Upper Delaware River

I've often thought that owning a drift boat would make my angling life complete. Roaming the Housatonic, Delaware and Deerfield I would fish the sweetest spots on these storied waters. I would secretly smirk as I dropped anchor mere yards from eager, rising fish out of reach of those wading the far bank. I would grant boarding privileges to dear friends and angling's royalty and deny the hangers on and pretenders.

Of course the reality of owning a boat, even something as low maintenance as a drift boat, is a whole other matter. And I probably wouldn’t get out all that much. And I'd have to arrange a shuttle. And whacking a keyboard doesn't really prepare you for rowing a boat all day; my buttery smooth hands would get rough and calloused. And I don't have that many friends (though I suspect I would make new ones with two empty seats to fill).

Boatless, I settle for hiring someone else's vessel once or twice each year. The Harrison brothers, Dan and Tom, great guides and good company, roam western Massachusetts and set the bar by which others of their profession are measured. I'm always torn between catching a spring hatch on the Deerfield or suffering through a frigid winter day hunting lunkers on secret waters. I suppose doing both would be the right decision though the calendar yields too few opportunities and the wallet demurs. Yet I persist.

Last week I made what has become an annual journey to Hancock, New York to sit and angle on another guide's boat. While rain had spiked the streams close to home, as I drove west the waters grew more tame; more reasonable partners for the coming dance. Even so the water had not yet embraced the season; muddy and cool the hatches were off and the angling threatened to retain winter's character.

Delayed by pressing, mundane matters, I arrived late, skipped dinner and spent a few hours bungling spey casts and finding no fish. At least there was cold beer and a good cigar to make the practice painless and ease me into well earned slumber.

The next morning I drove into Hancock for a late meeting with a guy who owns a boat. To call Joe Demalderis a fly fishing guide is a significant understatement of his qualities and business acumen. Joe has managed to construct a life and career around trout and stripers and other fish shaped objects that is a marvel. He splits his time between Pennsylvania, Chile, Andros and the Jersey shore. And despite being at the top of a small enterprise he still manages the nuts and bolts of his trade -- rowing a boat, untying bird's nests in leaders and scouting out trout in challenging conditions.

The day on the Main Stem started with chucking streamers at the bank. My double haul seemed to be working better than normal and I was pleased at the casting. The catching was another matter. On a stream fabled for plentiful large trout we were troutless. Especially heart breaking were a series of follows by trout that left an impression that still replays on a loop in my mind.

Shortly after noon I hooked and landed our first good trout -- fat and feisty -- and we anchored up along the shore while I brought the brown to the net. In the pool below our position thousands of Hendricksons sailed on the wind with nary a nose poking the surface to consume this bounty. It was almost as frustrating as a large trout following yet not consuming a six inch streamer. Almost.

The afternoon brought sporadic opportunities at rising trout. While they had earlier ignored the plentiful duns they now seemed happy to sip at the sparse cripples scattered on the surface. Shifting gears between the gross movements of casting a 300 grain sinking line and subtle technique required to render a #14 emerger to cautious trout was challenging. Especially frustrating was remembering too late that the hook set should subtle as well. I got back a couple of empty leaders. Joe was kind enough not to tease me too much and I eventually got the hang of it putting a few more in the boat.

At some point in every float trip, it becomes a boat ride. I'm sure there's some mythical float where the bite is constant and the grip and grins plentiful; where the magic of the day provides the energy to endure. But in a decade of boat rides, I’ve had none of those.

While it’s surely driven by some measure of mental or physical weariness, at some point the angling yields to the journey. The freedom to pull up anchor and move ahead, to navigate to that place around the next bend where the present yields to the immeasurable opportunity of the future, becomes the focus. The means is now the end.

At least until I get my second wind.

Steve Zakur writes at sippingemergers.com. He dead drifts purple Wooley Buggers in western Connecticut.

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