Thank you Stephen for this wonderful gift of words.
I am back from my camping trip. Let me start off by saying up front that unfortunately, I do not have a pic of the fish. I had shut off my phone and left it back at my tent. Nor do I know the name of the pattern since the beautiful illustrated index you sent me is safely at home (I write this from my cabin in the Catskills). But it was one of the smaller flies with a head of spun deer hair and a dyed black deer hair tail.
Anyway, we arrived at camp on the Upper Delaware and after settling in, I spotted a few risers working just downstream. So finally, after months of anticipation, it was time to fish your flies. There were a few March Browns coming off, which are big, meaty mayflies here in the eastern U.S. -- size 10s -- along with a few Cahills around size 12-14.
I set up for the first fish, made the cast, and noticed that when the fly touched down, this impressionistic mass of bugginess now somehow resembled the March Browns coming off. It drifted into the trout's feeding lane and was immediately taken in a slashing rise. But I missed on the hookset, and as is normally the case on the Delaware, the fish did not come back.
Time for the next riser, and wouldn't you know it, the exact same thing happened -- swing and a miss. Then I noticed a third fish come up just once about 100 feet downstream next to a submerged point of cobble. By the time I waded within casting range, the fish had not risen again. But it was definitely worth an exploratory cast, and so I dropped the fly a few feet upstream of where I imagined the fish may be holding. It drifted a few feet, then something tilted up took it down. It was not a wild slash, but a confident rise that says: "That's food."
I set the hook and it happened: an enormous brown trout launched itself from the river then absolutely tore downstream taking me deep into my backing in one incredible run. I'm not sure I ever heard my reel emit such a shriek. The Delaware is quite large here, and I half thought I was going to get spooled. But eventually the fish stopped and let me gain a few turns of line on the reel. But then it put on the brakes and grinded out another run.
This back and forth went on for agonizing minutes. The entire time I had a pit in my stomach knowing the heartbreak I would feel if the line went slack. But thankfully it didn't, and perhaps ten minutes after I hooked it, I had in my hands the largest-ever brown trout I had ever landed in the Delaware River. I ran my fingers across its silver flanks admiring its leopard spots and butter yellow pectoral fins. It looked every bit of 23 inches-plus and perhaps four pounds. But before I could get a tape on the fish, it decided it had enough and darted back into the river, pushing a bow wave before vanishing into deeper water.
So thank you, Nigel. Your magic flies just took my best-ever brown trout in more than 30 years of fly fishing the upper Delaware River.