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The Delaware River, Chubs and FallFish

Judy Van Put
Posted 8/10/21

The first week of August was typical of August weather – pleasantly cool evenings and mornings, with warm sunny days and a bit of a breeze; no rain but a forecast for showers and thundershowers …

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The Delaware River, Chubs and FallFish


The first week of August was typical of August weather – pleasantly cool evenings and mornings, with warm sunny days and a bit of a breeze; no rain but a forecast for showers and thundershowers all next week.

We found ourselves heading back over to the main Delaware after lunch one afternoon. Granted, mid-afternoon during this time of year doesn’t usually produce the best fishing, but the lure of the river was strong and so we decided to try our luck.

The Delaware is special - not only being the largest of the rivers in our region, it has a completely different aura and mystique. Depending on where you can find access (we are “wade fishermen” and tend not to fish from a boat) the banks are wide and grassy, allowing for long backcasts where you can really enjoy working your rod. It was a picture-perfect August afternoon – 82 sunny degrees with just enough of a breeze to cool things off.

The river was a bit higher than expected, but undeterred we decided to try our luck, as the water temperature was a perfect 66 degrees, indicating that the City of New York was probably sending some bottom-release water from Pepacton and Cannonsville Reservoirs into the East and West Branches of the Delaware during these warm summer months.

Thankfully, there were no other trout fishers when we arrived at our destination. The wading was easy, we had plenty of room to really stretch out for long backcasts; the flyrod casting beautifully, without getting line or fly hung up. I fished up in the faster water at the head of the pool; Ed stayed below in the main area of the pool, and after about an hour he hailed me downriver, saying that he saw a few rises, probably chubs (fallfish) which he had caught, but there might be a trout in there somewhere.

It was fun to cast toward a ‘target’ rather than just prospecting and fishing the water as I had been upstream; and on my second cast I connected with a ‘silver bullet’ that exploded out of the water, causing me to laugh out loud. Thinking (and hoping) it was a rainbow trout, which the Delaware is known for, I enjoyed playing the feisty fish until it was close enough to reach with my net, only to find it was a “chub” of about 9 inches.

The ‘targets’ were coming more frequently, though, and I caught a couple more to add to our tally – one of which was a bit larger that also exploded out of the water – and remembered Ed saying that “trout and chubs feed at the same table but not at the same time.” I did hear a larger splash quite a bit further downriver but noticed that Ed was up on the bank walking our beagle puppy, who had been waiting so patiently and quietly in the truck, and figured we’d call it a day.

No trout, but at least a satisfying trip to have enjoyed good long casts, seeing rising fish, and connecting with a few, each on the first try. A successful fishing trip can be made up of these components, when the weather is right, and does not always depend upon catching trout!

The name “chub,” as most of us commonly refer to, is a misnomer; these fish are known to biologists as Fallfish and are actually a distinctly different species. I was curious to know a little more about chubs, or fallfish, and consulted “McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia,” by A.J. McClane.

Fallfish are similar to creek chubs in appearance, being a silvery color with a barbule at the end of each side of their jaw, but do not have the dark spot on the base of their dorsal fin as the creek chub does. They take on a rosy color and will build a nest of a mound of pebbles and stones in the quiet pools of streams and shoals of lakes.

Fallfish grow to a larger size than creek chubs, reaching 17 inches or more, and can prove to be challenging on the end of a fly line. In smaller streams, they can reach a maximum size of 10-15 inches. Due to their diet of mainly aquatic insects, they will compete with trout and desirable gamefish, and are considered by most anglers as a nuisance fish.

And unlike creek chubs, which do have some value as panfish, especially when taken through the ice, the fallfish is not known for its eating quality – as Henry David Thoreau once described, stating “it tastes like brown paper salted.”

As we were taking down our rods and removing our waders, I noticed a very large bird land on the water at the opposite bank and recognized it by its bright white head – it was a bald eagle that had swooped down and grabbed something at the edge of the water. Ed had seen a dead or dying shad floating downstream just moments before, which must surely be what the eagle had spotted.

It stayed where it landed, occupied by the fish, and allowed me to move a bit closer to take a photo – a perfect ending to a beautiful and satisfying afternoon.

Judy Van Put is a long-time member of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association, and is the recipient of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Professional Communications Award.


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