Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Finally fishing season again

What a rough start it's been to fishing season, for me at least.

On opening weekend, I bailed on the Otter Creek Classic because of bad weather - ice and snow and mountains and dangerous roads and cold streams, etc.  Maybe I'm just getting old, but I simply didn't want to be out there and I certainly didn't want to risk crashing my car for possible but unlikely fish.

After opening weekend, winter continued unabated in VT and we had terrible weather through the first of May.  I finally got out to fish a couple weeks ago.  The water was still high and cold, and the fish weren't very cooperative.  In two days of fishing, using sculpin patterns deep on a sinking tip line, I did manage a couple stocked fish.  Then, it started raining every weekend and I started some chemo.  That took me out for another weekend.

One of the things that's been killing me is a new toy sitting at home - a 9', 5 wt Scott Radian rod with an Abel sealed drag reel. I bought them used over the winter and got a pretty solid deal.  The rod had never been fished and the reel only had a couple of days on it.  Retail, the combo sells for about $1600 (I got the reel in a custom solid color - dark blue), but I paid about 60% of that price for the set-up.

But, with the cold, high water, the rod has been just sitting at home in its tube.

This past Saturday, I got out for a couple hours.  I'd seen Hendricksons in the air my previous time out and they were pretty common on Saturday.  So, used my trusty sculpin pattern and a small GRHE.  The nymph, in size 16, dredged up a couple stocked fish and I couldn't complain.  I will say that at this time of the year, I'm usually catching 5-10 fish every time out, and right now, it's been 0-2 instead.  Not a promising trend.

Sunday was cold and we had lawn-work to do.  But, Monday was much nicer and I convinced my wife that we needed to get out to fish.  I got my wife some nice new waders for Christmas to replace the ratty, leaky waders she'd been using.  And, by upgrading to the Scott rod for myself, I have now allocated a 4 weight Hardy Zenith with a Hatch Finatic Plus to my wife for her use - a major upgrade from what she'd been using before.

We hit the main branch of the White in late afternoon on Monday.  I gave my wife a black stone, a small GRHE, and a strike indicator.  I watched her miss a couple fish, but the bite was fairly sporadic.  I did notice that the first March Browns of the year were in the air, and one fish was working the surface.  So, I moved my wife over to a soft hackle PT as her trailing fly.  But, it was all for naught.

After helping her out for half an hour, I finally started casting.  I was immediately stunned by the Scott Radian.  Without a doubt, it was the best casting rod I'd ever fished in my life.  I put Rio InTouch Perception line on it, and it cast for distance and accuracy with very little effort.  The reel is really sweet too, but the rod is simply a knockout.  It's going to be my go-to rod all the time now.  I have a feeling my Orvis Helios 2 is hardly ever going to get fished any more, and I love that rod.

About 15 minutes after I started fishing, I'd missed one fish when I got a hard take.  It felt like a decent fish, and it turned out to be larger than the cookie cutter stocked fish I was expecting.  Regretfully, it was a big fat sucker that has slammed a brown stonefly.

After another 30 minutes, we headed upstream to a "can't miss" spot.  The water was low, fairly clear, and 63F.  The fish should have been all over our flies.  My wife missed one strike and that was it.  To be honest, I was really surprised at the slowness of the fishing.

So, I've now been out 4 or 5 times, and I've caught 4 stocked fish.  Not a great start to the season.

Because I started some chemo recently and I'm doing it on Fridays, my weekends are going to be challenging to fish.  I'm going to be tired and sick a lot of weekends.

The White River Open fly fishing tournament is in two weekends - the day after I get the nastier of my two different chemo cocktails.  I'll try to fish, but I doubt that it will go well.  But, I'm in a fight for my life here and skipping treatments is not an option.  I'll fish when I can and enjoy every day out there.  And, on other days, I'll let my body rest and recover.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Playing tour guide

I spent yesterday on the White with a local friend, playing tour guide and showing him some new spots.  I must have done the job well, because I put him on more fish than I touched.  We met at 1:00 on a breezy, partly sunny day.

We met in Bethel at Peavine Park, but we had no plans to fish that heavily pressured water yesterday.  I love the stream right there by the park.  It gets plenty of pressure, but it's still one of my favorite spots for both browns and rainbows.  Once the stockies get fished out, it's a really fun stretch.  But, my friend already knew that spot, so we headed upriver.  We drove a few miles on Rt. 107 to a well known hole just upstream from Cleveland Brook.  I'm not "spot burning" here, given the fact that the turnout to access this spot seems to have cars in it every weekend.

We'd had a strange weekend a week before.  Saturday had seen consistent trico hatches and rising fish.  Sunday, the fish had been down, they were in shallower water than normal for this time of year, especially considering the low water conditions, and they seemed to be keying in on soft hackles on the swing.

I gave James the choice of two stretches at the first hole, and he picked well.  He hit the top of a riffle leading into a medium-deep stretch of water.  I worked the riffles running into the main pool, just 100 yards downstream or so.

It didn't take long for me to hear James yell that he had a fish on.  Regretfully, I looked upstream just in time to see the fish jump and throw the hook.  I had been keying on a decent fish that was working the surface a bit, but I couldn't get the fish to take anything, and eventually, the fish must have gotten tired of my flies or fly line and it just stopped rising.

After I'd fished through three different riffles, I headed up to see how James was doing.  He caught a small wild rainbow just as I got to him.  He'd been getting consistent action on soft hackles and made some room for me to slide into the hole with him.  I had a few strikes at the top of the hole and then finally caught one decent wild fish downstream from him.  I think he got 2-3 fish out of that hole - all wild.  We were in the special regulations section, and I rarely see stocked fish this far up, and every fish we landed was smaller than the cookie cutter stockies.

The later season this year has been fairly productive, with fish every time out, despite some of the lowest water conditions I've ever seen on the White.  We've had some late season hatches - mostly BWOs and tricos, and I've taken more fish on dries late this season than any other year I can remember on the White.  Yesterday, with the partly cloudy conditions and consistent breeze, bugs were rare and only a few fish came to the surface, and even those fish were rising very intermittently.

After working the one productive stretch pretty hard, we headed downstream.  We picked a place that I know doesn't get much pressure, and where there are three distinct large holes.  I opted for the middle hole of the three, after losing a decent brown there a week ago.  James started at the bottom of the upper hole, but I could soon see that he'd moved to the top of that stretch, where riffles lead into the first part of the hole.

I got shut out completely in my stretch, but James had a number of strikes and even hooked one good fish.  He lost that one, but caught two more in the two hours we fished there.  I didn't get a strike.

So, James got 4 or 5 fish in some water he'd never seen before. I got one fish and missed a couple others.

We are getting to that time of the year where leaves in the water can slide down your fly line and leader, and make you think you have a strike, and you have to be vigilant to keep your fly line clean.

I'm out of town next weekend.  The weekend after that, if the weather holds, I'm going to try a late season trip to the Otter Creek.  There is one little secret that results in great fishing on one part of the Otter at this time of year - a particular fly that the fish can't seem to resist - rainbows or browns.  So, I'm hoping to make that trip yet this year.

After Halloween, I'll be focused on ski season, most likely, and less likely to get out fishing.  I am not a year round fisherman like some I know.

Due to my surgery in June, and recovery into July, I only fished about half as many days as a normal year this year, and I missed some of the most productive weeks of fishing.  And, I caught about 50% of the trout that I normally catch.  I lost my two biggest fish of the year - browns on the White River.

My biggest fish came from the Andro and my second biggest fish came from the Dog.  I added two new rivers this year - the Battenkill and the Andro.  I didn't make it to the New Haven this year.  I didn't fish the Winooski or the Mad either.  The most fish I got in a day was on a float trip on the Andro, and that day saw probably over a third of the fish I caught all year

I caught more fish on dries that wet flies this year - a rarity for me.

And, as usual, I enjoyed every single day out there. 

I'm not quite calling it a season, but we are close to the end.  Of course, that means it's soon time to ski, so I'm looking forward to that.  I have a new job at Sugarbush this winter, and I'm looking forward to the changes there.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Weird night of fishing

Temps have dropped way off in the past week.  Sunday never got about 65F or so, and the river was close to 60F in the evening.

I didn't have much time, so I went to one of my tried and true places to fish.  This is an interesting location, because it's very easy to reach, it gets a lot of pressure, yet I always seem to catch fish there.  It's simply a stretch of water that holds a lot of fish, including some big browns, smallmouth bass, and the primary residents, the rainbows.

When I got there on Sunday, I was stunned by the low water levels.  These were the lowest water levels I've ever seen on the White River.  There were rocks sticking up that I had never seen uncovered before.

But, I knew there were a couple deep pools that would be holding fish, so I geared up, walked to the water, double-checked the water temperature, even though I knew it would be OK, and then moved to the top hole to start fishing.

This particular hole has been kind of slow for me this year.  I've had plenty of strikes, and I hooked a big brown here early in the year, but I've caught just a few fish there this season.  At this time of year, I typically start with the same fly rig every time out on the White - a Prince Nymph of some sort (size 14 or smaller) and a tiny juju baetis off the back of the Prince.

Because of the low water levels and the water clarity, I opted to not use a strike indicator.  I didn't want the indicator to scare any fish.

I started with my normal approach to this hole - stay far away from the deep water and fish the water closest to me first.  I always work this hole very methodically because it's common to catch fish in some spots where a careless angler would wade right in.

And, on my third cast, I had a strike.  In the next five minutes, two more.  But, no hookups.  I spent the next 45 minutes or so fishing this hole, watching fish rise all over the place, but I got no more strikes.  So, I moved downstream to the next hole - a hole that has been very productive this year.  And, in 30 minutes with my nymphs, I got nothing.  Not a single strike.  Plus, no fish were even rising here.

Sunset was approaching, so I decided, just like the week before, to try a dry fly in the fading light.  Once again, I went with a size 18 Klinkhammer with a fluorescent orange post, hoping I could see the small fly in the dwindling light.  And, I moved back to the upper hole, because that's where fish had been rising earlier.

At the end of a pretty good drift, the fly starting to sink into the film, and as I started to retrieve it for another cast, a fish grabbed it.  Because I'd been pulling the fly in, I hooked the fish easily.  It was a small wild rainbow.

After drying my fly with Top Ride, I went back to working the hole, but it was getting very tough to see the fly.  Fish weren't rising any more either, so I was about ready to give up.  Then, on a cast where I knew I had a bad drift and the fly had to have sunk, I felt a subtle bump.  I set the hook, and this time, I knew it was a decent fish.  It was stripping line off the reel at times, and trying to use the current to its advantage.  But, it wasn't that big, and in a few minutes, it was in the net.  This was another wild bow, about 15" this time.

I made a half dozen more casts, but it was pretty dark by now.  And, the two fish had meant no skunk, plus I had a decent fish, so I headed home.

So, I caught two fish on dries in the main branch of the White, something I do very rarely.  But, the fly was not on the surface either time the fish hit.  Is it still considered a dry fly if it brings in fish while under the surface?

Monday, September 25, 2017


It's rare to get a true hatch on the White River.  Yeah, we get sporadic iso's in season.  We get some sporadic early season hatches - Hendricksons, in particular.  There are stoneflies in the river, and you can find their casings at times, but I never see them in large numbers.

Last night, I picked a spot I had never fished before - right where the Second Branch empties into the main branch.  I knew there was some deep water there, and with flows very low right now (212 cfs in Hartford VT, vs. a median of 265 and a mean of 427 for the date), I needed some deep water.

I pre-rigged my rod with my White River standard fall duo of a Prince Nymph (I use many flavors of Princes, but went for the basic variety with a bead last night) trailed by a small juju baetis.  I was surprised to see fish rising in the water sporadically just after I arrived.  There were no bugs in the air, so I didn't know what they were taking, but I kept my eyes open.

I started fishing with a strike indicator.  My first time down through the stretch, I got nothing at all.  Not one strike.

So, with fish still rising, I decided to try a small caddis fly with a juju baetis dropper.  I had one fish come up and bat the dry, but nothing else.  Again, I fished the entire length of this run - fifty yards or so.

After no luck on the dry/dropper, I switched to a Montana Prince nymph and a juju baetis.  This time, I omitted the strike detector.  Almost immediately, I had a fish on the bigger nymph, and I lost him right at the net.  I think this fish was a stocked fish based on its color (or lack of color) and its size.

A few casts later, I got another fish, this time on the juju baetis.  This was a smaller wild fish.  And, as I continued downstream, nothing else happened.

By now, it was getting close to dark, and I could see BWOs in the air all around me.  The fish weren't taking flies off the surface, so I assumed they were taking BWO emergers, but they were enthusiastically coming to the top.  At one point, I counted 8 different fish working the surface.

So, I decided to go back to a dry.  I wanted a fly I could see easily in the fading light, and something small, because the BWOs were small.  I had some size 18 and 20 BWO dries, but I knew I'd never see them in the water.

So, I opted for a Klinkhammer in size 18, with a fluorescent orange post for high visibility.  Regretfully, between the current and fading light, I could barely see this fly, but the fish could sure see it.  Regretfully, I was playing a guessing game, striking any time a fish rose close to where I thought my fly might be.  I had at least half a dozen strikes, and felt the resistance of a fish on half of them, but I couldn't seem to hook them.  Finally, about 35 minutes after sunset, I gave up.

We had record high temperatures yesterday, which I'm sure had something to do with the hatch that occurred.  We just don't get many hatches like that on the White, and it was fun to fish dries on the main river.  I use dries in the White River tributaries, but rarely on the main river.  I can probably count the fish I've taken on dries in the main river on one hand, and I've been fishing the White for close to 20 years.

But, given the water conditions right now, it was a fun night on the river, and the fishing was better than I'd expected.  It would have been nice to get a few more fish to the net though.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fly Fishing in NH

Yes, my blog is primarily about fly fishing in VT, but I get out of state to fish at times as well.  Last week, I had a business conference in Maine (if you saw that Tom Price got some grief over using charter flights for unofficial travel, including a conference in Maine, that's where I was), so I decided to stop in Pittsburg, NH on the way home for a week or so of fishing.

I left the conference Thursday about lunchtime, and I was at my campsite at Lake Francis by 4:00 or so.  I got my tent set up and headed straight for the upper end of the trophy section below First Connecticut Lake.  I started out with a Montana Prince nymph and a very small purple juju baetis dropper.  Both of these flies have served me well in this water in the fall in prior years.

In my first 15-20 minutes, I caught two fished from the pool on the trophy section that might get the most consistent pressure, day after day, all season long.  I have caught fish in that pool before, but never two in a day.  Both were wild rainbows, and one came on each of the flies.

From there, I started moving downstream, focusing first on the pocket water directly below me.  Regretfully, I'd just watched another fisherman work through there and take three fish, and I got no love.  I did quickly discover that flows were high enough (they'd been increased recently) that I wished I had my wading staff.  It was in the car, but I took a chance without it and did OK.  I managed the stream crossing below the pocket water to start fishing to the Corner Pool.  I got nothing in the stretch above the corner pool, but I did lose my flies.  

I tied on a Frenchie with a tungsten bead so I could get the flies deep, and another small dropper.  The truth is, I didn't need the dropper.  I got one fish on the Frenchie in the Corner Pool.  Then, two more at a rock downstream where I've caught some big fish in the past.  I was going to continue downstream, but there were four fishermen visible in the Judge and Jury pools, so I headed back up.
Again, I got nothing in the pocket water stretch, but I did pull a third fish out of the pool where I'd started.  Six fish, five of them wild, in 90 minutes.  That kind of action is why I love the trophy section.  Regretfully, it never fished like that again for the rest of the trip.

The next morning, I headed out very early to below Murphy Dam.  I know that the big browns feed in the shallower water overnight, so I approached my very first spot carefully.  I was getting ready to make my first cast, pulling line through the guides of the rod when I discovered I was snagged on the bottom.  Then, the snag started moving and in the dim light, I saw a brown of about 18" head for deeper water.  Regretfully, my line wasn't fully through my guides, and my loop to loop connection got hung up for a second and the tippet popped.  As it turned out, that would have been my best fish of the week.  I worked that hole - Starters - for a while.  I knew another fisherman was below me in Sweepers, so I gave him some time to work through that hole, and then I followed him.  Nothing.

Finally, I moved past him to near where the brook comes into the CT from Back Lake.  Here, I took a 14" rainbow and a 10" spawning male brookie.  The colors on the brookie were incredible.  And then, everything died.

A friend met me (he hadn't wanted to start quite as early because he was fighting a head cold), gave me some flies, and we fished down into some deeper, slower water, prospecting for browns.  He got one about 18" but I got nothing.

Finally, I called it quits and got some lunch.  I came back to the river about 4:00, when shadows start to cover some of the prime holes.  I fished until dark with no luck at all.  On the way back to the car, I stepped off an island into some water that was deeper than I expected, and took a hard fall.  My shoulders and wrists are still sore, and I cut my palm pretty badly.  I was bleeding fairly profusely on the walk back to the car, but I finally got there and got things bandaged up by the light of a headlamp.  Luckily, my Helios 2 rod was unscathed in the fall.

The next day, I started a bit later - after sunrise.  I put in 5 solid hours in the lower part of the trophy section, around Carr Ridge Road.  Then, 3 more in the upper stretches.  I went 8 hours without a strike.  I had never gotten skunked like that on the trophy section.  I've had zero fish days on occasion, but never a zero strike day.

I quit before the evening hatches really got going; I was having dinner at my friend's house that night, and the food and company won out over fishing.  My friend is also an independent guide, and I was planning to fish with him on Tuesday.  So, we spent a lot of dinner talking about how the fish had moved around recently due to changes in flows below Murphy Dam and in the trophy section.  Below Murphy Dam, they had lowered the flows.  On the trophy section, they had increased them.  Lake Francis was low while I camped there, so perhaps the goal was to increase the water level in that lake.

On Sunday, I truly slept in.  Went out for breakfast.  Spent the afternoon reading.  And then, I headed for the FFO section above First Connecticut Lake at Magalloway Road.  That section is known for landlocked salmon and brookies.  I was focused on salmon, so I was fishing old classic salmon patterns - Mickey Finns, Grey Ghosts, etc.  I had one nice brookie completely miss a white and yellow streamer that was similar to a Mickey Finn.  Then, I caught a tiny landlocked salmon on the fly.  He was so small that I have no idea how the point of the hook got into his mouth.  

On my way downstream, as sunset approached, I had a decent salmon take a swipe at my fly and miss it.  This was my first time fishing upstream of the bridge and there's some nice water there, but wading in this stretch is tough.  I was by myself, I'd fallen hard once on the trip already, and I decided to be cautious and get back to my car by sunset, just to be safe.  If I'd had more time, there was plenty of water to explore upstream.  Next time.

So, all of a sudden, it was Sunday night, and except for a bait-sized salmon, I hadn't caught a fish since Friday morning.  But, Monday, I'd scheduled a float trip on the Androscoggin with Bill from Lopstick.  What a day we had.

Fish were rising all day, and although we couldn't see any bugs, we assumed they were taking caddis emergers.  They were eager to hit caddis dries and caddis nymphs.  I spent the day moving back and forth between nymphs and dries.  In the end, the dries produced more touches and more fish, but the nymphs got me the bigger fish.

We didn't get any salmon (they are kind of rare in the Andro), but we got the three trout species plus chubs and smallmouths.  The biggest fish was a 17" rainbow.  I lost a decent brown, but it was no bigger than the rainbow.  Here's the rainbow:

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By the time we were done, I'd "touched" about 50 fish, hooked close to 30, and boated more than 20.  If I'd had better reflexes, I could have caught even more.  It was just an epic day all around.  I wrote a review on Tripadvisor here.  Bill is one of the best guides I've ever fished with.  

The next day, I met my friend and guide at 7:00 a.m.  We started at the bridge at Carr Ridge Road.  I had never caught a fish there, and Al had taken a bunch there this season.  We worked the water very methodically, almost like filling in every square in a piece of graph paper.  The strategy paid off after about an hour when I hooked a nice brookie.  It was a stocked fish, but it was close to 15" and put up quite a battle.

From there, we went to the upper part of the trophy section.  We fished the uppermost pools to start, with no luck.  Before heading downstream, I had to get something from the car, so Al used that as an opportunity to lead us towards Judge and Jury pools, and skip the intervening water, which was somewhat crowded.  We could see all kinds of fish on the edges of the Jury Box, and they looked like they were feeding, but they didn't like our flies.  I had asked Al when we got there if he'd ever tried stripping buggers through that hole and he admitted he hadn't.  After an hour or so in one pool, and having crossed to the other side, I think Al was desperate and he handed me a brown sculpin-like bugger that he'd tied.  It probably took me 50 casts, but I finally caught a beautiful rainbow with that fly:

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The picture honestly doesn't do the fish justice.  Its colors were stunning.

A few minutes later, we decided to break for lunch.  There was some potential rain in the forecast, and Al had invited me to pull my camp and sleep at his house that night.  After five nights in a tent, I didn't argue.  So, I went back to my site, tore down my tent and other supplies, packed the car, got some lunch, and went to meet Al for more fishing.  This time, we were going to target big browns on some of the lower pools below Murphy Dam.

Al worked with me for a while on the technique he uses in that river to get a perfect dead drift, but I just couldn't get it right.  And, the fish weren't cooperating.  About 4:45, Al had to leave for a pool tournament, but I stayed on the river.  I stayed focused on the browns until almost 6:00, but finally, the lack of bugs and the lack of rising fish got to me a  bit.  Plus, it was getting cold in the shadows and the breeze.

I decided to go upstream to the brook out of Back Lake and see if I could scare up a rainbow or brookie.  I was getting chilly, so I decided that if I got a fish, I'd call it a day.  And, within just a few casts, I hooked a fish.  It took a while to maneuver him to slower water to net him, but it was an obscenely fat rainbow, although it was only 10" or so.  

So, I released the fish and was ready to call it a day.  And then, a fish rose right where I'd just caught the rainbow.  I waded back to where I'd been standing and the fish rose again.  So, I targeted that fish for maybe 20 minutes, with no luck at all.  And, about 6:30, I left the river.

I fished all or part of six days, two of them with guides.  I got 30+ fish, but 2/3 of them came  in one day, on the float trip.  The fall isn't the time of year to get really high numbers of fish in this area, but it was a good trip.  I was mostly disappointed to not get any bigger fish.  On a similar trip last fall, I got fish up to 20" on the trophy stretch.  And someday, I'm going to get one of those big browns below Murphy.

Maybe sometime I'll make it earlier in the season and have one of those 30 fish days I hear about from people.  But, I really enjoy taking a week every September to fish.  The stocked fish are mostly gone, and I'm fishing primarily for wild fish.

Also, there is so much more insect life on the Connecticut that on my home river, so it's an interesting change from my normal fishing.  I still do more nymphing than anything else, but I caught almost as many fish on dries as nymphs on this trip, which was a nice change of pace.

I'll keep fishing for another month or so, but some of our rivers close on 10/15.   After that, options are more limited, but I've taken trout into November in VT, so I'm not done yet.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Famed Battenkill

I mentioned on Facebook recently that I have lived in VT for 18+ years now, and I've never fished the Battenkill.

A friend told me that was unacceptable, and offered to spend a day showing me around the river.  We had to change our first planned date, and then our second planned date, but despite almost 2" of rain on Sunday, we finally went yesterday, on Labor Day.  Flows had been so low that even after all of that rain, the river was in fine shape and cool at 56F.

My companion for the day, let's call him Ron, is a former fly fishing guide, but he has never been a guide on the Battenkill itself.  Nonetheless, he's a very good fisherman, and I learned a lot just watching him work the river yesterday.

Our first stop was in Sunderland.  As we stepped into the river, Ron gave me first choice of a spot to fish.  I opted for a somewhat deep section right in front of me.  The water was off color a bit, but I could see some rocks that would provide nice cover for fish.  I started with a yellow sulphur spinner up top and a juju baetis dropper.  I hadn't seen any yellow sulphurs, but they do exist on this river, so I took a chance with that fly.

Ron moved downstream, and I think it was only his second or third cast when he hooked into a brookie.  I got skunked in my hole, so I started following him down the river.  Some fishy looking water yielded nothing, but I did notice a sporadic caddis hatch coming off the water, so I changed from the sulphur to a size 16 olive body elk hair caddis as my dry fly in my dry/dropper configuration.

Eventually, we ran into a deep slow section, so we headed back upstream.  I found a slow pool where the brookies seemed to like my juju baetis.  In 15 minutes, I turned one fish, hooked another, and finally landed one.  The takes were subtle, but with such a small dry fly up top, they were noticeable.  Ron worked up the other side of the stream, and a beautiful long upstream cast yielded a young wild brown.

Eventually, we had fished this entire stretch, so we moved to a second site. As we arrived there, I realized that I had lost my net at the previous site.  So, I headed back to look for my net, while Ron started fishing.  This spot was a lot muddier than our previous spot, and by the time I'd found my net and returned, I think Ron had had enough.  The mud made wading difficult, any movement kicked up more mud, clouding the water, and despite a few sporadic rises, we couldn't entice any fish to our flies.

I fished for maybe 15 minutes, and we headed out.  We had started the day with a plan to hit 3 specific sites, and figured we'd explore beyond that.  We'd now fished 2 of the sites, so we did some exploring and found a nice fishy looking spot.  Again, nothing.

So, we headed to the third designated spot, miles downstream in Arlington.  Here, we found some beautiful water, great structure, deep holes, riffles, and some rising fish.  Over the next couple hours, I changed flies more often than I often do in an entire day.  Nothing seemed to work.  The fish seemed to be eating small midges or tricos, but even the two size 22 tricos that I tried were bigger than the bugs on the surface.  Eventually, one fish did take a shot at an Angel Wing Spinner, but I didn't hook him.  It could easily have just been a tail bat at the fly rather than an actual take.  I was left wishing I had some size 26 or smaller flies with me, and some 7x tippet.  I rarely use 7x and I had some in the car, but not with me.

Ron had been fishing downstream of me, and he also went through a number of flies with no luck.

It was closing in on 5:00 p.m. by now, so we were running low on time.  We decided to try to find some smaller water in the Manchester area, and we found another great looking stretch of water.  I went back to my elk hair caddis with a baetis dropper, and had a couple tepid hits on the caddis fly, but no hookups.  Ron had no luck at all.

Finally, it was approaching dark, and we called it a day.  Only three fish to the net, and very little action after our first spot.  There are many stretches on the Battenkill where it is a slow, brown meandering river.  At the right times, those might be great spots for dry fly fishing, but we found very few fish working the surface in those spots.  None of the rises seemed consistent or predictable.  In places where rises were plentiful, I got the impression that they were all small fish.

There are also many stretches of more classic trout structure, and we simply struck out on those.  In the next month or so, the browns will be spawning and then trying to fatten up for the winter.  I may wait until the end of the month and then give the river another try.

It took me 18+ years to get here the first time.  It won't take that long for the second try.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Two Rivers in a Day

On Saturday, my wife needed to take my daughter back to Syracuse for her sophomore year.  Well, we were both going to go, but my daughter had so much stuff that I couldn't fit into the car.  I tried to act disappointed (I truly would have enjoyed the time with my daughter and would have been glad to keep my wife company on the drive home), but immediately began planning some fishing instead.

Even though the White River has seen temps drop, I decided to try another stretch of water that I try to hit at least once a year.  It's a stretch of the Black River, upstream from Coventry, where the river goes through a forest, rather than the open pasture land that it meanders through for a lot of its journey in that area.  It's not a hard spot to find - just off Route 14.  If you use Google maps, and follow the river path, look for wooded areas.

This stretch offers almost a mile of fishing in the trees, but the lower 400 yards or so are where I tend to do best.  My very first step was to measure the water temperature.  With so much of the river running through open fields, it can get pretty warm.  But, I found the water to be 67F in mid-afternoon, so everything was fine.  I started with some standard nymphs - Prince and Hare's ear.  On my third or fourth cast, I felt a tepid strike, a fish jumped, and that was that.  I don't know if I ever really had a chance to hook him or not, but he seemed to spit the fly very quickly.  From there, I started working downstream.

As I moved from hole to hole, I was surprised by the complete lack of strikes.  Normally, this 400 yard stretch yields a strike in almost every hole and 5-10 fish in the 90-120 minutes it takes me to cover the water.

After nothing in about 6 consecutive holes, I got to my "can't miss" hole.  The first time I fished this stretch of water, my son skipped a riffle followed by a pool by a big rock in the river.  He had his eyes on some nicer looking water downstream and walked right past this spot. I stepped in and took three fish quickly.  I've never failed to catch a fish in this pool, and obviously never failed to have a strike.  But on Saturday, nothing.  The next few holes are also usually very productive and I had no strikes at all.

At this point, after driving 90+ minutes, I was surprised and disappointed.  I knew that fishing in the White the week before had been dead until the last 30 minutes before sunset.  So, I could wait it out and see if the fishing turned on later.

Or, I could go to the falls in Coventry and see if I could lure a big brown from the depths of the water below the falls.  Or, I could head towards home and fish the Lamoille, Winooski or Dog.

I was thinking about my choices as I walked back to my car.  When I got to the car, I decided to try the hole where I'd started again.  On my first cast, I hooked a fish that felt pretty strong, but I think it was just the current that made a small fish feel bigger.  Regretfully, the fish spit my fly almost immediately.  I toyed with the idea of re-fishing the stretch I'd just hit, hoping the fish were turning on, but instead, I got in my car and headed towards home.

I decided I'd fish the Dog on the way home.  I didn't have a lot of light left, so I opted for my favorite hole on the river.  The first thing I discovered is that my standard parking spot now sports a "No Parking" sign.  That meant a different parking spot and a long walk to the river.  But, I had time.

As I finally got to the water, after fighting my way through a forest of Japanese knotweed, I noticed a few bugs in the air.  Fishing the White most of the time, hatches of any sort are pretty rare.  These were BWOs, and I was mostly interested in bigger fish, so I went with a size 12 BWO.  On one of my earlier casts, in the lower part of the stretch I was fishing, a small fish batted the fly.  I've caught small fish in this hole before, but large fish as well.  I was happy to see that my fly seemed too big for the smaller fish.

I had a couple more fake strikes from small fish as I worked to the top of the hole.  The key spot in this hole is some calm water created by a rock in the river.  Just below that rock, the water holds some big fish, and a friend had taken an 18" rainbow when I showed him this hole.

On my very first cast into that key spot, my fly was inhaled as soon as it touched the water.  The fish ended up being about 15" - a wild rainbow.  It looked like it had had an encounter with an osprey - an injury on its back near the dorsal fin, but it seemed quite healthy and fat otherwise.  The fish had taken the fly very deep - close to the gills, and I simply couldn't get the fly out.  Part of the problem I have is my close-up vision, which is terrible.  I have flip-down magnifiers, but they aren't very useful when a fish is trying to flop around.  I got the fish back in the water in my net, and pulled out my reading glasses.  Even with them, I couldn't reach the fly and I eventually gave up and clipped the line.  The fly was barbless, so I'm hoping it worked out on its own.

It was getting darker, so I tried a different fly - an attractor pattern that was easy to see.  A few casts later, I took another rainbow just as the fly started to sink into the film.   Then, that fly wouldn't float any more, even after some Loon Top Ride, so I switched back to a smaller BWO.  Again, some smaller fish batted at it, but no hookups.  Now, it was getting fairly dark, and I had to walk back to my car on a curvy road with no shoulders.  I hate doing this walk in the dark.  So, I called it a day.

So, the spot that I expected to give me some easy wild rainbows completely skunked me.  And the Dog, which fishes better every year since Hurricane Irene, gave me two nice bows.  One of these years, I swear I'm going to catch one of the big browns that inhabit the Dog.  At least 2/3 of the fish I take from the Dog are bows, and the browns I get are all juveniles.  But, sooner or later, I'll get a big brown out of there.

With the holiday weekend coming up, I have family visiting for part of the weekend.  But, Sunday is reserved for a day on the Battenkill with a friend.  I've never fished the Battenkill, and we delayed this trip from a couple weeks ago until this weekend.  My biggest concern is water levels, which are down all across the state.

After an extremely wet spring and June, it's gotten a lot drier the past few weeks, and while river temperatures are OK with our cooler nights, the flows are getting kind of low.