Spring on the Delaware River. April. Cold, rainy, windy, and just generally shitty conditions. The river was up and off, the chilly waters the color of chocolate milk.
Anyone who’s fished for trout in high, dirty, spring water in the middle of a downpour would be thinking streamers. I sure was.
The sports around me, however, were not.
It was day two of a two-day fly-fishing tournament called the Delaware River One Bug, where anglers select one fly to fish for the entirety of the tournament—their “one bug.” The fundraising event draws from the posh Hudson River Valley on down to New York City and features an entry fee of more than $3,000 per team.
Outside of my fish-bum-turned-photographer budget.
But a client was paying for me to go, and so here I was, looking rather out of place among the sea of tweed hats, canvas fishing vests, and cigars. Porsches and Land Cruisers lined the streets of little Hancock, New York, home to the weekend event.
I stood near the ramp in my waders and jacket I’d reviewed four years ago for a magazine article. And while they were patched, they were still going strong. The lack of fashion never bothered me. It did, however, seem to bother my fishing mate.
For each of the two fishing days, competitors were randomly paired with another angler and a guide, ensuring teams never fished together and the mix was changed each time we left the ramp. Today, I was paired with Bob.
Bob quickly found me, the only woman in sight, and introduced himself.
“I’m Bob. I manage $150 million on Wall Street.”
Bob’s waders looked like they’d never seen water or dirt.
“Hi Bob, I’m Jess. I write about fishing.” Bob seemed unimpressed.
We found our guide, Darren, who eyed us both appraisingly and then suggested we load on up. I watched, amused, as Bob quickly set his gear in the front of the drift boat. (If he’d been able, Bob may have leapt into the seat, but Bob was clearly not the leaping type.) He turned to give me a rictus smile.
“Women in the back of the boat.”
I blinked, then gave him a cool smile back, guessing he was trying to be funny.
“Not a problem.”
That set the tone for the day.
Bob, as befit his persona, could not actually fish. He liked to cast. A lot. And he only fished dry flies—in my mind to this day, he’s the archetypal DFO (dry fly only) guy who thinks he’s too good for anything else. Bob’s dry fly spent more time airborne than actually on the water, and moderate-high winds meant Darren and I spent much of our time ducking Bob’s fly.
Inevitably, I didn’t duck in time and Bob’s fly hooked into my cheek, magically finding the two square inches of skin not covered by the collar of my rain jacket, hood, hat, or sunglasses.
Bob, like the master angler he was, kept trying to yank his fly free from whatever it had hung up on. Without looking behind him.
Eventually we freed Bob’s hook. Darren reached for the band-aids and we shrugged, knowing it wouldn’t stay on in the wet conditions. By now Darren and I were on good terms, watching Bob be … Bob, and silently editorializing from the back of the boat.
The back of the boat is where the party is, my friends.
I continued to fish my chosen tournament fly, a white conehead bunny muddler, chosen in part because it made sense in the water conditions, and in part because when wet, it had enough weight to cast well in the wind.
The muddler’s rhythm was relaxing. Cast. Strip-strip-strip. Repeat. Chill. Meditative. It gave me plenty of time to think about fishing, life, and why I was glad I’d chosen to avoid the Bobs in the world.
Promising structure pulled me from my moving introspection. Up ahead were some submerged rocks, a small pocket in between them that looked fishy. Bob tried to get there … but couldn’t. I took the shot and promptly forgot to breathe for seconds as a big shadow slipped through the gap in the rocks, trailing the streamer.
I grinned. Darren started to backrow.
Bob was clueless.
The brown ran nicely, digging down like a bulldog as some bigger browns favor. I stripped, managing the line with my fingers instead of the reel—I’ll forever argue that for 95 percent of trout, the reel is a line holder, nothing more—preferring to feel the fish instead of putting him on the gear.
Bob finally figured out something was happening. He turned, eyes comically wide through the rain.
“Put it on the reel!” He jittered, positively alarmed. Darren and I were happy and chill, going to work. Bob was losing his shit.
I lost track of how many times Bob told me to put the fish on the reel. Eventually Darren stopped him from coming to the back of the boat and trying to show me how to do it.
The brown came nicely to the net and I grinned, looking down at the fish that had been just where he should have been.
We measured him, recorded the length, and snapped a quick picture before he went back into the water. I let out a long breath, willing myself to stop shaking—tournament fish bring on the nerves sometimes—and grinned at Darren.
“Back of the boat’s where it’s at.”
Bob looked genuinely confused about life.
In a cosmic twist, that brown took home the Big Fish Award for the whole damn tournament.
Darren and I are still friends to this day.
And Bob? I hope Bob has learned how to throw a streamer. But I wouldn’t bet on it.