There is a special time of year that all Catskill fly fishermen look forward too. In the waning days of spring a very distinctive mayfly starts to appear in a few of the river systems of the North East. This bug, known as the Green Drake is coveted by angler and trout alike. What makes the Green Drake so special is its extremely large size, distinct coloration, and abundance when the species mates and falls to the water. The Green Drake’s spinner falls are legendary. Plentiful swarms of huge mayflies laying spent on the water will cause the otherwise slow pools of quiet rivers to come alive with the splashes and gulps of large trout looking for an easy meal.
The spinner stage of this bug has been dubbed the Coffin Fly. This large mayfly spinner received its name from two of the most famous fly tiers in modern fly fishing. Walt Dette and harry Darbee collaborated on the design of the fly one evening after attending a funeral. Hence the Name Coffin fly.
It seems every fly fisherman in the Catskills has a story or anecdote about fishing this fly. My story was on a warm summer night in early June and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
“You guys are here on a great night”! Said Joe Fox the owner of Dettes trout flies. Joe was the great grandson of Walt Dette, one of the aforementioned creators of the famous pattern. “We have had coffin flies for the last few nights” he continued. “We are in for a treat!” My fishing partner exclaimed. At that point in my fly fishing career I had yet to experience the green drake spinner fall. I had only heard the stories and seen pictures of huge fish taken on these coveted nights. This news was what I had been hoping to hear the whole drive up to Roscoe.
After receiving all the information we needed, buying a few flies and just generally hanging out at the shop telling stories and cracking jokes, we were off to the East branch of the Delaware River. At this time of the season on that particular year the rivers had been running very low. This created some difficult conditions on the water. It was not going to be a walk in the park finding our place in the river that night.
After much driving, staring at dead water, climbing cliffs and surveying different runs in the river, we realized it was 6:30PM and we hadn’t even put on our waders. We needed to find a spot and let the river decide our fate that night. We settled on a spot that we had fished in the past and began the routine of getting on the water. It was time to see if all the stories I had heard were just exaggerations and fishermen’s tales.
We walked down the trail through a sliver of woods into a large, slow pool. The surface of the water looked like a sheet of glass. I had immediately picked out my spot, a stretch of water close to the trail that we walked in on and was on the opposite river bank with a high overhanging tree branch. My fishing partner wanted to join the party upstream figuring the action had to be in water that was a bit faster. I stuck to my instincts and slowly waded out to my chosen spot to wait for the something to begin.
Within a short time the feeding frenzy commenced. The coffin flies bring out the largest trout and in the system due to their size and numbers. Big sip after big sip started to erupt around me. I was now starting to feel the excitement I had heard so much about. I began to make some casts and drifts over feeding fish and came up empty. At this point I realized I might have been getting a bit anxious. I knew I had to calm down, collect my thoughts and observe before I got too excited. As I waited patiently I saw an opportunity upstream within casting distance. It appeared to be a large fish feeding steadily. The fish was surfacing with reckless abandon. Focused on one thing, feeding on big protein filled Drakes. I made my best cast and watched the fly slowly drift down to the big fish’s position. Up came his snout and he took the fly with a force rarely felt from a trout. I raised my rod to set the hook and the fly came out. I had just blown it. You don’t get many shots like that at huge trout.
As the darkness started to descend on the river, fish continued to feed. At this point in the evening the moon was all the light that was had. With a sliver of moonlight I saw three consecutive gulps. I made another cast to where I last saw the breaks in the surface of the glassy water. I had been able to just barely pick my fly out as it floated over the fish’s position. I watched the surface brake and I saw the ripple. I raised my rod to set the hook holding my breath as my line went tight.
After what seemed to be the longest fight of my life, I was able to net the largest Brown Trout that I had ever caught. I got a photo and released it back to its home. I felt so accomplished and elated that everything came together on that fateful night. That’s the beauty of fly fishing, you never know what’s going to happen the next time you get on the water. Every trip has the chance of making that one special memory that will last for the rest of your life.