Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pittsburg, NH area fishing

I finally got some fishing done a week ago, up in the Pittsburg, NH area.  I picked up a friend on Saturday morning and we headed north and east.  It took a couple hours to get there, and we did a quick drive through Pittsburg and up to First Connecticut Lake before picking our first spot to fish.  We decided to start at a bridge about halfway through the Trophy section (fly fishing only) between First Connecticut Lake and Lake Francis.  We were camping at Lake Francis that night.

We did check out the upper end of the trophy section before we fished downstream, but it was crowded and the two most obvious holes were being used to teach some young kids to fly fish.  We saw one of them catch a small wild rainbow before heading downstream.

I enjoyed the pocket water we were fishing.  But, my fishing companion apparently didn't.  I had settled in on a handful of flies I wanted to use for this trip, and I didn't change up very often.  I was using a hopper up top, a size 14 Batman Prince Nymph and a size 18 purple Juju Baetis as my droppers.  Walking was challenging, but there were fish in that pocket water and I caught a couple small wild fish early on.  The biggest excitement was a large brook trout following my hopper for 10 feet or so before declining to eat it.  It would have easily been my biggest brookie ever, but no luck.

After a couple hours in the midday sun, I felt like I was dialing in the water and I had a few things figured out.  The takes were subtle.  They almost always came on the first or second cast into an area, so the best strategy was cast and move, cast and move.  I'd missed a few fish, caught a couple, and was having fun, but my friend was catching nothing and complaining.  Eventually, he insisted it was time for lunch.  We went to the campground, set up our tent, got some food, and he then wanted to drive to Colebrook to fish.

I had my best day of last year in Colebrook with this person, but I much preferred to stay in the upper water.  But, there were 2 of us, so I gave in.  Unlike a year ago, the fishing was very challenging at Colebrook this year.  I got one strike and one small wild fish.  My friend got 2 fish.  And suddenly, darkness was approaching, so we called it a day.  We had access to so much water full of big wild fish in NH, and I knew I didn't want to return to this site the next day.  The bridge at Colebrook can be very productive.  But, it's open to bait fishing and lots of people fish there simply to catch their limit and go home.  There is nothing wild or remote about it, although there are some wild fish in the area.

I suggested an early start for the next day, and suggested we fish the top of the trophy section, before it got crowded.  We were the first people there, and within a couple minutes, I had a nice 12" rainbow on the Batman Prince.  I continued my tactic of cast and move on.  I went downstream and caught another fish right below the previous fish, this time on the Juju Baetis.  By now, some other fishermen were showing up, so I headed downstream even more.  At the next hole, I was fishing some small water that had just been abandoned by another fisherman, but on my second cast, I landed a 10" landlocked salmon on the baetis nymph.  This was my first landlocked salmon ever -a fish I have never really targeted even in VT.  I leapfrogged the fisherman below me, and caught another small rainbow just below him and some downed trees.  I fished a handful of holes on the way downstream, and then realized I was getting away from my buddy.  So, I circled back around and found him.  Somehow, between my 4th fish and the time I found him, my net disappeared, but I didn't notice right away.

I also changed flies, tying on a size 16 Psycho Prince nymph - still purple.

As I resumed fishing with my friend, he moved downstream quickly to some bigger water.  I worked slowly through the pocket water and at one point, I waded halfway across the river to put a fly in front of a very fishy looking rock.  And, it paid off as I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take.  This is when I noticed that my net was gone and I had my buddy net the fish.  The fish was a bit lethargic with warm-ish water temperatures, so I released him immediately with no photo.  So, you'll have to trust me that it was a beautiful 18" rainbow.  I went off looking for my net after that, and my buddy caught a second smaller fish where I'd just taken the big fish.  By the time I returned, he wanted some coffee, so we headed back to the campground.

We packed up everything, got some coffee, and headed to a fly fishing only section above First Connecticut Lake.  I thought this water was close to a mile long, but the river dropped into the lake after maybe 1/4 mile.  My friend worked this water more slowly, and it paid off with a nice wild brookie (this water holds mostly brookies and salmon).  I had no strikes and I fished the entire FFO section.  By now, it was noon and we had time to fish one more area before we had to head home.  Plus, rain was in the forecast for the evening.

I suggested below Murphy's Dam, the outlet of Lake Francis, just above the village of Pittsburg.  This water was being released towards the bottom of the dam, and was clearly below the thermocline.  I measured the water at 54F, and we knew there were big browns in this water.  But, to be honest, fishing had really slowed down, I hadn't had much sleep, and I was getting pretty tired.  I fished a big white streamer trailed by 2 tiny nymphs, but after half an hour, I'd had enough and called it a day.  I told my friend I was done, but told him to keep fishing.  I went back to the car for something to eat and drink, and I listened to the Tigers pummelling the Red Sox on the radio.

After an hour or so, an older gentleman with a fly fishing license plate showed up at his truck, which was parked right beside me.  We talked for an hour or so, and he told me he'd lost a brown he estimated at 8 pounds on a tiny fly.  He had actually hooked a small brown, and the bigger brown attacked the smaller fish and managed to get hooked.  After a 20 minute fight, the fish threw the hook, and he reeled in the dead carcass of the baby brown he'd originally hooked.  This was the second time he'd hooked this particular fish (although he said it's possible 2 huge browns are in the small pool where he hooked it), and it got away both times.

He turned out to be a guide, and he was very willing to share his knowledge of this stretch of river.  I'm hoping to go back in September and maybe fish with him for a day.  I told him that if we fished, my goal would simply be to have a shot at a big brown.  Numbers are meaningless, but give me a shot at a big eastern brown.  I'm hoping to do that in 3 weeks or so, when I've got a week off work to go fly fishing.

Even if I don't fish with him, I will fish in the Pittsburg, NH area again this season, despite the high pressure that anglers put on the Connecticut River through that area.

I did some stream measurements this past weekend, and some local waters are cooling down.  The Little River is cool enough to fish all day, and the Dog is cool enough to fish in the morning.  But, after a tough hike with my wife and friends on Saturday, I slept in on Sunday and never made it out fishing.  I probably can't fish this coming weekend, but I'm guessing that water temperatures will be much better by the time I can fish 11 days from now.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Not much to report

We don't have a lot of tailwaters in VT, and most of them are a long drive from my home.

I managed to fish a couple weeks ago near Rochester, VT, along Rt. 125, upstream of Texas Falls.  It was 66F up there.  I got a few very small wild brookies that day.  But, other than that day, I haven't been fishing.  Here are some recent water temperature readings:

White River - Main Branch - 76F
Locust Creek - 75F
Stony Creek - 72F
Barton River, near Glover - 71F
Black River in Irasburg - 75.5F

We need rain and we need cooler temperatures.  Until then, I either have to travel to fish or just do something else on the weekends.  I kind of doubt that my wife would support me getting a fishing boat to use on Lake Champlain, but it would sure be nice to have this summer.

On 4 of those waters listed above, I have never recorded a temperature above 70F before this season.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A River Making a Comeback

I'm not going to name the river where I fished on Saturday, but locals should be able to figure out what water I'm talking about.

This is special regulations water - catch and release only.  I fish there a few times a year, always in search of the big browns that allegedly inhabit this water, but I have yet to land one.  A friend of mine had a good morning there Saturday - fishing big streamers for big browns after thunderstorms the night before.  He got two big browns - one of them bigger than any brown I've ever caught.

I got to a well known spot with easy river access around 4:30 p.m.  I fought through some brush to get to the river.  I was hoping I wasn't going to fight to get to the water, only to find it was too warm to fish, but luckily, it was 64.5F - well within the safe parameters.  The first couple holes are slow water, and I drifted some nymphs with a strike indicator as I scouted around for insect life.  Those first few holes gave me nothing.

The first hole with some moving water was much better though.  I had about 5 strikes in 10 minutes and landed 3 small wild rainbows.  Considering that I often get zero fish on this river, or maybe 1, getting 3 fish, even small fish, felt like a good day already.  I continued fishing downstream.  The next hole was devoid of fish, due to low flows.  Two years ago, I'd hooked a big brown in that hole on a huge black stonefly, but there were no fish to be found Saturday.

In the next hole, I'd briefly hooked a big rainbow last year, but I had a few bad casts and then a snag this time.  After I snapped off my snag, my strike indicator came loose and floated into the next hole and stopped.  So, I ruined that hole by wading in to retrieve my indicator.  I fished another 4-5 holes downstream with no luck, and decided to move on.

At my second location, a bit downstream, I had a few deep holes to work, with long stretches of calm water in between.  I worked hard to get some good clean drifts through these holes, and repeatedly changed my fly depth.  No luck at all.  I was seeing some BWOs by now, and I had a mayfly nymph, a stone nymph, and a BWO nymph, in that order, on my rig.  The latter two nymphs had produced those first 3 fish.  I got no strikes at all on the second stretch and debated what to do next.  I had a third spot I was considering - one that I like for nymphing.  But, it was after 7:00 by now, and I was exhausted from a few tough gym workouts the previous day.  So, I headed for my "secret" hole on this river.

It's not easy to get to, especially this time of year.  You can park way downstream and wade up quite a ways.  You can park way upstream, walk the road, and access the creek through a horrible jungle of knotweed.  Or, you can find the secret parking spot and wade down through a tiny creek to get there.  I have never seen another fisherman in this stretch.

There are 2 main holes here, and before Hurricane Irene, there were 3.  But, after some work on the nearby railroad tracks, the river flow changed and the middle hole disappeared.  I fished the top hole with the nymphs and was honestly surprised to have no strikes at all.  I waded down to the lower hole and just watched for a while.  Before the hurricane, I consistently did well with dries in this hole.  But, some repair work after the hurricane really re-configured the hole, and it's been slow to rebound.  I took a friend in there last year and he got a nice 18" wild rainbow on a dry.

I saw no fish working the surface, so I stuck with my nymphs.  But, as I got to the bottom of the hole, I started to see a few smaller fish rising.  I think they were going after BWO emergers, but there were also a few hexagenia in the air.  I put on a small (size 16) BWO and landed a rainbow on my first cast.  In the next 15 minutes, I got 2 browns.  But, the fish were still small, and I was after something bigger.  The hexagenia were becoming more numerous, so I switched to a bigger hex pattern to try to scare up a bigger fish.  I had one brown come up to the fly twice before refusing it, and a couple small fish batter the fly around.  But, no luck on the bigger fish.  By now, it was almost 9:00 and I still had to drive home and cook dinner, so I called it a day.  But, taking 6 small fish in this river is very promising for its future and its continued recovery from the hurricane.

On Monday, my wife and I tried to fish the White.  Above the Third Branch, the main branch had a temperature above 71F.  Below the confluence, it was as high as 76F.  People were swimming in the first hole I wanted to fish.

I drove upstream to a side stream that is never too hot to fish, and measured 71F there.  I opted to not push higher into the side streams.  My wife struggles with casting under tight tree canopies, so we called it a day.  The weather the next 2 weeks does not look promising for restoring the streams to being fishable.  I may travel up towards the Canadian border in search of cooler water next weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fishing in the Sierra Nevada

Thanks to the generosity of some friends, my family and I took a recent vacation to the Sierra Nevada.  I've mentioned here before that I've been dealing with a tough cancer the past year or so, and my wife and I each had a previous cancer in the past couple years.  This hit us very hard financially.

Over the winter, a number of friends offered to send me on a skiing trip, but I was between chemo and surgery, very busy trying to stay caught up at work, and I said I had to decline.  They then offered us another option - a trip that would work for my schedule.  My daughter's high school graduation was coming up, and I'd wanted to take her to Lake Tahoe for a week to celebrate (we had a free place to stay there, and we all love the area), so we opted for that.  I can never thank my friends enough for what they did.

Over the winter, because I now have one child in college (soon to be 2), my income tax refund was more than I expected.  I asked my wife if we could put the money away for some spending money on vacation, primarily to do some guided trout fishing.  She agreed to let me spend part of the money on fishing, which was fair.

I immediately spent a week reading about Lake Tahoe area guides before settling on Matt Heron as the guide I wanted to fish with.  I originally booked 2.5 days (one day on private water, one on the Truckee and a half day on the Little Truckee), but eventually reduced that to 2 full days.  My wife and I both fished the first day on private water, an area called Pleasant Valley in the Markleeville area.

We got there mid-morning on a Tuesday, and one other fisherman was already on the 3 mile stretch of water.  Otherwise, we were all alone.  Matt knew that most fish had been stocked upstream from the parking area, but he spotted a nice fish at a bridge right by where we had parked.  It was an area with some tough casting, so Matt had me start fishing for that fish first.  We tried a number of casts and drifts with little luck to start.  But, eventually, with a green drake on the surface and a trailer, the fish came up and hit the drake.  I set the hook too hard and snapped the tippet.  This would be a theme for me the entire day.  I retrieved the flies as they drifted past me, but I'd already missed one nice fish.  We weren't sure if the fish had felt the hook or not, but after a few more fruitless casts, we headed upstream.

We saw the other fisherman and leapfrogged him to a spot below a nice waterfall.  I think my wife hooked three fish here and landed one:

I crossed over and missed a couple as well but got one fish.  By now, the other fisherman had leapfrogged us, and was fishing above the small waterfall in this photo:

We saw him catch a handful of fish, and our guide went up to help him net one of the larger fish.  When we eventually walked up into that hole, it was stacked full of fish.  My wife and I alternated some casts in there and had a few takes.  From there, we moved up to another hole stacked full of fish.  The fish didn't seem very interested, so the guide and my wife moved upstream some more, while I stayed downstream.  I hooked three different fish and they all snapped me off while they were upstream.  One was my fault - the yips on the hook set again.  Fishing in VT, I rarely see the strike, and I kept over-reacting when I could see the strike occur.  I ended up snapping off more fish than I caught for the day.  Another was a big fish that I worked hard to keep out of a bush that was in the water.  Just when I thought I'd won the battle, the fish went downstream and the leader snapped on a small stick protruding from a downed log.

My wife had a few strikes upstream, but they soon headed down and we took a lunch break.  Right after lunch, we got into some fish at a hole lower than we'd fished in the morning.  They kept coming right to the fly and then refusing.  One one occasion, I had a fish hit a hopper, and I snapped the line setting the hook.

From there, we moved up to some still water full of fish.  It wasn't 100% still, but it was mostly a side pond fed by the river.  There were a lot of big fish in here and we caught fish on hoppers and PTs.  Again, I lost a few fish on my hooksets.  By now, the guide was working more with me to slow down the sets, and I was getting frustrated.  My wife took a couple nice fish out of this hole, including this beauty:

Matt estimated the fish at 20" and 4 pounds.  From here, we started to run out of time.  The guide had driven a long way and didn't want to stay out until dark, with a 2.5 hour drive home.  My wife moved up 2 holes, to where I'd hooked the three fish earlier and I moved upstream a bit more.  While I was upstream, she caught and released 3 nice fish of at least 16" or more.  I got nothing.  At that point, she was done.  I think it was 6:00 by then.  I didn't want to quit, but I knew my wife was done and the guided needed to wrap things up.  So, I started fishing downstream, working every hole we'd fished all day.  I hooked a nice fish below that waterfall.  I was using nymphs and a strike indicator, and I set the hook perfectly.  I played the fish perfectly.  It threw the hook anyway.

On our last hole, I got in a couple decent casts, and then snagged a tree on the far side.  The guide held that rod, while I fished another.  Two casts later, I snagged the other rod.  So, I waded out, freed the flies and we called it a day.  I think I got 4 fish in the 12"-14" range.  My wife had 4 fish in that range, and another 4 in the 16"-20" range.  She was thrilled.  I was frustrated.  I should have caught 15+ fish, but I managed to do everything wrong all day, it seemed.  I learned a lot and spent a lot of time the next day visualizing my strikes.  I needed to quell the yips and get my hook sets under control.

Matt and I met right by the Truckee early, 2 days later.  A few minutes later we were into a nice hole as the sun rose behind us.  In this bigger water, Matt had me very focused on my mends and getting really clean dead drifts.  He liked how the drifts were going and was shocked that we had no strikes.  Finally, as I got to the last part of the hole, I had a very strong strike and I was onto a fish.  This time I did everything right.  And, instead of a trout, I caught my first ever whitefish:

After an hour or so in this first hole, we headed downstream.  I started in a deep hole, stripping streamers.  The guide saw one very large brown follow one cast, but the fish wouldn't commit.  Eventually, I hooked a nice rainbow on a very subtle take, but the fish was only on for seconds before throwing the hook.

At the next hole, frustration continued.  I caught another whitefish (that wasn't frustrating, but it wasn't a trout).  I saw one strike by a smaller fish and snapped him off.  And then, Matt pointed out a fisherman downstream and we both took our eyes off the strike indicator for a couple seconds.  When we looked again, it was obvious that I had a strike.  I set the hook and felt the fish, and saw it briefly, but again, it threw the hook.  By the time we left this hole, it was 2:00 or so, and Matt needed to be off the water by 5:00-5:30.  He decided we'd try the Little Truckee for a bit.

His first choice was occupied by one of his guides and a client.  So, we moved upstream.  He was amazed to find only one car in a parking lot that often holds 8 cars, so we hopped out and hiked downstream for a mile or so, moving quickly.  We both knew that time was tight.  We were right below a spot where some still water and the main water met, creating a nice seam.  We could see fish moving in and out of the seam, including one very visible rainbow that looked like it was scarred from an osprey attack.  That fish was feeding, but we couldn't get it to take anything.

We saw a few fish rising to PMDs, and tried them with no success.  We saw one fish crush a green drake, so we tried them for a while.  Still no luck.  We worked up and down through this whole, watching fish in the seam and watching the occasional rise, but nothing was happening.

Then, Matt noticed 2 big fish move into the top of the seam  He had me throw a 3-nymph rig at the fish.  My first few casts weren't right on the fish, but somewhere around my 4th cast, I got it right.  The strike indicator never moved, but Matt saw the white of the fish's mouth as it took a fly.  At this point, we had 6x tippet on the bottom fly.  Matt told me to set the hook and I did it perfectly.  That fish felt the hook and took off downstream like a bat out of hell.  I have never had a trout take off like that.  As the fish pulled all slack tight, I'm not sure exactly what happened.  Matt said I had a death grip on the line, but I didn't.  Maybe the reel paused for just a bit as the line straightened.  Maybe the pressure where my left hand was touching the line was too much.  Whatever it was, the fish snapped the tippet rather than the reel picking him up and letting him run.  And in seconds, it was over.

I knew as soon as that happened that I would end up with no trout for the day.  But, I'd told Matt that I simply wanted a chance at a big wild fish, and I'd had 3 on my line during the day.  I failed to execute each time.  The guide did his job.

I would highly recommend Matt as a guide.  His coaching, his patience, his attention to detail, and his optimism make him a great guide to work with.  He listened to what I wanted out of each day and delivered.

I sent Matt an e-mail earlier this week.  I had just read A River Runs Through It on the plane to CA.  The famous final line of that book is pretty well known, but if you don't know it, the line is simply "I am haunted by waters."

I told Matt that I'd probably be forever haunted by that last fish, and even he admitted it was an amazing take and run by the fish.

On Tuesday of this week, I boarded a very early train to Manhattan.  I had a CT scan and a meeting with my surgical oncologist.  My cancer is completely undetectable at the moment.  I'm already dreaming of a return trip to CA to chase trout with Matt.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mid-week on the White River

Last week, at the WRO, there were a handful of small prizes on the table after everyone had either gotten a prize or gotten picked in a raffle.  There were a handful of fly boxes - maybe 6 or so.  People were allowed to grab whatever they wanted after everyone had a prize.  Because I'd placed and won a very nice prize, I stayed back at first.  But, two of the fly boxes were nearly untouched.  I didn't know the name of either of the patterns, but one looked like a great fly for the White River - a sculpin/leech/bugger type of pattern.

Some internet research later revealed that it was a Charlie Craven pattern called the Gonga.  This fly is usually tied in a large size, but these were smaller than normal.  I grabbed a handful of these flies after others opted not to take them.  And today, I'm glad I did.

I worked from home yesterday due to a medical appointment.  I'd worked out hard the three previous days, so I decided I would fish after work rather than work out.  I opted to head to a spot where I knew a couple people had done well in the WRO the previous week.

During the day, I was talking to a friend on FB, and he told me that he'd fished the same spot the previous evening, and that he'd done well with black leech patterns.  So, I opted for a Gonga and a Prince Nymph to start.

I got to the spot around 5:30 and headed to the upper reaches of about 300 yards of water I wanted to work.  I was all alone and looking forward to fishing this entire stretch.  It only took a couple minutes and I'd hooked and landed a stockie.  I was very surprised to catch him on the Gonga and not the Prince Nymph.  I few minutes later, I had a second fish, this time on the Prince Nymph.

A couple minutes later, I had a hard hit early in my drift and I missed the fish.  I repeated the cast and immediately got another strike, and this time, I hooked the fish.  I knew right away this wasn't a normal stockie.  But, unlike most wild rainbows, it wasn't jumping, so I wasn't sure what was on the line.  It was probably 5 minutes before I even saw the fish.  My first thought when I saw it was surprise that it was a brown trout.  Since Hurricane Irene, I've caught very few browns in the main branch of the White.  I do OK with browns on the Third Branch, but not in the main branch.  But, I was also fishing within sight of the Third Branch, so a brown should have been less surprising.  The other thing that excited me when I saw the fish was its size.  I finally got it to the net, and quickly unhooked it, measured it, and released it.  It was an 18" brown - my biggest ever brown from the White River drainage:

The fish didn't have the distinctive yellow belly of wild browns from the Third Branch.  I'm guessing that it was a holdover stocked fish from last year that had moved downstream, but I could easily be wrong on that.

I kept moving downstream and noticed another angler just below me.  At first, I thought he was spin fishing, but eventually, I realized he was tossing flies from the shore and stripping them back in.  I saw him catch a fish.  I got closer to where he was fishing, making sure to give him plenty of room when another hard strike happened.  This time, the fish immediately went airborne.  Then deep,  Airborne.  Deep.  He was putting quite a bend in my rod and the other fisherman thought I had a big fish on and came over with a big net.  I told him I was fine and eventually netted a 13" wild rainbow.

The other guy and I got talking, and it turned out he was a guide who was leading a trip on the White the next day, so he was prospecting.  He was also a Facebook friend, although we'd never met in person before.  We had connected on Facebook through mutual fishing friends.  We talked for a while.  I gave him one of the flies that was working for me.  We talked about cancer - something that has touched both of our lives recently.  We talked about fishing together in the future and made a plan to float the Upper Connecticut later this summer.

He eventually moved down into the water I'd hoped to fish next, and I saw him catch a few stocked trout plus some smallmouth bass.  Because of where he was fishing, I decided to re-fish the same stretch I'd just fished.  I had a few strikes on the way back through.  But, it was getting late, I had dinner to cook, a hockey game to watch, and I was getting cold.

When I got home, I had messages from two friends telling me about another spot just upstream that I should have fished, but I saw them too late.  But, I'll be back there tomorrow, looking for more big fish.

White River Open - Always a Bridesmaid

Last Saturday, I fished in the third iteration of the White River Open fly fishing tournament.  Unlike the Otter Creek Classic, which is on the opening weekend in early April, in this tournament, we are fishing in prime season, after stocking has occurred, and fish are always caught.  Plus, the White is my home river, so I know a lot of the system pretty well.  However, given that there are over 100 miles of water in the White River drainage, I don't know anywhere near all of it.

In the first year of the tournament, I caught 6 fish.  The amateur winner caught 16, I believe.  However, lots of people got skunked and I finished in the top 3 or 4.  Last year, I caught 5 fish, but I was only 9 inches or so out of first place.  I lost 2 fish right at the net, and either of them might have won it for me.  So, I'm always close, but never at the top, it seems.

This year, there was some controversy.  For the time of year, the river was at near record low flows and very warm.  A number of friends decided not to fish due to water conditions.  One friend was planning to fish until Friday, when he took a number of water temperature readings in the 70s, including one at 78, and he bailed.  I had a number of messages from friends that weren't going to fish, and they seemed to be hinting that dropping out would be the right thing for me to do as well.

At the pre-race meeting, I voiced some concerns about water temperatures.  One competitor made a very sarcastic comment to me, saying that it sounded like I wanted the tournament to be cancelled.  I stated that this wasn't completely true, but that with so many connections to Trout Unlimited, we were responsible to be good stewards of our fishing resources, and I was concerned that we had no rules in place to prevent people from fishing water that was too warm.

My personal rule to stop fishing is 68F.  I know most people stop at 70F, and many just keep fishing no matter what the water temperature is.  I've seen fish struggle at 68F, including one fish I'd caught a week earlier in the White, at just under 68F.  I deliberately chose my most stout rod for fishing, so I could land fish quickly and release them quickly.  Despite the low, clear water, I also stuck with 4x tippet.  I might have had more strikes with 5x or 6x, but I wanted the stouter tippet material to land the fish more quickly.

The tournament organizers did change the rules somewhat, although I wish they'd gone a bit further.  The end of the tournament was moved from 3:30 in the afternoon to 11:00 a.m.  I wish we'd had a thermometer requirement and we would have been required to record the water temperature every time we caught a fish.  I'm guessing some fishermen weren't carrying thermometers, but I'd reply that any responsible catch and release trout fisherman should own a thermometer and carry it if temperatures are marginal.  But, enough with the proselytizing.

I had a beer with my wife at Worthy Burger after the meeting, headed home, loaded the car with my gear, ate some dinner, and got to bed early.  The legal start time was a bit unclear.  At the meeting, they explicitly said first light.  The written instructions said 5:00.  I decided to go with the instructions at the meeting.  I was planning to fish a well known spot, so I wanted to make sure I got there before anyone else.  I set my alarm for 3:40 and I was out of bed before 4:00 and on the road by 4:15 or so.  As I pulled into the turnout at my first spot, I was happy to see no other cars, despite the fact that it was past first light.  I geared up quickly and stepped into the river at 4:45.

I often fish three flies at once, but for the tournament, I wanted to maximize fishing time.  Three fly rigs tangle a lot more often than 2 fly rigs, so I went with just 2 flies.  I started with a small olive woolly bugger and a size 14 Prince Nymph.  I really expected to only catch fish on the nymphs, but my hope was that the bigger fly would help to get my flies deeper and also perhaps attract some fish to the general location of my flies.

On my third cast, I hooked a fish.  And, I lost it almost immediately.  I was in a pool where I'd caught 8 or 9 fish the previous Saturday, and despite a few strikes, I caught nothing in 15 or so minutes.  I started moving down, and quickly hooked and landed a fat stocked fish.  My first fish came at 5:09 a.m. and its length was 10.75 inches.  It would be my biggest fish of the day, but not my best catch.  I worked through the next 100 yards of water slowly over the next 2 hours.  Despite numerous strikes, hook-ups were rare.  By the time I'd gotten to the bottom of the run, I'd caught 3 fish, had one snap me off (bad knot, not a big fish), and I'd missed many strikes.  At the bottom of the run, the water runs into a long rock ledge that creates some deep water.  It's tough to get the fly the whole way to the ledge and get a clean drift, so I tried an alternative approach.  I waded out far into the shallower water above and cast.  Then, I would strip line and let the fly drift.  Reel it in a bit.  Strip more than I'd reeled in.  Reel in.  Strip, Etc.  Eventually, I was at my backing, so I decided to slowly reel in the entire 25 yards of line.  On this slow retrieve, I managed to catch my 4th fish of the day.

I fished back upstream, moving more quickly this time, and got very little action.  Plus, the sun was starting to hit the water, so I opted to head for a different spot.  It was about 8:30.  The water temperature had been 65.7F when I'd started and I checked it again before moving on.  It was down to 64.5F - a good sign.

I got in my car and headed upstream to another well known spot.  A friend's car was parked there, but when I got to the water, I couldn't see him anywhere.  I really wanted to fish a 50 yard section right near the parking area that was still in the shade, and he wasn't visible, so it seemed like I wouldn't be crowding him.  The water temperature was 63.5F - even lower than downstream.

On my third or 4th cast, I tried a slow retrieve in some deep, clear water and caught a small stockie.  A few minutes later, I caught my 6th fish of the day.  I eventually worked my way to my favorite part of this water, and dropped my flies (I was now fishing a double nymph rig - a yellow stone and a Prince nymph) into a riffle above a deep hole.  As the flies drifted past me, I felt a bite and set the hook.  The reaction was odd.  I'd hooked a fish, but its movements were really erratic.  I finally decided that I must have foul hooked the fish, but kept trying to get it to the surface.  When I got the fish to the surface, I was shocked to see that I had 2 fish hooked - one on each fly.  I was guessing I'd never get both of them to the net, but eventually, I did:

I was pretty happy at this point in time, with 8 fish on my scorecard at 9:30.  I'd gotten 4 fish at this spot in less than an hour, after working hard for 4 fish at the previous spot in more than 3.5 hours.  I had covered this water pretty well, and decided to finish my fishing at a favorite spot that rarely gets fished, and was much closer to the tournament headquarters.  This would allow me to fish later and know I'd still turn in my scorecard in time.

I was dismayed when I saw the water at this next spot.  Despite it being a favorite spot, I'd only caught one fish (it's a series of 4 holes) there so far this year, and the water was super low and clear.  The best water is a seam that requires some stealth in good conditions, and these were not good conditions.  The water was 67.8F and the sun was fully on the water.  

Pretty quickly, I caught a stocked fish.  And then, a wild fish - my only wild fish of the day.  Because of the low conditions, I was able to wade farther across the river than normal, and fish a small deep run that I rarely fish.  I got another fish here as well.  After a few minutes of no strikes, I moved upstream.  The next hole was too low to give me much luck.  My flies kept hanging on the bottom.  Plus, I was running out of time and I still had one good hole to fish and it was 150 yards upstream.  I normally fish the length of water on my way upstream, but time was important.  I hiked to the best water, and I had maybe 10 minutes to fish there.  My first 5 minutes were fruitless.  So, I decided to try the slow upstream retrieval of my flies.

Almost instantly, the water boiled as I had a strike right below the surface.  Over those last few minutes, I had about 8 strikes overall, and a strike on 5 straight casts, but I couldn't hook the fish.  I finally bailed, waded downstream quickly (there were now some out-of-staters fishing the hole where I started.  I'd seen them park right in front of my car earlier, and I really wish I could park somewhere stealthier for this spot, so it remains unknown), and headed to the car.  

I turned in my scorecard - 11 fish and 107 total inches - at 10:55.  I was told that I was in the lead as of that time.  I didn't see anyone else turn in a scorecard before 11:00, but when it came time for awards, first place was 120 inches of fish.  Second place was 112 inches.  I was third.  I'm just going to assume that I misunderstood the comment about being in the lead or there was an error when I turned in my scorecard.  I'm hoping that no one allowed a late scorecard, because I likely could have caught a fish or two more if I'd been allowed to be a couple minutes late.

I won a nice collapsible wading staff from Folstaff as my prize.  It had been donated by LL Bean, and I very much appreciate their support of the tournament.  After that, a bunch of us headed to a nearby tavern for some lunch and fish stories.

One of these years, I'm going to win this thing.  I finished third this year, but I know of at least 3 very good fishermen who stayed home due to water conditions, including the person who won 2 years ago.  Luckily, I was able to fish in waters cool enough to protect the fish.  I know that some people fished water over 70F, and I find that dismaying.  This year was certainly a weather anomaly, although it may become the norm in the future.  When Vermont streams are too warm to fish the first weekend in June, something is wrong.  Luckily, 2.5 inches of rain the next day and a cool weather week dropped river temperatures quite a bit.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally catching some fish

I took off work 2 Thursdays ago and headed south to some "special regulations" water that is stocked with 2-year old fish.  This is a river that gets a lot of pressure, and I was expecting the fish to be a bit finicky.  So, I took my nymphing rod - a 10 foot, 3 weight with a Rio Euro Nymph leader.  That rod selection was the only thing that went wrong that day.

I started early, but there were plenty of other people out already.  I was working upstream through a stretch I'd fished in the past when I got my first strike of the day.  It was a 16" rainbow and I struggled to land it with the light rod, and the somewhat rapid current.  I was fishing a bugger with a prince nymph trailer and the fish took the nymph.  A couple minutes later, I caught another fish out of the same hole.  Hooked another.  And then hooked another.

And then, the sun hit the water and everything just slowed down.  I worked upstream for a while.  Back down.  Below my car.  I drove downstream and fished a well known stretch there.  Nothing was going on at all.

I went to the nearest town and had some lunch.  I saw a warden's truck there and the clerk at the store told me they were stocking the stream again that day.  By the time I was back on the water, the stretch I'd been fishing had been stocked with browns.  Fishermen were everywhere.  This is an odd river.  It gets a lot of pressure every single day.  But, it's mostly a retired crowd, often out-of-staters.  Despite the stocking, fishing remained slow.  I did see a worm slinger catch a fish.  Another guy who I'd met and is a part time guide hooked a fish, but it snapped him off.

I met a nice man from NJ - a retired accountant who reminded me a lot of Lindsay Graham.  We fished near each other and talked off and on.  I saw him take a brown on a dry.  In the afternoon heat (it was our first 80F day of the year), some fish were rising intermittently, and he'd gone to a hopper/dropper configuration, although it was actually a small Stimulator on the surface.  After a very slow afternoon for me, the other guy told me he was taking off.  The crowds were finally dissipating.  He suggested I work the large hole he'd been working.  So, I stepped in and started to fish where he'd been.

By now, I had on a big black/grizzly woolly bugger and a Batman Prince Nymph.  Before the guy could even get to his car, I'd hooked a big brown on the nymph.  After 10 minutes, he threw the hook beside the net with one final jump.  And then, the fishing really started to pick up.  The browns were starting to eat and they weren't being subtle.  But, they were mostly in the 16"-20" range, fat, and strong, and my 3 weight just didn't have enough backbone.  One fish took me into my backing and then slipped between two boulders, getting some slack just long enough to throw the hook.  Another dove under a rock and got my leader tangled up somehow.  I was using a Rio Euro Nymph leader and I was very surprised when the leader popped at the tippet ring.  I assumed my tippet or my knots would fail long before the leader.

By 6:00, I'd hooked half a dozen fish in the last hour and landed none.  My stout 5 weight was an hour to the north.  I had a shorter 4 weight in the car, but I didn't want anyone to steal my hole, so I stuck with the 3 weight.  I moved to the top of the hole and on my first cast, I got snagged.  I tried for a while to release the snag with no luck.  Finally, I pointed the rod right at the flies and pulled hard to snap them off.  I noticed that my bugger was still there, so I assumed I'd lost my nymph.  I was stripping in the fly to replace it when a big brown came out of nowhere and hit my nymph.  Now, I was sure I was doomed.  I assumed the knot was compromised, so I was careful with the fish.  I was also starting to figure out that I needed to fight the fish by stepping backwards and getting them into shallow water, where they couldn't take off on long runs.  This time, I landed the fish.

I immediately replaced that bottom tippet section, and went right back to it.  I had been hitting the top and the bottom of the hole, so I went to the middle.  On my first cast there, something slammed one of my flies, and this turned into an epic fight.  I eventually landed the fish, which had hit the size 4 woolly bugger.  It was 20" and fat - probably 3 pounds.

By now, sunset was approaching, so I started to wade downstream towards my car.  I hooked 2 more fish on the way, but both were in fast water and I knew neither would ever make it to the net.  Both managed to throw the hook less than a minute into the fight.

By the time I'd gotten to my car, I'd hooked between 15 and 20 fish on the day, and landed 4 fish in the 16"-20" range.  Yeah, they were stocked fish, but a whole lot of fun.

Two nights later, I got out on the main branch of the White River - my home stream.  I've had a very slow start on that river this year, and only got 2 hits that night.  But, the first strike produced a small wild rainbow.  The second snapped me off.  I'll be fishing the White this coming weekend, most likely.

That night, a cold front came through and I headed west to fish with a guide for pike on Otter Creek the next morning.  Brian Cadoret of Stream and Brook Fly Fishing is an avid pike fisherman and a great guide.  The cold front had the fish acting a bit sluggish, but we spent 4+ hours sight fishing to pike anywhere from 2 feet long to nearly 4 feet long.  I did get some fish to show some interest, but they just wouldn't commit.

Finally, at a place where we couldn't see the fish, I had a little bit of action.  I briefly hooked one fish, but I didn't realize it was a fish at first, so I never really set the hook.  That fish threw the hook immediately.  A couple minutes later, I had another strike, and I set the hook hard.  I was fishing an 8 weight rod, sinking tip line, 50 pound test mono, and a 9" steel leader.  Somehow, this second fish managed to simply cut the mono above the leader.  As I set the hook, after feeling the strike, there was no resistance at all.  My fly was gone, the leader was gone, and the fish was gone.  We finished the day fishing the confluence of the Otter and Lower Middlebury, but I was getting cold.  I was standing in cold water on a cold day, stripping big streamers, and I was freezing everywhere.  So, we called it a day, but it's something I really want to try again.  I've got an 8 weight, although I need new line and backing, some strong mono, some steel leaders, and some pike flies.  Oh yeah, a bigger net. as evidenced by the pictures above.  That net isn't going to work for pike.

With warm days recently and lots of stocking completed,  I'm expecting this weekend to be very fishy.  I have way more places that I'd like to fish than I have time available to fish.  Plus, there are thunderstorms in the forecast.  But, I'll be out there as much as I can be, within safety limits.