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Fishing the Upper Delaware River with Gary Maerz

Upper Delaware River Fishing with Gary Maerz

Last time we talked to Gary Maerz Jr. we learned about his 3 E’s of fishing. This time we focus on one of his favorite places to fish, the Upper Delaware River. We discuss his pursuit of the bountiful smallmouth bass that swim this river. Gary provides a ton of detail for anyone fishing the Upper Delaware River.

How long have you been fishing the Upper Delaware River for bass?

I have been visiting/fishing the Upper Delaware River for as long as I can remember. The scout camp my father attended as a young man, and later myself, is located within the Upper Delaware watershed so he has been in love with the area and the River since the 1960s. As with his love of fishing, the love of the Upper Delaware River was also transferred to me.

The Upper Delaware River is the largest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi; it is pristine and full of wildlife with breath taking views. Outside of spending time with my wife and children, the list of things that make me happier than wading or floating the river is very, very short. I have never had a bad day on the river, regardless of the fishing that day, and depending on the time of year, you can catch a trophy smallmouth or hook into numbers one can only dream of with many keeper-sized bass in that mix.

Gary Maerz with an Upper Delaware River Smallmouth BassRivers change all the time their quality of fishing and overall health. What do you consider the current health of the River and its smallmouth bass fishing?

Quite simply, you will be hard pressed to find a healthier fishery. The Upper Delaware has a thriving population of smallmouth bass, in addition to walleye, brown trout, rainbow trout, and a massive spring shad run. I truly believe this is due to a very conscientious and conservation minded population in the surrounding communities. This includes residents, fishing guides, and various conservation/watch-dog groups.

Certainly, quantity of fish is not lacking on the Upper Delaware. What do you consider an average day fishing the Upper Delaware in each of the seasons?

During the spring, I typically target trout nearer the head waters and on the West Branch. This is one of the best opportunities one has to land some monster browns and rainbows. I am lucky to have two fishing guides counted among my lifelong family friends; Mike and Evan of Sweetwater Guide Service. I am almost always with one of them when I head up there in April.

I find my way back to that region shortly after Mother’s Day weekend as a result of the volunteer work I do for my former scout camp. I will usually take a few hours to visit the river but will typically fish the lakes within the camp. When I have had the opportunity to spend a day on the river, a mixed bag of walleye, bass, and trout is within reach.

As the summer heats up, so does the fishing action. The best day I was a part of saw around 100 bass boated (all released) between two anglers in roughly seven hours of fishing but would put a typical summer day between 20 to 35 bass (less if wading or shore fishing) in the 10 to 16” range.

The Fall is my favorite time of year to target big smallies and happily trade those 20 to 35 bass days for a 5 to 10 bass day but with a real shot at an 18 to 20” river monster.

What sections of the Upper Delaware do you like to fish?

The Upper Delaware River extends from Hancock, where the East and West Branch combine to form the main stem, down to Sparrowbush or Port Jervis. Smallmouth can be found in this entire section of river, as well as below, though I believe smallies start giving way to trout as you get closer to the headwaters.

What is your typical vessel for fishing these sections?

I will occasionally fish from shore and wet wade but a majority of my time on the river is in a drift boat with one or both of the Sweetwater boys. Be sure to have personal flotation devices on or at least nearby. For much of its length, the Upper Delware flows gently passed its shores but can also change quickly to whitewater in various locations.

If you plan on floating by yourself, or even with a couple of friends, plan your trip well. Use Google earth to familiarize yourself with ingress and egress points as well as whitewater. Additionally, be mindful of the course ahead as the Upper Delaware River has boulders the size of a Buick which could be easily spotted one day and just below the surface the next.

What do you consider safe river levels for canoe and kayak anglers?

The drift boat I hop in has a wide base and is extremely sturdy so I have little point of reference for a canoe or kayak angler. There are several canoe livery services throughout the Upper Delaware who should be able to provide insight. I would say if they won’t allow you to rent a vessel due to river flow, don’t go. Additionally, National Park Service, which the UDR Scenic and Recreational River is part of, may have additional safety related information.

Upper Delaware River Smallmouth Bass Caught on Power Team Lures GrubI know you will fish a grub on the River. What are your favorite brands of grubs?

I use a PowerTeam Lures grub exclusively. Full disclosure, I have been on the prostaff of PowerTeam Lures for a couple of years now but there is a reason for that. They catch fish as well as any other brand and are extremely durable. I can honestly say I have not lost a single tail; if you fish with grubs, you know what I am talking about.

The Upper Delaware River is generally crystal clear, with obvious exceptions during those chocolate milk periods due to heavy rains or snow melt. My favorite colors are “watermelon red flake” and “blue hue” though I will throw “green pumpkin light blue swirl” in slightly stained water.

I did notice that you will use a bigger grub. When I think of Upper Delaware I am thinking smaller baits. What is your thought process behind fishing with a bigger grub for smallies?

Baitfish are the primary forage base for smallmouth in the Upper Delaware River. A 4.5” grub is an ideal size and perfect for swimming with a weighted jig head. While many others throw Keitechs, which are a dynamite bait on the Upper Delaware, I opt for the profile, water displacement, and durability of a PowerTeam Lures Grub. It helps target large fish without sacrificing the opportunity to still catch smaller, though still quality, fish.

What are your other favorite baits for the Upper Delaware?

For bass, I love to throw a jerkbait and crack a tube. The key is figuring out the cadence necessary to trigger strikes. I use a 4.5” EOC jerkbait from Chasing Trophy Fish and slowly reel it back while varying the twitching cadence until I notice a pattern developing.

The same goes for a 3.5” Food Chain Tube from PowerTeam Lures. I typically pair my tube with a 1/8oz FCT jig head but will use a heavier weight if the river is high and fast. Much like with the jerkbait, I work, or hop, the tube at differing speeds until I pinpoint what the bass want. The beauty of a tube is once you have located where they are holding, they will often hit it on the initial drop.

What are your favorite spinning setups for fishing the Upper Delaware?

I am a great believer in complementing your rod and line; I try to avoid setups that are too stiff or too soft. If fishing from a drift boat, I would recommend three set-ups.

For a jerkbait, I would use a 6.5 to 7’ medium to medium light rod with moderate to fast action, respectively, and 8 to 10 lb. fluorocarbon. The length will allow longer casts while the rod power and speed will allow for absorption of the strike. Fluorocarbon has nearly the same refraction as water so it is nearly invisible and less stretch than monofilament, allowing for a more powerful hookset. If for any reason the fish are tentative, try switching to mono as the additional stretch may prevent missed opportunities when setting the hook.

When swimming a grub, I like a 6 to 6.5’ medium rod with fast action and 8-10 lb. monofilament. Since this bait is coming back on a steady retrieve, the stretch of monofilament is crucial to allow absorption of the aggressive strike. Additionally, monofilament has a high degree of abrasion resistance which is important as the line may rub against rocks and other cover.

Finally, I like to use a 6.5 to 7’ medium action rod with an extra fast tip and 10 lb. fluorocarbon. I prefer fluorocarbon for the same reasons noted with my jerkbait setup. Also, as the setup I use for the grub can also be used for a tube, this is the setup I would leave home if fishing on foot.

Smallmouth Bass Caught on Chasing Trophy JerkbaitWhat do you consider the 5 most important pieces of advice for anyone fishing the Upper Delaware River for the first time?

Consider the time of year and best species to target. While you may want to fish for bass, which can be caught all year, a spring trip may be better utilized to target trout or shad. A late fall or early winter trip is a great time to hunt for trophy walleye.

Speak with a local guide. If you can afford it, spending a half or full day with a guide will only increase your chances of success, as you are fishing with a person whose main objective is to yell “Fish On!” Furthermore, the lessons you take away with you may potentially be applied to other fishing locales and/or can improve your chances of success the next time you have the opportunity to fish that same location.

If you prefer a self-guided tour, I would recommend hitting up a local tackle shop. Tackle shop owners, like fishing guides, are small business owners; entrepreneurs who thrive on word of mouth and repeat business. They are more than willing to share information that will increase your chances of success; best locations, water conditions, best lures or patterns, etc. They have their fingers on the pulse of local fisheries and are generally the medium through which a great wealth of first-hand information is exchanged. As a courtesy, I would also suggest making a purchase, no matter how small, to thank the shop owner/clerk for their time and info.

The principles of fishing a river or lake are fundamentally the same but learning how river flow affects fishing is key to success. Look for subtle and not so subtle changes. I like tossing my offering toward eddies, often formed by a large rock, the inexplicable mini whirlpools that form (no danger to you or the boat) and areas where there are changes in current speed as these changes disorient baitfish.

If fishing from a boat, make sure to cast in the direction of your drift to avoid snags. If wading or fishing from shore, fan cast and hit all areas even if it does not look like fish would hold there.

Bring your camera and binoculars. It is not uncommon to see bald eagle, white-tail deer, beaver, and a variety of waterfowl on the same day along with the occasional black bear.

As Gary mentioned, he is pro staff for PowerTeam Lures. He also pro staffs for Cinnetic Fishing and Chasing Trophy Fish Lures. Gary also has a terrific blog

Thank you Gary!

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