By Vic Attardo
Special to The Mercury

The Palmerton Dam looked safe enough for passage, but Lehigh River guide Paul Davidson wasn’t taking any chances – and he was obeying the law.
Along with fellow angler Dave Frey, Davidson glided his three-man pontoon raft to the side of the dam where we exited and escorted the boat over the corner of the obstruction.
Then we all got back in and Davidson continued rowing to the next Lehigh River honey hole.
The run below the Palmerton Dam and the curve of the river is one of the hottest on the middle Lehigh. Last year I caught a 23-inch brown from this 200-yard rush while fishing with Frey and another friend. This time, with Davidson maneuvering the boat down the right sideline, I had high expectations.
We were throwing stickbaits and spoons on this bright afternoon. The morning had produced fish on the fly rod, and later in the evening flies would work again, but for the shank of the day, we had to stay deep.
This was one of the first trips Davidson (610) 379-5469 had taken down the Lehigh in his newly acquired 16-foot pontoon boat. He’s been plying the river for many years in an aluminum-hulled drift boat but believes the Lehigh River will be more fishable in a low-riding pontoon, particularly during the river’s summer low flows.
Fully loaded with a full complement of anglers and a rower, the craft only drafts three inches under its gray balloons. On the other hand, the heavy drift boat drafts about 12 inches.
On this day the Lehigh was already on the low side, as far as boating was concerned. The morning release from the Francis E. Walter Dam was only 811 c.f.s. According to Davidson, the Army Corps of Engineers has guaranteed a minimum release of 500 c.f.s. during the summer. If the figure is maintained it would be good news for anglers, as last summer the Lehigh suffered through release of only 200 c.f.s., enough to damage aquatic life and the fishery, say Lehigh River enthusiasts.
The pontoon boat glided over the exposed rocks like its hull was made of butter, but what I really enjoyed was the great vantage point the front seat gave me for fishing. All that was in front of me was a short, diamond-plate footrest and a standing waist-brace, complete with a striping basket. Absent was the complete existence of a framed hull. As we went through the river’s white curls, water splashed up on the plate – the main reason you wear waders when on a pontoon drift.
But what I really came to enjoy was the odd way Davidson needed to release our Lehigh trout, which were adding up despite the sunny conditions. After leaning over the sides of one of the pontoon balloons and netting a fish, he would bring the net between his legs, turn it over and dump the fish back down through his feet. In the Lehigh’s clear water, a trout would slap its tail under the surface, then make its way down to the bottom. Releasing a fish between your feet made me laugh and I felt like I was riding in one of those Caribbean glass-bottomed boats that lets you see everything, including the mermaids.
Yet as we entered the Palmerton run, all this was already behind us. I could even see the renewed concentration in Frey’s face as Davidson dropped anchor and we came to a stop in a perfect spot. With sidearm angles, we both casted Rebel stickbaits out to the heavier part of the flow. On my second cast, I felt a strong tug and saw a big rainbow leap through the air and throw my hook.
The Lehigh River has such strong fish in the Palmerton area thanks, in part, to the work of the Lehigh River Stocking Association. The volunteer group has been planting browns, rainbows, brookies and even a hybrid steelhead in the river for many years, and their work has paid off. Over the last four Lehigh floats, stretched out over as many seasons, I’ve caught a multitude of fish over 13 inches and more than a dozen 15 inches and better, culminating with the Palmerton 23-inch prize last year.
While this lost rainbow was more in the range of 17 or 18 inches, I realized the stretch of the river had come through again – only I hadn’t followed through.
But the Lehigh was still giving prizes.
After Davidson lifted the anchor and dropped us down another 30 feet, Frey connected with a nice brown he brought to the raft and the guide released through his feet. This slot still wasn’t over.
Recovered from my earlier loss, I set the hook hard when another trout struck on. Again it was a rainbow, about 15 inches, and this one I managed to slide in Davidson’s net.
Then another 20 or 30 feet down the run, Frey connected with a long brown. This trout dug hard and long and my friend had his work cut out for him getting it in. Finally he managed to whip it tired and skate the 18-inch brown into the net. This fish stood for pictures before it was released.
By the time we were through the Palmerton run, Frey and I had caught four trout. As slipped down to a slow, deep rarely productive pool, I thought we were finished on this trip, with the best part of the Lehigh River. But in a little while, Davidson led us to another run where, in the evening, we tantalized the trout with dry caddis and the trout tortured us refusing our Sulphurs and March Browns during a heavy hatch. Such is the Lehigh River in a pontoon boat.

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