As a lifelong fisherman, Nick Zebrowski has taken some memorable fish before, but recently, Nick caught a 28” brown on a size 20 BWO on the Upper Delaware and has the pictures to prove it.
Often called the Big Horn of the East, the Upper Delaware is home to some of the biggest wild browns an angler can catch this side of the Rocky Mountains. The gem of the East garners fishermen from all around the globe to come to try their hand at catching a true once in a lifetime fish in the Catskill region, known to many as the birthplace of fly fishing in America.
This prime tailwater was formed in 1964 with the creation of the Cannonsville Reservoir. The reservoir was created as a water supply for New York City and flows over 150 miles via an adequate system to the city, where it currently supplies nearly half of New York City with its drinking water. Some even say the clean water is the secret behind New York City’s delicious pizza.
The Upper Delaware was first stocked with trout in the late 19th century when a train carrying a load of trout from California to a New York fish hatchery derailed nearby. The conductor, fearing that the trout would perish in the heat, ordered them dumped into the Callicoon Creek, a major tributary for the Delaware system. Brown trout from Germany were stocked later in the century until 1993. The trout that remain in the river are wild, reproduce naturally, and have thrived in the cool water released from the dam ever since.
The fish here are known for being very educated and difficult to catch. I have heard that if you can regularly catch fish on the Upper Delaware, you can catch fish just about anywhere in the world, which so far, in my experience, has proven to be true.
A few searches online will recommend using 15-18 foot leaders, perfect presentations, and well-tied flies in order to offer anglers the best chance at catching a fish here, most of which are in the 12-15 inch range. Others will swear the best way to catch a trophy brown is fishing at night using large streamers or mouse patterns. Others still will swear the only way is euro nymphing.
In my time fishing in this region, some 25 years, a 26+ inch brown has become a thing of folklore. I’ve heard many people end a conversation about a slow day or a missed fish counterbalance it with, “but you know, there’s 30-inchers in here,” and I’ve certainly done the same.
I have occasionally heard of fish around 30 inches caught on the Upper Delaware, but it is usually at night on mouse patterns and the actual size of the fish, along with where it was actually caught, is often debatable, but not this fish. Before anyone accuses me of spot burning, the Upper Delaware is no secret and hasn’t been for a long time. While fishing there last summer, I counted more than a dozen drift boats within eyeshot and about that wading in the water, and it wasn’t even a weekend or a holiday.
Nick went out to the Upper Delaware on Thursday, May 28th, with his girlfriend’s son, Jonny, to do a little fishing. He mostly had Jonny fishing and was able to help him catch a couple of fish, but he did bring along his own dry fly rod just in case there was a good hatch. After a while, Nick saw a few fish dimpling just below the surface. He tried a few flies without any luck before deciding on his go-to on a cloudy day, a size 20 Blue Winged Olive, tied on 5x tippet. The fish took it on the third cast. Nick said he knew it was a good fish, probably at least 20 inches which is a great fish out East, as it dogged him below the surface. He had no idea how big the fish was until it took off downriver, breaking water in the process. A few passersby in drift boats stopped to help Nick land the fish, and after nearly 15 minutes and several more runs into the backing, the fish became tangled around the line. Nick was sure he wasn’t going to be able to land it, but a Good Samaritan was able to get the fish into the net.
On the fish board, the fish is just shy of 28 inches and very likely over 10 pounds. Some photos were taken, and the fish was revived and released back into the Upper Delaware. For those who don’t live in the region, this is not a lake run fish from the Finger Lakes or Lake Ontario, both of which are heavily stocked each year.
Regarding the fish, Nick said, “This fish had nothing to do with me. I was just doing what I always do, going fishing.” Later, he said, “I’m just happy there’s finally proof of the mythical 10 lber in the river.” Jonny, 4 years old, was unimpressed and said he had seen bigger fish before.
So that’s the real secret to catching a trophy brown on one of the most highly pressured rivers around: there isn’t one. Show up day after day and get to fishing because you never know when an ordinary afternoon will turn into one you’ll never forget.
This story was written by Benjamin Burgholzer and used with permission. Benjamin is a Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. You can find more of his work on his Website, Instagram, and Twitter.