After a series of misadventures (including a hotel with no potable water due to e-coli in the water system) made the drive along the river from Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon down into the gorge. We didn't like what we saw. The water was very high, and very dark. We could see none of the rocks in the river, and it's full of them. We nobody fishing usually crowded stretches.
At this point, our plan was to go down to the parking lot in gorge and see if any of the PPTU'ers were there, and if so, to make alternate plans. When got there, about noon, there were only a few other cars, none from Maryland. There was, however, someone fishing the pool immediately in front of the parking lot. We asked him how he was doing. He replied that he'd caught a couple of fish, but that was before the river had risen 2 feet in an hour. He was fishing from the bank.
We decided to wait an hour or so to see if anyone else showed before going elsewhere. After about 15, I couldn't stand it, I had to fish. I put on wading shoes, but no waders, because there was no way I was going to try wade that mess. I'd just chuck streamers from the edge. A few roll casts later, I hooked a decent rainbow on a Ken Lockwood bucktail, which I had tied especially for the trip. Unfortunately, not only did the 'bow throw the hook on about the fourth leap, it also had chewed the fly to shreds. I had to switch to a Black Ghost, which resulted in a couple of takes, but no hookups. Not too bad for unfishable water.
By this point, it was one o'clock, and no one else had arrived. We decided to go up to the "Claremont section", stretch of catch & release waters about 10 miles upstream where the river is much smaller, and mostly gravel bottomed. At least we'd be able to wade.
On the way out of the gorge, we passed Ken Bowyer & Lou Reichel coming into the gorge. We exchanged info, and continued along.
The Claremont section was in much better shape. It's got an odd combination of fish in it: wild brook trout, and lunker sized rainbows from the private club a few hundred feet upstream. It fished well: we had at least a dozen takes to soft hackles in the hour and a half or so that we fished it. It may have fished well, but we didn't: the only fish landed was one brookie of about 10 inches. (That's a pretty good sized wild fish.)
It's a small stretch, and we'd fished it all, so it was back to gorge; maybe the water had dropped as quickly as it had risen. When got there, we ran into not only Ken and Lou, but also Steve Fletcher and Frank Bowles. By this point, Lou had taken a fish, and several of the others had takes. The water was still high, but had cleared enough to wade.
Eventually, I took a rainbow, nobody else hooked up. Ken had missed several on a Light Cahill, the natural of which was on the water. In fact, there was a good variety of insects in the air: iso's (slate drakes), big stoneflies, cahills, sulfurs, a few species of caddis -- everything you'd expect from a Catskill-like stream in June. (The stream is located in the Kittatinny range -- which are in fact part of the Catskills; the name just changes at the NY/NJ border.)
As it was getting toward dark, I realized that I had two thirds of a hat trick -- all I needed was a brown. I was confident that I could catch one, since they're the most abundant species in the stream. Knowing that a Royal Coachman is actually a pretty good imitation of an iso in low light, I tied a size 12 one on, a put it over a pod of rising fish. A few misses (on my part) later, I finally hooked one. It was a repeat of my experience with the streamer in the same spot earlier that day -- three leaps and the fish threw the hook. My pseudo-cursing could be heard throughout the parking lot. At least it was probably a rainbow.
By now it was too dark to seen even a Royal Coachman, and the six of us retreated to the Clinton Station diner for one of their famous oversized meal. Something went right that day.
The others hit pool early the next morning. Frank caught two on -- to quote Steve -- "a light brown wooly bugger variation that uses squirrel tail (not saying the name so that I don't have to give someone a nickel!
Ken & Lou also got there in the morning. Lou caught two trout (and himself on the back of his shirt) on a sulfur emerger; Ken didn't get anything to any dry he tried, and say few insects, so he & Lou left, fishing the Little Lehigh in Allentown. It had been dumped on and was in the same shape that the gorge had been in on Saturday. (Hard to imaging in a spring creek.) Ken reports that you can now wade the entire stream -- previously the upper part had been like the Fisherman's Paradise section of Spring Creek, fishing from the bank only.) No bug, and only a few rising fish.
We finally showed up at the Gorge after everyone else had left. Everyone, that is, from PPTU. The stream was crowded now that the water was down. We got the last spot in the parking lot. It turns out that the Rahway River chapter of TU had the same idea we did -- take their monthly outing at Ken Lockwood. It also turns out that I knew several of their member through various on-line forums -- as well as several people there from the local ("Ken Lockwood") chapter, so I spend almost as much time socializing as I did fishing.
The river was in good shape by then, and by mid-afternoon there was the same good variety of insects as the day before, and fish rising to them. That didn't mean that either of caught anything -- partly because there were multiple people in almost every stretch we like to fish, and partly due to the fact that I've become really good at missing fish. I nicked a couple on a Greenwell's Glory, and a couple more on a royal wulff. I think we only fish about an hour, and spent the rest of the time talking to various folks from other chapters.
In all, it wasn't a very productive weekend in terms of numbers of fish caught. On Saturday, just the fact that we caught any was a major victory in my book. On Sunday, though, I suspect the lack of results was more operator errors on our part, since I saw a lot of fish caught. Beautiful water, plenty of fish -- they're just hard to catch.