By Vic Attardo

If you’re interested in catching fat 15-and 16-inch rainbows, now is the time to head to the Lehigh River.
Driftboat guide Paul Davidson (610-379-5469) says there should be a multitude of hatches on the brawling Carbon County, Pa., flow until mid-June and the rainbow will be rising.
“We’ll get Light Cahills size 14, blue-winged olives size 16 and, later in June, Isonychias, size 14,” he says. “Also there should be prolific stone-fly hatches throughout the summer, brown, black and golden stoneflies. During nonhatch times, trout will hit streamers.”
The river’s also good for hardware and bait anglers. Indeed, Davidson says that anglers who drift the river must be versatile.
He feels assured of continued good fishing because some 14,000 rainbows were added to the flow by the Lehigh River Stocking Association, one of the major forces for improving this once coal-black stream.

River drawing attention:
A lot is happening with the Lehigh, as evidenced by an important meeting scheduled for May 29 with Sen Arlen Specter, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Philadelphia head of the Army Corp of Engineers, Dean Drunkenmiller of the Lehigh Coldwater Fisheries Alliance and other prominent politicians and local conservationists.
The meeting was set for the new boat ramp at Kittaninny, just south of Bowmanstown and included a float trip on the river. Local organizations are pressing for sustainable cold-water releases from the Francis E. Walter Dam.
Before this momentous meeting, I had the pleasure of fishing the river with Davidson, who has guided on the Lehigh for eight years. During that time on the water, Davidson has seen some positive changes.
“The water quality has definitely improved over my time,” he says. “One major factor is the building of a limestone pit on a feeder stream above Jim Thorpe, at Nesquehoning Creek.”
Indeed, the water quality and temperature has been good enough to sustain a spring stocked trout fishery, but the many anglers along the river would like to see releases that help the trout during summer.
Another improvement was the removal of the Palmerton damn. On this trip from Bowmanstown to Walnutport, a distance of 6 miles, we floated over the nearly invisible remains of this old obstruction. The only thing discernible was a bit of the former plunge pool and one grounded pillar. Just downstream Davidson and I hooked a number of the hefty rainbows that are now free to come and go along this section of the river.

From flies to hardware:
When we started in the morning, I hooked two rainbows on caddis pupa flies. But as the morning wore on, fly fishing success decreased. This was not only a matter of timing but of structure and current. The Lehigh is a powerful, often deep flow. Even with a sink-tip line it can be difficult to fish in heavy location.
When Davidson was faced with deep, swift water, he brought out other artillery, including lures and bait. We worked a number of diving stickballs which produced good fish and when I tied on a ¼-ounce gold-and-orange spoon, I landed my largest rainbow of the entire day.
The Bowmanstown-to-Walnutport leg of the trip now includes the new Kittaninny boat ramp on Riverview Road. The road, just after the Bowmanstown bridge, also provides access for wading anglers. Another parking area at the end of the road provides opportunities at a good riffle and run off the western shore.

More float plans:
Davidson has two other areas of the Lehigh River he drifts. The first is from the town of Jim Thorpe downstream to Lehighton, a distance 4 miles, and the second is from Lehighton to Bowmanstown, a distance of 4 ½ miles. Still, it was the drift over the Palmerton holes and the ledges north of Walnutport that Davidson likes best. The ledges extend for ½ mile or so and consist of a series of horizontal rock bars structured across the river from bank to bank. As I found on this trip, the big rainbows like to lie up in front of the ledges in what appears to be smooth water. Near one curling ledge I ripped into a rainbow that seemed like it wanted to take up a new residence downstream before I put the brakes to its charge. What a fight!

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