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The Hardest Fighting Trout Around

“This is the best hamburger you’ll ever eat.”

I’ve said that a handful of times to family and friends as we headed into downtown Portland, Maine. The restaurant in question is Nosh, and the meal that I’ve put at the top of the meat pyramid is the Apocalypse Now burger. (Google it…)

Now, I don’t honestly think that I’ve stumbled across the best burger in the world. I’m sure that there are secret restaurants of the rich and famous that sell elite meat prepared by top-tier chefs. More than that, I don’t get out a whole heck of a lot.

But from my limited experience, this is a good burger. And everyone I’ve talked to who has had the same sandwich agrees.

In my admittedly incomplete frame of reference, the trout of the Upper Delaware River system are the hardest fighting trout you’ll encounter on the east coast.

The rainbows and browns that populate the East Branch, West Branch, and main stem of the Delaware River are famously powerful. Hook into a fish over fourteen inches on a five or six-weight, and you’re not going to be able to just horse it in. Similarly, if you lack finesse when fishing the fine tippets required to fool rising fish in even fast water you’ll be losing fish and flies.

For the past 50 years, the cold, oxygenated water flowing from beneath the dams of each branch has supported a trout fishery of a scope unlike anything else in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast. The ecological and sociological impacts of the impoundments are worth noting, but beyond the scope of this article. And I’m writing about spunky fish, not politics or conservation.

What makes a fish fight hard? Genetics? Environment? A particularly surly disposition? I imagine it is a combination of all three. The fast current, the rich forage sources, and wild strains inevitably factor in. It is probably the same chemical cocktail that makes some fish jumpers. Incidentally, the brown trout in the West Branch jump. A lot.

The Upper Delaware system is a place where an East coast fly fisher can get a sore arm. You have to cast farther because the water is bigger. You also have to cast farther because the fish are spooky. Tailwaters are clear under nearly all circumstances, and fish that live in clear water that face a lot of pressure are wary in all circumstances. So everyone but saltwater anglers will be exercising their shoulder and related muscles more than normal from long casts. Then you tie into a fish, and those same muscles get torqued in all new ways. But it’s a good burn.

I know that I don’t go fly fishing for trout to catch something that is going to tug on my line super hard. I can fish for smallmouth, carp, and any number of saltwater species for that specific thrill. “Hard fighting” probably isn’t in my top five priorities when it comes to pursuing trout. But if the trout in front of me happen to exercise my disc drag? I won’t complain.

When I head up to the New York / Pennsylvania border, I know that when I tangle with even a moderately sized trout I’ll be in for a fight. I’ve caught enough fish on this half of the country, from Arkansas to the Carolinas to New England, to confidently assert that the trout of the Delaware are something special. It would be foolhardy to say that they’re the hardest fighting trout in the country or the world. But exceptionally hard fighting fish living in dozens of incredibly scenic miles of blue ribbon fly fishing available within a day’s drive of most of the country’s population?

That is a tasty burger.

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