wrist from his flailing against the fly rod. We never would have found that deep-swirling hole if we hadn't floated to it.

Another spot which we could have reached only by swimming was the submerged corpse of a monarch red oak, drowned in mid-river with its many-branched crown downstream. Here one of our frisky meadow frogs proved irresistible to an aged pickerel living the solitary life of his kind.

And our smooth, silent passage brought us close to other rewards: droves of unworried deer in the shallows behind islands; families of teal and wood duck bill-dipping along the shore; pert green herons, mincing or playing statue among the stones. As we coasted along at about four knots munching our sandwiches, we watched an eagle get his lunch by stooping from on high to an industrious osprey, which let go the fish it had caught and let the national bird retrieve it.

As we glided at sunset into the broad reach in front of Rue's camp, all the water came to life as though lashed by a heavy hailstorm. A gillion baby shad were plopping out for their evening oxygen. Their myriad numbers let you know why all the walleyes we had seen as we floated over their beds were lying low. Walleyes fatten all summer on baby shad and are hard to entice, except with live lamprey eels, until heavy autumn rains send the shadlets to sea.

From Rue's camp to the Water Gap, another 12 miles of gorgeous Delaware, Frank Kluska of Martin's Creek, Pennsylvania, went with me in my canoe. This time we began with grasshoppers, flipping them carefully inshore wherever we spotted small-mouths feeding in the shallows. The trouble was small fry beat most of the bigger fish to this bait, so we shifted to minnows, which we could catch with small grasshoppers.

With a five-inch shiner following at the end of my fly line, and Kluska sailing a C.P. Swing far and wide on his spin rig, we coasted smoothly through leagues of idyllic reaches. The stony bottom slid by four feet beneath us, vividly clear. Bass were scarce on the middle grounds between rifts, but we could watch big eels slither away from our shadow; bulbous blue-gray carp that moped motionless or scooted off leaving silt clouds in their wake; lazy suckers swinging idly in the current; and always, where the bottom fell away, the sulky walleyes waiting for nightfall to gorge on baby shad.

I should have known enough, with walleyes lurking down there, to use a wire snell. Something smacked my shiner heavily and departed. When I reeled in the limp line, the 2X leader was sheared off like so much darning cotton.

We pushed on down to a rocky bend called Karamac, where the Delaware's left bank slants under almost vertically.

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