Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting tough to find cool water

The White River, below where the Third Branch joins the main branch, is way too warm to fish right now.  The Third Branch just gets so warm, and pushes up the temperature below the confluence.  I'm guessing some mornings have been OK, but I'm more of an evening fisherman.  I just hate getting out of bed super early unless I'm on a fishing vacation.

Last week, I was able to go upstream from Bethel, about 5 miles, and find 67F water.  I know that most fly fishermen cut off their fishing at 70F, but I usually use 68F as my cutoff.  I've seen too many fish struggle even at 68F, so I use the lower number.

Last night, about 4 miles upstream from Bethel, the water was over 70F.

But, I found a tributary where I measured a 67F.  Game on.

Plus, I love this little tributary.  It is full of small wild bows that are willing to come to the surface for small attractor dries, even without hatches.  I catch more fish on dry flies here than anywhere else I fish.  Only the Dog River comes close, and those are bigger fish.  But, I bet the Dog is too warm right now as well.

Did I mention that these are all wild fish?  They are so beautiful compared to the stockies in the main river right now.

Anyway, I almost always fish the same stretch of water in this tributary.  I have never seen another fisherman on the water when I've been there.   I will occasionally find footprints.  Last night, I found a package from a Cabela's leader.  It was a 9 foot, 4x leader.  I usually fish 6x in this water and you don't really need long leaders.  The fish are pretty willing to take a fly, so maybe a 4x doesn't even scare them, but it seemed like a poor choice to me.  And, not to be too much of a snob, I think it's worth the extra money I spend to fish Rio and Orvis leaders, rather than the cheaper brands.  I usually stock up when someone offers a good deal, but I think Rio and Orvis leaders and tippet are just top notch stuff.

I fish this stretch working upstream.  Always.  And, then walk back to my car on the road when I'm done.  The first 200 yards tend to be fairly barren, although I occasionally get a fish in that stretch.  I saw a few fish flitting about in that water last night, but no strikes.  The water was very clear.

Oh yeah, I started with a size 18 Klinkhammer, only because it had a fluorescent orange wing post.  I was working through this first stretch when my FitBit told me I had an incoming phone call from one of my doctors.  I thought it was very odd, but I answered the call.  The doc was just trying to clarify an appointment.  I was originally scheduled to see him today and he's not working today, so it was moved to tomorrow.  He wanted to make sure I had the right day and time.  He is also a fly fisherman, so he was happy to find that I was feeling good enough to be out on the water.  Just as our phone call was ending, a small rainbow swam right in front of me, heading downstream.  I was trying to be very stealthy on this small creek with super clear water, but this fish seemed spooked, so I must have done something to scare him.

As soon as the call was over, I moved up to the next hole.  On my first cast, I caught my first fish of the day - a rainbow about 5" long - probably a yearling.  The next 100 yards or so yielded nothing, and then I got to the biggest hole on the stretch.  On my first cast, a fish missed my fly on the surface.  On my second cast, the fly sank early, and I started to retrieve it.  A nice fish (for this creek), close to 12" hit the fly underwater and I had him hooked for a second.  And then, a few casts later, I caught a rainbow about 8" or so.  After those three strikes and one caught fish, the hole went dead.  I kept working up.

The next major hole is a challenge.  Casting is blocked by a large tree, and it's been a challenge for years.  From a distance, I noticed that the tree was gone.  This excited me a lot, because I've seen some bigger fish in this hole.  Regretfully, the loss of the tree affected the hole, and it's now just a riffle.  I had one fish slap my fly twice, but it had to have been tiny.

To encourage some bigger fish, I switched to a size 16 parachute Adams, the fly I use most often in this water.  In the next hole, I took two fish on that fly and missed two more.  Despite a liberal application of Loon's Top Ride after each fish, the Adams decided it wasn't going to float any more.

On a whim, I switched to a Royal Wulff, size 16.  In the next hole, I had a small fish batting my fly almost every single cast.  I had to have been tiny, and it was very persistent.  But, no hookups.  This hole is created by a large piece of concrete.  I have no idea where it came from or how it got there.  I've taken fish on the downstream side of the concrete barrier, but never upstream.  There isn't a lot of water above the barrier, and it's easy to get snagged in the water that is there.  But, I gave it a shot and a fish slammed the Wulff.  It was about a 9" rainbow, big enough that I wondered if it might have been a stocked fish that wandered up from the main branch, even though I was a mile above the main branch and there were a few little waterfalls between me and there.

This fish took the fly deep and there was some blood.  I came very close to keeping the fish for dinner, afraid that it wouldn't survive.  But, after I got the hook out, and held him in the current for a while, he seemed relatively OK.  When I released him, he immediately took off for deeper water.  I know that even with the best C&R tactics, some fish aren't going to make it.  I try to be very careful, but at 67F and hooked deep, this one might not have made it.

In that kind of situation, I'm always torn.  If I keep the fish, it definitely dies.  But, if I keep it, I will eat it, so the death won't be completely in vain.  If I release the fish and it lives, that's the ideal situation.  If I release it and it dies, that's the worst possible outcome - dead and not eaten.  These incidents bother me, I must admit.  It's a time where I question how "harmless" catch and release fishing really is (or isn't).

After this stretch, there's a barren stretch of water.  I'm always kind of glad there aren't fish in that stretch because the landowners on one side of the river consider fishermen in the river to be trespassing on their land.  They don't own the land on both sides, I never get out of the river, but they have accosted me a few times.  And, their neighbor has warned me to be careful around them because they are always carrying and they are quick to threaten people.  I would report them if they ever flashed a gun in my direction, but luckily, it hasn't happened yet.  And, they weren't home last night, which was a relief.

I made it to the last series of productive holes just before sunset.  My fly wasn't floating so well any more after that bigger fish had inhaled it.  And, for the first time in a long time, I fished this stretch with no strikes.  A downed tree has made the best hole here very difficult to fish, but there are 4 total holes with fish in them, and I got nothing.  By now, it was sunset, so I walked back to my car.

I'd caught 5 fish, and at least 4 were wild.  If the fifth was indeed stocked, it had worked very hard to get to where it's living, so I'm guessing it was simply a wild fish with muted coloring.

Thanks to my surgery and chemo earlier this year, I have caught fewer fish this year than any year in recent memory.  Last night was more fish than I'd caught previously this entire year.  But, the season still has plenty of time in it.

Next weekend, I'm heading to northern VT to fish in two streams I love.  One is full of 8" wild rainbows that just slam nymphs, if you present them well.  The other is a brookie stream and can be challenging, but it's in a beautiful area, and fun to fish even if you get skunked.

The weekend after that, I'm going to fish the Battenkill for the first time ever.  Honestly, there is no excuse for a fly fisherman who has lived in VT for 18 years to have never fished this river.  I've always been put off by the driving distance and then having to guess where to fish.  A friend has volunteered to go along and show me a few spots, so I'm looking forward to fishing this famed river for the first time.

And, in the middle of next month, I've got a week of vacation to pursue trout in NH and ME.  At least two days will be guided, and one of those will be a float trip on the upper CT river.  And, there is a possible third guided day, floating on the Kennebec.  That person had offered to float me for free on the Kennebec last winter, after I'd posted some recent bad news about my cancer on FB.  So, maybe this one will happen and maybe it won't.  I'm not going to hold him to the promise or make a big deal if he can't pull it off.  I appreciate the support from a fellow fisherman, and I'm not going to complain if he can't make it work.  He's got a life of his own and his own bills to pay.

But from 9/15-9/21, I will be on the water every second I can.  Most of the trip will be on the upper CT, but part will be in ME as well.  I will certainly fish the Magalloway.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My second trout of the season

This may end up being my worst trout season of all time, in terms of fish caught.  May was a disaster for me, with higher than normal waters and cold temps.  I had friends that did OK with big streamers and sinking tip lines, but I really struggled for the month, catching just one fish.  That was after my typical zero in April.

On Sunday, I fished for the first time since late May.  I fished a well known area and there were two other fly fishermen there when I arrived.  I moved to one of the upper holes to start, and met a young gentleman.  He was new to fly fishing, and I tried to give him a hand.  He was fishing a nymph and swinging it through fast current that likely held no fish.  I talked to him about line mending and I tried to explain what a dead drift is.  I also gave him a handful of flies that work for me on this river.  And, I explained some strategies for fishing the 200 yard stretch of water we were on.  I wanted to convince him to fish where the fish typically hang out.

Then, I turned to my own fishing.  The water was at about average flows for this time of year and fairly clear, but not too clear.  I started with a pair of size 14 nymphs on 4x tippet - standard nymphs I use in this river.  The water didn't seem clear enough to need 5x or lighter.  I worked very thoroughly through a big hole for an hour with no luck.

I then switched to some tiny flies for the clear water - a size 18 Ju Ju Baetis and a size 20 Rainbow Warrior.  I had seen a few BWOs, so that was why I picked the former fly.  The latter was honestly a guess - an attractor pattern that I happen to like and I had in a tiny size.  These I put on 5x, simply because the flies move more naturally on a thinner tippet.  A third pass through the hole yielded nothing.  So, I headed downstream to another hole that can be productive, but it's rarely as good as the first hole.  In five minutes, I got a small wild rainbow on the baetis fly.

Then, things seemed to die again.  It was now 8:00, with sunset at 8:23.  I was leaning towards going home, but decided to throw a few more casts.  And, on one of those casts, something took a fly very hard.  I knew immediately it was a big fish.  The fish was hooked in slower deep water, but there was some very fast water between me and him.  I decided my best bet was to work the fish downstream through the deeper water, and with the current, and then try to net him in a spot where things calmed down as the river got wider.

After five minutes or so, I finally saw the fish - a big brown.  I couldn't tell which fly he had taken.  I kept good pressure on the line as he jumped a few times.  As I stepped back into the water, starting to think about netting him, he took off on another run.  Twice, he almost had me into my backing.

Finally, he started to tire and I was gaining progress.  I got him close enough that I was getting my net ready.  The fish only had about 8 or 9 feet of leader.  I had the rest o the line, and he was in shallow water.  But, somehow, be built up some speed, jumped one more time, and threw the hook.

It turned out I'd hooked him on the Rainbow Warrior.  The fish was close to 20", although I'm guessing he was a bit smaller.  But, if he had gone 20", I might have pulled off the rare "20 on 20", where you catch a fish of 20 inches or more on a fly size 20 or smaller.  Alas, that achievement, which I've almost done on the Little Juniata in PA, will have to wait.  On the Little J, I'fe taken a 19" fish on a size 20 fly and a 20" fish on a size 18 fly, but never 20 on 20.

After a few more casts, I called it a day.

I was just standing by the river, looking to see if any fish would start to rise to insects as we got close to dark.  There were a few rises, but nothing consistent enough to make me tie on a dry fly.  In the interim, the young man I'd talked to earlier came downstream to talk to me.  In the hole where I'd been skunked, he had used one of the flies I gave to him and he used it to catch his first ever fish on a fly.

He had a picture of the fish on his phone - a stocked rainbow about 10".  He was so proud of his accomplishment.  I have to admit that I was so happy for him that I forgot all about the disappointment of losing the big brown.  There will be other chances for me.  Helping to convert a new fisherman to catch and release fly fishing is way more important than the fish I missed.

It's pretty rare to help a new fly fisherman get his first fish.  I'm very glad I took the time to talk to him and offer some help.  He even caught the fish on a fly that I had tied rather than purchased.  I'd given him some of each, and the fact that he used one of my creations made it all the better.

I'm planning a weeklong trip to NH and ME for September.  Even if I don't get to fish much between now and then, I'm sure that will be a good week.

And, I may catch my fewest fish in many years, but after missing two months of prime fishing to cancer surgery, every day on the water is a good day.  Sunday was an especially good day.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Still not back on the water

I left for NYC on 6/3, the day of the White River Open FF tournament.  I'd finished in the top 5 the three previous years and was hopeful this might be the year I pulled out the win.  A friend ended up winning with 17 fish, so I doubt that I would have won.  But, because of my trip to NYC, I never got to fish.

We had a nice mini-vacation in NYC, and then I had cancer surgery on 6/8.  I was discharged on the 14th and returned home on the 15th.

I'm still using pain medicine fairly regularly, so I have not yet been out fishing.  I also developed an infection along my incision line, so my staples have not yet been removed.  Hopefully, they will come out in the next few days.

It is my goal to get out for a couple hours of fishing this coming weekend, if the water levels are not too high.  It will probably be 5 or so more weeks until I feel 100%, but I hope to fish a little bit before then.

People here will be the first to hear when I finally catch a fish again.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fly fishing with cancer

I have two blogs.  One is a lot older than this blog.  That one actually has some readers, as well.  I started blogging, with a focus on some ultramarathon races I was attempting to do.  Over time, due first to an injury, and then to some follow-on life events, the blog really just became an online diary.

Part of that "diary" was my fly fishing adventures,  But, to be honest, some of the fly fishing information was simply of no interest to my friends who were interested in my ultramarathon running, my time as a skier and ski instructor, and other things in my life.  So, I started this blog and I've been writing about fishing here instead.

And, I've mostly kept them separate.  But, some events in my life really affect every facet of my life and the reality is, I've been mostly ignoring some stuff here that's affecting my fishing a lot.

In September of 2013, I had a high PSA test.  This is a blood test that can indicate prostate cancer.  There are many reasons that PSA can be elevated, but prostate cancer is one of them.  And, it turned out that I did have prostate cancer.  I had surgery in January of 2014, and I've been tested routinely since then.  It seems likely that I'm cured of that cancer, although the treatments come with permanent and unpleasant side effects.

But, two years ago, I started to get sick.  No energy.  I had to quit fishing on a vacation day because I simply ran out of juice.  I didn't have the energy to wade at all and I barely had the energy to get to my car.

I'll spare the details here, but it took months to find out the cause.  Finally, I had an emergency event where I couldn't breathe properly.  A CT scan showed a large mass (described as the size and shape of a nerf football) growing on my right kidney.  Things had been moving slowly, but this changed everything.  I had surgery very shortly, losing the tumor and my kidney.  What was assumed to be kidney cancer turned out to be much rarer and more dangerous - liposarcoma.  Specifically, dedifferentiated retroperitoneal liposarcoma.  I think a few hundred people per year in the US get that diagnosis.

The first surgeon knew he didn't get all of the cancer out of me.  A few months later, a scan showed it was back.  I had chemo and then another surgery.  And then, a clean scan.  That was during the summer and I had a great trout season that year.  I felt healthy all season for the first time in a while.  I traveled to fish and caught some nice fish.  It was easily the best trout season of my lifetime.  Yes, this was just last summer.  It seemed like I caught fish every time out and I caught my fair share of nice fish.

In November, I found out that the cancer had returned.  I had some radiation.  Then, I was supposed to have surgery, but some new tumors showed up just before my surgery.  This indicated that I needed a systemic treatment to try to kill the cells that were generating new tumors from somewhere in my body.  I started chemo in February of this year.  I just recently finished it and I'm still dealing with the side effects.

To be honest, I can't fish for more than 3 hours at a time right now.  I'm just too tired.  I worry that I'll make a mistake wading and go under.  We've had a cold, wet spring so far.  Rivers are running colder and higher than normal, although not by much.  But, it's been enough to delay the really good fishing.  And enough to make me very cautious while wading.

So, I'm still somewhat sick.  The season is somewhat delayed.  And, I'm coming off a memorable season, where I really thought I'd started to dial in some new skills.  It's getting into late May.  Between my limited time on the water (I've been out 10 times or so, but just a few hours at a time) and the conditions, I honestly haven't caught a trout yet.  I've had one strike, and immediately hooked and lost that fish.

I am frustrated as hell, to be honest.  Yet, if I'm honest, I have some really good reasons why I haven't caught fish.  And yet, I can't seem to be honest with myself.  I keep claiming I'm going to quit fishing.  I'm going to build a bonfire and burn my equipment.  Think about that - simply burning close to $10K worth of fly fishing gear.  How stupid would that be?  I just bought a new Helios 2 rod and some Patagonia waders.  I tied flies this winter like never before.  I love this sport as much as ever.  I just need the season to come around, just like I need my health to come around.

I fished the Black River yesterday.  The plan was to fish all day.  I was on the water at first light.  I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Black.  It really should be called Six Flags over Vermont, or something like that, because it's as much amusement park as trout stream.  There is no wild fish population.  People question whether any fish even hold over through the winter.  And, the state stocks bigger fish in the river.  A four mile stretch of water gets a couple thousand fish with a minimum size of 16" or so, and some fish go 20".  I got a 20" brown last year.

It's also an insane river.  Crowded.  No gear restrictions.  It's not uncommon to have bait chunkers or spinner fisherman cast right over your fly line.  There is no sense of decorum here.  It's a free for all.  When you drive along the river, most fishermen are from out of state.  When you are on the water, the fishermen skew older.  I think a lot of retired out of staters make up the majority of the people on the water, but not all of them.  And, the fishermen (ignore the demographics for a minute) tend to be rude and aggressive.

I refuse to fish this river on a weekend.  I usually take one vacation day in May to fish it.  Yesterday, I hit a perfect weather day and I was on the river at first light.  There were three spin fishermen in the first hole I was going to fish, but I could see that the half mile upstream was clear of other fishermen.  So, I hopped in and fished up.

The first things I noticed were than the water was cold and high for this time of year.  That's been true statewide and the season has started slowly for everyone.  Yes, I fished with some friends who did well last Saturday, but they are working hard for nice wild fish.  Yesterday should have been an easy day to catch a dozen big fish.  And yet, I got nothing.  Not one strike.  Early on, I stuck with the tried and true.  A couple standard bead head nymphs.  Then, a different pair.  Then, because of the fast current, I tried some fast sinking competition nymphs.  Still nothing.  Streamers.  Buggers.  Nothing.

As the sun finally appeared, so did some Hendricksons - the first I've seen this year.  And the fish ignored them.  Finally, the number of cars where I'd parked reached critical mass.  And, the fishermen made it upstream.  Not one fisherman had a fish (You can keep up to 2 fish per day here and the spin fishermen tend to keep their 2).

People started fishing elbow to elbow.  I was well established in a pool, but that didn't matter to these guys.  They crossed my line and blamed me.  I ignored them.  Then, I accidentally crossed one of their lines and someone got all pissed off.  Remember, I was here first.  I reminded this other fisherman that I was fishing this pool and he'd jumped in at my elbow.  He told me there was plenty of water and I should avoid his line.

I reeled in and left.  I refuse to play that game.  The assholes can have it.

I'd been out for 3 hours.  No strikes.  It wasn't even 8:00.  So, I drove home and worked for the day rather than dealing with the other fishermen, the fatigue that was already hitting me, and the slow fishing.  Maybe things picked up later, but I'll never know.  I'm done with that river for the season.  I tend to fish where I normally fish because I prefer the solitude on my primary rivers.

I thought about going out again locally after work.  It was 90F+ and I was exhausted.  I took a nap instead.

That's my season so far.  Fish or nap.  In the past, fishing always won.  Now, naps are winning.  Fishing is tough and you're going to have to work hard for every strike.  Normally, I have the time and energy for that and I even enjoy the challenge.  Now, I go home and take a nap.

The fishing will pick up in a week or two.  Maybe I'll even catch a fish tomorrow morning because I will be out there again.  For a while at least.  Before my nap.

My guess is that June is going to be the month this year.  And, I won't be able to fish at all in June.  The cancer requires another surgery on 6/8.  I head to NYC (this cancer is so rare that I have to use out of state hospitals for treatment) on 6/3.  If I'm lucky, I'll be fishing again by the end of June.

Part of what sucks is that I honestly don't know how many seasons I have left right now.  This is not a a cancer that will be cured.  And, I may find that even if I have future seasons, my health may be worse, not better.

For now, I'm going to have my surgery.  I'm going to recover.  And, I'm going to fish the hell out of July, August, September and October.  By then, I should feel a lot better.  No more naps. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

If anyone out there actually reads this blog (I see that people do read it sometimes, but I've never had a single comment here, so I feel like I'm just talking to myself.), get out fishing.  Don't take it for granted.  Contrary to what people may say, there isn't always tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow will arrive, but our lives can change.

I haven't lost fishing yet, but I might.  That scares the shit out of me, to be honest.  I spend way too much time wondering if this might be the last time I fish somewhere, the last time I do something, anything.  I wonder all the time if this might be my last season on the water.  That makes my frustration even more palpable.

Don't wait until you are there to really appreciate your time on the water.  I've been fishing for trout for 40 years.  I've caught my fair share.  I've taken some hiatuses in there, mostly while raising kids.  I have had some years where I didn't fish.  But, more recently, I've been putting in 50 days or so per year.  At age 55, I'm improving.  My tying is as good as it's ever been.  My dead drift nymphing is still coming along, but it's a lot better.

I'm at a point in life where I can afford to fish high quality equipment and I'm happy for that.  I read people online debating certain equipment and making fun of people who buy high end equipment.  Marginally, the best stuff might not be a great value.  But, a Helios 2 rod or a Hardy Zenith rod, or a Hatch Finatic Plus reel are just amazing tools.  If you can afford them and you love to fly fish, go ahead and invest in the good stuff, if you can.  I still fish (and love) a Sage RPL+ from more than 20 years ago.  The best stuff lasts and holds up as time goes by.

And time goes by.  If you really love fishing, spend that time on the water.  If you can convince loved ones to fish with you, even better.

Regretfully, time marches on.  Every single one of us will eventually face our final season on the water.  Our skills or fitness will diminish.  We will be left with some amazing memories to comfort us in our old age.

I will fight this damned disease.  I will fish as long as I can.  But, I've also gotten a glimpse of the end.  I'm not looking forward to it.  So, to all of you who are fully healthy and who decided you weren't going to fish tomorrow, I say go for it.  Get your gear and get out fishing.  The fish aren't going to come to you.

And, until my dying day, that wonderful rhythmic almost zen-like pattern of casting and drifting will be part of my thought patterns.  The fish are part of it and most of the memories are about the fish.  But, the relaxation that can come from just fishing is worth its weight in gold.  When I'm casting, I'm not worried about my mortgage payment.  The latest problem at work is forgotten.  My cancer is forgotten.  In that moment, it's just me and the rod and the river.  And if I'm lucky enough and skilled enough, maybe one more trout.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New toys and never ending rain

Due to the wader problems I wrote about last week, I had new waders this weekend.  I purchased the Patagonia Rio Gallegos waders - non zipper version.  And, I'm wondering already if I should have spent the extra money for the zipper, but I do like the waders a lot.  The gaiter was very different than with Orvis waders - a bit tighter to the boot, and harder to hook onto the laces, but just not that big a deal.

Overall, I found them to be very comfortable, warm, a perfect fit (I'm 5-10, 215, size 11 shoe and the XL is a perfect fit for me).  It was pouring the entire time I was fishing (I'm a glutton for punishment, I suppose), and I stayed comfortable in the waders the entire time.  River temperatures were cold and my feet and legs stayed warm.

So, I now have three pairs of waders.  An older Orvis Silver Sonic wader that works just fine and will likely end up used by my wife most of the time.  Newer Orvis Silver Sonic Guide waders that currently need a repair.  I need a sunny day to repair them, due to the resin that seals the patch being UV cured.  And, the new Patagonia waders.  And in reality, they all work just great.  I would have to say that the basic Orvis Silver Sonic waders have the fewest whistles and bells (no belt loops, cheap suspenders, no waterproof pocket for my phone, and are just a bit lighter than the other two pairs.  But, it's a luxury to have those options available.

After yesterday, I'm pretty sure that the Patagonia waders will be my go-to pair, for the most part, at least until the water starts to warm up.  And, I may sell one of them, to be honest.  Two pairs is almost a necessity in New England, while three pairs are overkill.

My other new toy yesterday was something I didn't really expect.  I've been looking at 5 weight rods recently.  I have a 3 weight, high stick nymphing rod from Hardy (Zenith line, Lamson Litespeed reel).   I have a 4 weight Winston Passport - only 8' that my wife primarily uses.  It has a Redington Zero reel.  Next, I have my favorite rod - an 8'6" Hardy Zenith 4 weight, with a Hatch Finatic Plus reel.  This rod is a bit undersized at times on bigger rivers, but it's truly an amazing rod and reel.  And, from 1995 or so, I have a Sage RPL+ - 9 foot, 5 weight.  But, in reality, this rod is very stiff and fishes more like a six weight.  I keep an Orvis Access reel on this rod with six weight line.  Lastly, I have an old bamboo rod from the late 1930's - a long term loaner from a friend who only fishes Tenkara these days.  That rod will only get out in special conditions - mostly stockies where I know a big fish is unlikely to break the rod tip.

But, what I've been missing is a true 5 weight.  And, I've been lusting after one for a while.  I had a handful of rods in mind - all high end stuff that I can't really afford.  Scott Radian.  Orvis Helios 2.  Loomis NRX LP, and Hardy Zephrus.  A few other options exist, such as one of the Loop rods that gets great reviews, and at a slightly lower price point, but those four rods above have all been cast and I know I'd be thrilled with any of them.

I have an extra spool with 5 weight line for my Hatch Finatic Plus reel, and that's easily my favorite reel, so I don't need a new reel.  My plan has been to sell the 3 weight and use that money to finance the 5 weight.  I simply don't use the Euro Nymphing rod as much as I'd expected, and it's often too windy to cast a 3 weight on anything but the smallest rivers in New England.

So, on Saturday, my wife and I headed to Syracuse to pick up our daughter from her freshman year of college.  As we got back to Lake George, I asked my wife if it would be OK to stop in at the Orvis Outlet store to look around.  Mostly, I wanted to look for some shirts for work, and a new bed for our dog, but I wanted to see what rods were in stock as well.  You can never really take the fisherman out of some people.

Across the 5 weights in the Helios 2 line, there are 3 rods.  Two are 9 footers - one a tip flex and one a mid flex.  And, the other is a mid-flex 8'6" rod.  From having cast them in the past, I knew my favorite was the 9' mid flex, then the 8-6 mid flex, and finally the tip flex.  I really like the tip stiffness in the mid-flex rods, and the accuracy at close distances.  Yes, you give up some distance, but I've got my Sage rod for days where I need distance.  And, the lightness of the rods is just amazing - 2.25 oz. for the 8-6 rod.

So, as my wife poked around the dog beds, I discovered there was an 8-6 mid-flex Helios 2 rod in stock.  It was selling for $479, well off the $795 list price.  Now, in the Outlet Store, below a certain price, the normal Orvis warranty does not apply.  So, if you break the rod, you need to pay for the repair, but a general repair is typically less than $100.  So, that risk is real.  Most of the rods in the outlet store have some sort of checkered past.  They may have been damaged casting in the main Orvis shops.  A tip section might have broken and been repaired.  There might be blemishes. The rods are clearly marked as "Outlet" rods, so the lack of warranty is clear.  But, we couldn't find a thing wrong with this rod.

Orvis also had a deal where if you applied for an Orvis credit card (I already have one, but my wife doesn't), they will give you an additional 20% off your purchase.  So, after some conversations with my wife, and knowing the store was closing soon, I headed to the parking lot to cast the rod.  I was amazed at how stiff it was at its light weight, how easily it threw nice tight loops, and how accurate it was in short.  Just like last time I had cast it, I was enamored.  With no water in the parking lot, one area I couldn't really test was roll casting, but most rods that aren't too slow do just fine with this type of cast.

I don't whether she really loves me or she's just a pushover, but my wife filled out the credit card application in case I wanted to buy the rod.  That brought the price down to $385, or about $410 with tax - less than half the suggested price.  And, with my wife's blessing, I pulled the trigger.

So, despite the disgusting rain yesterday, I had to fish - new waders and a new rod.  (And, somehow, I'd gotten both of them for less than the price of the rod alone - not a bad week of deal seeking).  I focused on a stretch of the Third Branch of the White River - a place where a dam had been removed last season.  This spot holds some big browns and the state had also stocked some brookies in the area in the past week, although 1000 brookies for 10+ miles of water is very much hit and miss.  After an hour at this site (they did a great job with the stone work and constructing a shoreline conducive to fishing), I moved upstream to keep looking for those elusive brookies.  It's now well into May and I've hooked just one fish and landed zero so far, so the need to catch a fish is growing.

But, all I got was rain, rain, and more rain.  Finally, after a couple hours, I headed to a beaver pond that always yields a few small brookies and some occasional rainbows.  And, I got shut out there as well.

I will write more detailed reviews on the waders and the new rod over the next couple months.  My initial impression of the rod is that it will become my #1 rod very quickly.  I honestly love every rod I have right now, and the only rod that doesn't get fished a lot is the 3 weight.  To be honest, that rod is now for sale if anyone ever reads this blog and has any interest.  I'm willing to make a good deal on the rod and the reel and even throw in some Rio Euro Nymph leaders.

In just a few words, the rod is quick, stiff, accurate, mends very well for a rod of its light weight, and it's everything I hoped it would be.  I was using Orvis's cork strike indicators yesterday, and I think they may be my new favorite strike indicators.  They have a bit of heft to them compared to the Thing-a-ma-Bobs, and you can make a minor adjustment without moving your fly a long distance.

Now, I just have to not break it going forward (In 40 or so years of fly fishing, I've broken 2 rods and I'm not too scared about that happening now, to be honest).  Plus, I know that Orvis can repair the rod for me if I do manage to break it.  I could probably break it 3 times before my total price equaled the retail price of the standard issue rod.

So, no complaints so far.  More details to come in the future.  And, if your timing is good, the Orvis Outlet stores are certainly a way to get some of the best gear out there for more reasonable prices.

One last thought.  The rod is stunningly gorgeous.  The construction is top notch.  The color is a beautiful dark blue.  Orvis has now added the little "dots" to line up rod sections during assembly, something I first saw on the Hardy Zenith rods.  If the weather holds, I'll get out on Thursday evening after work.  Hopefully, the new rod will give me my first fish of the year that night.  And then, on the 18th, I'm taking a vacation day to fish the trophy waters of the Black River down south.  On that river, with most fish in the 16"-20" range, I would normally fish the Sage rod.  This year, I think I'm going to put the stiffness of the new Helios 2 to the test.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Another obligatory "One that got away" story

First of all, thanks to a friend, who had been borrowing my third string waders, I was able to fish and stay dry this weekend.  He had just gotten new waders and the timing was perfect.  These are mid-level Orvis waders without some of the whistles and bells of newer waders, but they kept me dry on a cold day.

My new Patagonia waders will arrive today.  And, I found the primary hole in my Orvis Guide Waders and I think they are repairable.  So, I may go from no good waders to 3 pairs in a week.  If I can get all 3 working at the same time, I'm sure my wife and son will be happy to get out fishing with me a bit more.

So, this past weekend was tough for me.  A lot of fatigue from the chemo.  I worked at home on Thursday, and barely had the energy for a 3 mile walk with the dog on Thursday evening, so no fishing.  Friday morning, I was so exhausted I couldn't get out of bed until noon.  The same was true Saturday and Sunday as well.  According to my FitBit, I slept 52 hours in an 80 hour period.  I was that tired.

So, I wasted the best weather of the weekend, but got out Sunday night in cold, cloudy conditions.  I headed for a spot where two rivers converge.  One river is always cloudier than the other, and I like working the seam where the different rivers meet, hoping to catch a big fish looking for baitfish emerging from the cloudy water to the clearer water.  And, about my 10th cast, I found exactly that.

I was using my Hardy Zenith 4 weight, which might have been a bit undersized for the river here, but I just like the rod so much that I wanted to get out there with it.  I was fishing a size 6 olive woolly bugger trailed by a size 14 Frenchy.  I was mostly fishing on the swing, hoping to move the fly from the cloudy water, slowly into the more clear water.

And, about my 10th cast or so, I felt that distinctive tap.  A second tap and the fish had hooked himself before I could even react.  I knew right away it was a good fish.  It came straight to the surface, doing some amazing tail walking.  It was shaking its head like a mini tarpon, trying to get rid of the woolly bugger embedded in its mouth.  And, in less time that it took you to read that paragraph, the hook came loose and the fish was gone.  My first strike of the year.  My first hook-up of the year.  My first big fish of the season.  And, my first fish story about the one that got away.

Nothing else happened in the 90 minutes I fished, and by then, in the cold and drizzle, I was done for the day anyway.

This same river system is about to get more than 10,000 cookie cutter stocked fish.  Yeah, the tug is the drug, and I still enjoy the 20 or 30 fish days that come out of the stocking truck.

But, I'd trade all of those days for just one good wild fish, and I missed that chance this weekend.  I think the fish would have been my biggest rainbow ever in VT, and  I will return to see if I can entice it again.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Wader Problems

I seem to have nothing but bad luck with waders.  It's becoming expensive and annoying, to be honest.  I read stories about guides who put in 200 days per year in a pair of waders, and they last for year after year and after year.  I swear that I never get even 100 days out of a pair of waders without some trouble along the way.  Yes, I did have a pair of Red Ball super lightweight waders that lasted me close to 2 decades, but to be honest, I rarely fished during those 20 years.  I spent more time running ultramarathons and fishing on occasion.

So, two weekends ago, on opening day, I did walk into a ground-level barbed wire fence while wearing my waders.  I have the Orvis Super Sonic Guide Waders.  I got these two years earlier, when my previous waders developed leaks in the seams and Orvis offered a good deal on an upgrade.  So, I took that deal and I like the waders.  I've had zero complaints with these waders, to be honest.

After I stumbled into the barbed wire on opening day, I looked the waders over carefully.  Other than cosmetic damage on the boot gaiter, I couldn't find any problems.  I fished in the water for a few hours with no problems.  I stayed warm and dry.

Last night, I got out again for the first time since then.  My very first step into the river greeted me with cold and wetness.  It quickly became clear that there are 3 holes in the left leg of the waders and none in the right.  To be honest, most of the damage to the gaiter was on the right side, which makes this even more confusing to me.

So, I fished for a few minutes.  But, the current was high (a river I prefer to fish in the 1000-1400cfs range was at 3000cfs), cold, and off color.  Plus, given the flows, it was hard to even get my streamer out to where I normally catch fish.  After 15 minutes, to be honest, I was cold, wet and pissed off.

So I went home.  I might have thrown a little temper tantrum (When dealing with cancer as a constant backdrop in your life, sometimes emotions just win).  Orvis can take up to 6 weeks to fix a pair of waders.  To be honest, I have not yet fully investigated the extent of the damage.  It might be minor damage (maybe some tearing) from the barbed wire fence.  But, if so, why did I stay dry two weeks ago?  It might also be a red squirrel that's been living in my wood pile in my garage.  It's possible the waders were chewed on while I stored them in the garage, and if that happened, repair could be very difficult.

So, with some of the best fly fishing of the season just a couple weeks away, what do I do?  First of all, I should have 2 pairs of functioning waders.  I simply cannot take 6 weeks off fishing every time I get a  leak.

So, my wife volunteered that I should get a second set of  waders.  I had a way to get a decent deal on some new waders and took advantage of that.  It's an expensive set of waders from a high priced company, but at least I was able to get the deal.  I did that this morning.

Next, I need to finish drying out my waders and inspect them.  If I find small holes, I will repair the old waders myself.  If I find that the squirrel chewed them up, and the holes are larger, I'll send them back for repair.

But, at least I'll be able to fish in the interim.  And, after repair work, I'll have a second set of waders.  And then, I'll get my third pair back from a friend who has been borrowing them, and test them out, hoping they can be a third pair or something my son or wife can use on occasion.

I also clearly need another way to store my waders.  They need to be hanging at all times, and at a place where no f*cking squirrels can eat them.  But, I'll figure that out.

I would never go through life with only one fly rod, one reel, one pair of wading boots, one wading staff, or just a single box of flies.  Yet, somehow, I've set myself up for a single point of failure with my waders,  And, I feel like an idiot.

How long has it been since I bought my first ever hip boots (Yes, that's how old I am; I started with hip boots)?  Probably well over 40 years and somehow, I'm just learning this lesson now?  In those days, I couldn't afford backups and I would wet wade a lot anyway.  I wet wade when I can these days, but it will be two months or so before it's warm enough to do that comfortably here in VT.  Plus, I fish into November, and late fall is not wet wading season in VT.

Well, nobody ever promised this was an easy sport.  Or cheap.  Or that I'd be any good at it.  I just keep working at it, trying to get better, and trying to keep on top of my gear.  I honestly think that I have gotten to the point where I own way more fly fishing gear (in terms of dollars) than I own skiing gear.  And, I've been teaching skiing for 17 years now.

I know that fly fishing can be done differently than I do it.  Simms, Patagonia and Orvis aren't the only wader or boot manufacturers out there.  I don't have to be in love with Hardy rods or Hatch reels.  I don't really need an Orvis credit card.

At the same time, despite all of my year of experience in this sport, I still feel like a rookie at times. And, if I can spend a few dollars to ward off a rookie mistake, well, I guess I'll do that.

I don't know if anyone actually reads this blog, to be honest, but any guesses when I will actually catch a fish this year?  My guess is Thursday, 5/4.